Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Helping Students Rise - with Literature & Rhetoric

I've recently been reading Fareed Zakaria's excellent education commentary In Defense of a Liberal Education, and it has me thinking about the importance of literature and the humanities, as well as rhetoric and writing. These are the subjects often referred to as the classics, and these are the areas that formed the minds of our greatest American thinkers from Jefferson and Franklin to Obama and Reagan. They are the foundation of the class I teach - AP English Language & Composition - and they are the areas of study that can change lives. That transformative experience is - and was - certainly true for the students of Lorena Thompson, who recently retired from Grand Junction High School after nearly thirty years of molding minds and developing the humanity of young adults. Denver Post writer Megan Shrader recently profiled Thompson in a piece of op-ed commentary that promotes the humanities as an integral part of helping students RISE.

Lorena Thompson didn’t just teach Niccolò Machiavelli to Grand Junction High School students, for almost three decades she embodied the advice of “The Prince” that to be both feared and loved is to be respected and followed. Thompson retired last Friday from the Western Slope’s most urban school, taking with her a brilliant mind that instilled critical thinking skills and strong moral compasses in many of the almost 3,000 students she taught over 28 years .... Lorena Thompson proved that, unleashed, a hard-working and talented teacher can bridge the appalling achievement gap or put our top scholars among the best in the world. But how do you teach a teacher to win students’ respect through equal doses of love and fear? How do you inspire them to feats not thought possible? Perhaps it would be wise for someone to ask Thompson before she leaves.

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