“If we want to create a more equitable society, we must transform the way we teach our children.” That was the message that Pedro Noguera, distinguished professor of education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), drove home during his lecture to a packed house on Nov. 14 at Eastern Connecticut State University.
Speaking in the beautiful Concert Hall of the Fine Arts Instructional Center, Noguera was introduced by Jacob Easley, dean of Eastern’s School of Education and Professional Studies. “Dr. Noguera’s advocacy for educational equity is timely. We are delighted that community members and future educators alike are energized by his message. It is clear that sound pedagogy alone will not tip the scale to ensure that educational excellence is afforded to all children and youth. Advocacy, policy and practice have to work together.”
Noting that family income is the best predictor of student success, Noguera reiterated a point found in many of his published writings – if we want to see student academic performance improve, our society must deal with the root causes of poverty at the same time that we attempt to implement classroom reform.
Policies such as “No Child Left Behind” still leave far too many children behind, said Noguera, especially children with the greatest needs. He offered numerous ways to close the achievement gap, arguing that equity is recognizing that not all students are the same; some need more time and help due to disadvantages. Equity is about fairness, giving all children the same opportunities.
Noguera also said schools should stop blaming students and accept responsibility for raising achievement in all students, not just the privileged. He called for an “equity lens” in addressing the challenge. “We are supposed to make sure all kids have a chance. Throughout the country, educating kids is a major challenge. School reform has been insufficient in paying attention to teaching and learning.”
The nationally recognized scholar lamented that, “Teachers today focus on control and passive learning, covering material, memorization, when they should be emphasizing engaged learning.” He encouraged the audience of students, faculty and staff from Eastern as well as those from area schools, to seek ways to recognize and develop excellence in students. “We must raise their confidence, competence and resilience . . . If we feed their curiosity, they become life-long learners and problem solvers.”
In sharing a variety of strategies he has observed in schools across the nation that can empower students to learn, Noguera said, “We have to stop treating the kids like inmates.” Innovations he endorsed included personalized lesson plans, team projects, simulations and other engaging teaching methods.
During a lively question and answer period, Noguera said society should reverse what is currently happening – spending more money to keep young students in jail than to educate them. “We need to focus on student strengths rather than their deficits.”
He said it is in society’s own interests to invest in education, and he encouraged students to go into teaching “to make a difference, not to make money. Becoming an educator is to become a role model. To become a teacher is to become a life-long learner. We must be committed. We must have the passion for this work.”
Noguera recalled the 19th-century New England educator Horace Mann, who famously said, “Education is “is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery,” and said that we must continue to invest in teaching our children if we want social equity and a prosperous nation.
“Education is the solution to so many of the problems we face. If we invest in the education of kids, we will secure democracy in this country. The goal is to make sure everyone with different learning skills is getting a quality education. We must meet the needs of all kids. The cost of failure is simply too great.”
Prior to his current position at UCLA, Noguera served as the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University and the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools; the Judith K. Dimon Professor of Communities and Schools at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and as professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was also the director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change.
He began his career as a classroom teacher in Providence, RI, where he attended Brown University. Among Noguera’s published writings are the books “City Schools and the American Dream”, “Unfinished Business: Closing the Achievement Gap in Our Nation’s Schools” and “The Trouble With Black Boys…and Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education.”
Noguera’s presentation celebrated the 10th year anniversary of Eastern’s Center for Early Childhood Education. The event was sponsored by Eastern’s School of Education and Graduate Studies, Office of Equity and Diversity, Windham Public School and Eastern’s Multicultural Leadership Council.