Tyranny of the minority

Slate's Michael Kinsley once said that "a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth." Well, Rafe Esquith is no politician (though we'd vote for him in a heartbeat; as a 5th grade teacher in Los Angeles he's been producing near-miraculous results with his charges for two decades), and his truth-telling was far from an accident, yet it's startling all the same: "Some children should be left behind." According to National Review Online's Catherine Seipp, Esquith doesn't waste a lot of time with the handful of kids who are unmotivated and unwilling to learn - he just manages their behavior so he can focus on the vast majority eager to do the hard work needed to succeed. And he makes his students earn special privileges, such as field trips: "I explain [to my students] that there are many things they can't do yet: they don't drive a car, date, or vote.... And they don't do these things not because they're bad people but because they need to acquire certain skills before they're allowed to do them." In other words, students have to take responsibility for their own learning and deal with real consequences if they make poor choices. While that policy would be much too harsh for Kindergarten, and eminently fair by the 12th grade, on which side of the line is middle school? And is there a way to protect Rafe's kids from the tyranny of the minority of misbehaving children, without giving up on the problem-makers altogether?

"'Some Children Should Be Left Behind,'" by Catherine Seipp, National Review Online, September 2, 2005

"Through Shakespeare, Lessons of Life and Devotion," by Anita Gates, New York Times, September 6, 2005

More By Author