President's Corner

Two Brief Moments Define What’s Important

by Karl V. Hertz


On my journey to New Zealand during the fall, I experienced two very high-impact moments. The first involved Reading Recovery, which was founded by Marie Clay, a child psychologist based in New Zealand. She recommends children who are reading poorly be identified in kindergarten so they can receive a half-hour of one-on-one instruction each day from a specially trained teacher.

What is intriguing, beyond the positive development of the child’s literacy skills, is the terrific enthusiasm of the children as they are taught. However, the thing that really struck me as I watched two different children receiving Reading Recovery instruction in Auckland, New Zealand, and in Cedarburg, Wis., was that these children experienced a solid 30 minutes of undivided, supportive, rewarding time with an adult.

My mind jumped. How many of our kids share 30 minutes like that with an adult on a regular basis? If they did, what would we want them to do? What if the results were equally as dramatic as they are in Reading Recovery settings?

We know reading to children on a regular basis before their formal school years is very powerful. Let’s encourage our parents and all adults to give of their time for our kids. The payoff can be dramatic.

A second high-impact moment in New Zealand involved visiting the Rotoria Primary School. This lakeside school of nearly 300 children is in the midst of the native Maori area. The children are taught subjects in Maori and are given a solid background in English. I was struck by the beautiful faces of children from different backgrounds--an experience certainly not foreign to us in the United States.

A small booklet I received at Rotoria Primary described "accountability" in the following short section:

  • Accountability to our creator,
  • Accountability to our ancestors,
  • Accountability to our family,
  • Accountability to ourselves and each other and
  • Accountability to government.

As American educators, we seem deeply concerned about accountability to government and newspapers and to everyone else who has an opinion about education. It might be a good idea for us to pause and check the Maori list. What have we done to be accountable to ourselves, each other, our family, our ancestors and our creator?

A few questions for your consideration: Can we find our true accountability in test scores from multiple-choice tests? Can we find our accountability in the marketplace? Will continuing our democratic society be a part of our accountability? Do we have to ask where some of our programs are leading us and whether they are paths that lead us to becoming better human beings? Some say there is no time to address that concern. Maybe it is a matter of not having our sights set on being responsible to the right people.

Let’s remember those beautiful faces and give our children the wonderful experiences of time with us as adults. Let them know what we think is important while not being judgmental. We can point them toward family and beautiful music and thoughtful art and great books and exciting sports and great thinking and thoughtful figures in history and simple pleasures, such as appreciating beautiful flowers, sitting beside a lake, talking with friends, enjoying lovingly prepared food, seeing the leaves change or watching a play or musical.

Our kids are so willing to be a part of us if we are only willing to slow down, give some time and be willing to be part of them and the building of their world.