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Aiming Higher Teachers Cheer Inner-City Educator On A Mission

Sat., Oct. 5, 1996

A nationally renowned educator - who says public schools accept too many excuses and don’t aim high enough - got a standing ovation from hundreds of Spokane teachers before she even began speaking Friday.

Marva Collins, celebrated for making ace students out of inner-city kids, says schools expect far too little from children.

“I’m on a mission to share my belief that all children are achievers,” said Collins, addressing 530 people at the annual Washington Water Power “Viewpoint” forum.

“There aren’t a lot of things wrong with our children,” Collins said. “There are a lot of things wrong with us. Let’s stop teaching our children our limitations.”

Collins preaches what she practices. The former Chicago public school teacher runs three schools where kindergarten pupils learn Shakespeare and Socrates and preschoolers recite Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.

Collins, 60, said all her students go on to high school and college, and most score as well on tests as students three or four years older.

Collins’ favorite proof of success: At the end of the school day, she often has to make students go home.

Her efforts have drawn nationwide attention. In 1980, Collins turned down Ronald Reagan’s offer to be secretary of education. She later served on George Bush’s Points of Light Foundation.

She is also the subject of a TV movie, “The Marva Collins Story,” starring Cicely Tyson.

Collins started her first school, Westside Preparatory School, in 1975 on the second floor of her Chicago home with $5,000 from her teacher’s pension. Now about 400 students a year attend her schools.

Children whose families can afford it pay $400 a month in tuition. Those who can’t pay attend free.

Collins makes speeches and writes books to raise money for her schools, but she refuses government money. “I believe my people could have never failed so miserably without the government’s help,” she said.

To help students achieve, school boards must first admit “something that’s not palatable,” Collins said. “We need to admit that what we’re doing is not working. Most school districts are afraid to say that we’re failing.”

Educators should then aim high. Teach more Latin. Get young children hooked on classics. Teach perseverance through books like “The Little Engine That Could.”

Correct children when they use excuses like “can’t” and “but,” Collins urged.

She tells her students, “Don’t give me your ‘buts,’ because the only ‘but’ in your way is your own. And when you get that ‘but’ out of the way, you can succeed.”

The nation’s future depends on such changes in self-esteem and academic success, Collins said. “No country can afford to continue its greatness if we constantly pursue mediocrity.”

Another Collins suggestion: When students misbehave, make them write down 200 reasons why they’re too wonderful to get in trouble.

“Who wants to be around people who tell them how awful we are?” she said. “We’re all looking for acceptance.”

After her speech, Collins was quickly surrounded by young teachers thanking her for being an inspiration and older teachers gushing about how much they loved her book, “Marva Collins’ Way.”

“Whatever we teach them is what they give back,” she said. “Our children are what we teach them.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

Tags: education

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