The New York Times
just posted an obituary of Theodore R. Sizer
, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools
, who reportedly died yesterday at his home in Massachusetts.
Writes Times reporter Margalit Fox:
Sizer was best known as the father of the Essential Schools movement, which he founded in 1984. The movement's umbrella organization, the Coalition of Essential Schools, spans a diverse array of public and private schools united by their adherence to a set of common principles.
The principles hold, among other things, that a school is an egalitarian community and that the student is a valued worker in that community, with the teacher in the role of mentor or coach. Depth of knowledge is emphasized over breadth, with the mastery of a few core subjects preferred over the scattershot spate of electives the modern high school seems to favor.
What's that got to do with St. Louis? you ask. Well, a whole lot, on the one hand, and, on the other, not very much. We'll start with the latter: The St. Louis area is home to -- drum roll, please -- precisely one Coalition-affiliated school, the Whitfield School
in Creve Coeur.
A pity, because we could use a lot more.
I know about Sizer
thanks to my sister Liza, who taught at Whitfield in the late 1980s. She pretty much fell into the job, having fled a Ph.D. program in paleontology after going as far as a master's. That job, I'm sure she'll tell you, changed her life. When she left Whitfield it was to enroll in a doctoral program in education. She's either taught education or taught middle- and high-schoolers ever since.
When I somehow blundered my way into grad school at Brown
University, Liza, freshly installed at Whitfield and in thrall to the
Coalition, mentioned that a member of that august Ivy League school's
faculty was none other than Ted Sizer. (She referred to him as Ted. You
know, thrall and all.) And, she suggested, I could do a whole lot worse
than squander one of my few required elective courses on a seminar with
So I did. And I read Sizer's seminal trilogy on education reform, beginning with Horace's Compromise.
Though it's now a quarter-century old, that book and the two that
followed are still a terrific read for anyone in search of
enlightenment and inspiration regarding secondary education in this