George Lucas Educational Foundation

Readers' Survey 2007: Best Education Role Model

Edutopia readers weigh in on their favorites.
Edutopia Team
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No pressure, parents, but our readers have chosen you as the best education role models. And, if you'll forgive us for sounding a bit parental ourselves, with that power comes responsibility. After all, being the best implies you could also be not so good. As one reader explained, the best role models are "parents who show through their actions that education is important."

Other top vote getters were Laura Bush and Oprah Winfrey. If you're not the First Lady or a famous talk show host, rest assured that reader responses show that role models come in many forms. Sesame Street's Elmo made the list, as did the entire country of Finland.

Our Take

It Takes a Committee

Although readers nominated many worthy candidates, we submit that one role model is not enough. No individual can be ideal in every way -- not even, dare we say it, Oprah. Better to select a cadre of role models and emulate the best traits of each, cafeteria style -- a scoop of Erin Gruwell, a dash of John Dewey, and so forth. Our ideal composite would look like this:

Head: Drew Gilpin Faust, for leadership and fearlessness. Recently appointed the first female president of Harvard University, she has broken barriers throughout her life and espouses the idea that collaboration creates change where authoritarianism cannot.

Heart: Bob Moses, for passion. He created the Algebra Project to make college-preparatory algebra the standard for students of all races and incomes, and until age 70 flew from Massachusetts to Mississippi every week to teach high school math.

Hands/arms: Anne Sullivan, for inventiveness. Believing that every mind can learn, she used only the sense of touch to teach young Helen Keller, who could neither hear, see, nor speak, to read and write. Keller learned so well that she ultimately attended Radcliffe College and graduated with honors.

Feet/legs: Rafe Esquith, for dedication. For more than 25 years, he has taught fifth-grade students from largely low-income immigrant families in Los Angeles. He demands that his students attend class from 6:30 a.m to 5 p.m. and expects them to rise to the challenge of reading high school-level books and performing Shakespeare. They do.

NEXT PAGE OF READERS' SURVEY: Best site for grant information

2007 Readers' Survey Index

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Kelly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The choice of parents as the "best educational role models" is no surprise to me. In my experience, I have seen two distinct groups of students emerge: students with parents who are involved in their child's education and those who are not. I think the common denominator in most successful students' lives are parents or other important mentors who stress the importance of education. It is rare that a student will have the inner strength to be motivated and take learning seriously without a parent pushing them to do so. I see this as the greatest challenge to teachers today, teaching students whose parents have not instilled the importance of education in them. The burden then falls on the teacher to ignite a passion for learning in their hearts and minds. With all of the challenges a teacher faces, this is a formidable task. These hurdles include large class size, limited resources, state testing pressures, student diversity and school safety. I commend all teachers who overcome these obstacles and are able to connect with a student and spark their interest in learning. As a society, we must take education seriously and change the perception that it is only the school's job to educate our children. It does take a village to raise a child, but the most important part is the parent.
I wish there was an easy solution to this dilemma. I think I will start by setting higher expectations for the parents of my students. Perhaps if I spend the time to give parents the tools they need to help their children,they will feel more empowered. I will offer a monthly seminar on ways parents can improve their involvement in their child's education. Let's see what happens. Has anyone else tried anything similar? I'd love some input on this idea.

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