242. The “Right” Way

In a few of my columns, I’ve written about approaches with which I strongly disagree. Some, like spanking or sarcasm, I consider simply wrong. To me, they’re not matters of personal style; they’re things that should not happen in school, at home, or anywhere else. I’ve never spanked a child, but I have used sarcasm. I don’t condemn myself for it. Nor do I condemn other teachers and parents who make mistakes. But I don’t think people who continue to do destructive things to children, refusing to rethink their behavior and change it, should be allowed to spend time with children.
When I first started teaching elementary school, I thought the “right” way to teach was the way Caleb Gattegno did it. He conducted workshops with the teachers in our school, and occasionally did demonstration lessons. He was a genius. He had written books about teaching, translated Piaget’s work into English, devised new and exciting techniques for teaching reading and math, and now he was thoroughly impressing me, a new teacher. I thought the “right” way to teach was to be like Gattegno, and I tried.
Sometimes I saw myself or other teachers doing things I was quite sure Gattegno would not have done, and I tried to convince them or myself to change. I worked with many teachers who had never heard of Gattegno, and I tried to be a missionary, spreading The Gospel According to St. Caleb. His approach to reading instruction, called Words in Color, became my answer to anyone who used any other approach. Gattegno’s system of math instruction, based heavily on Cuisenaire rods, became my “right” way to teach math.
Gattegno did not want to be thought of as having a philosophy of instruction. He thought that referring to the “Gattegno Philosophy” made it sound as if he were dead. And he said he did not want disciples, although his personality, combined with his expertise, made me and a few other teachers think he had a perspective that set him apart from and above all other educators. I guess he had come along at a time when I needed a hero. I’m sure to some people, I must have sounded as if I was a member of some cult.
Now, though I have strong convictions about much of what I see people doing with children, I have decided that though there are still some wrong ways to teach and parent, there are lots of right ways. I’ve seen teachers do and say things that I would “never” do or say, and I’ve noticed that these things have had good effects. They get children to understand things I thought children couldn’t understand. They encourage behaviors I’ve always tried to encourage. Maybe some time I’ll try some of these techniques. They might work for me. You never know.

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