That’s the motto (and teaching philosophy) of a personal hero of mine: Rafe Esquith, subject of Mel Stuart’s wonderful 2005 documentary, The Hobart Shakespeareans. I wish every parent would see this. The documentary follows Rafe who teaches fifth grade in a troubled Los Angeles school district as he inspires and leads his students to greatness. He challenges his students to take on difficult texts by directing them in Shakespeare plays. He leads them into ethics lessons suggested by Huck Finn. He raises money to take them on cross-country trips to broaden their horizons and give them a glimpse of a better life. At the end of the day, Rafe’s philosophy is simple: work hard and be nice. You won’t soon forget the sight of Rafe’s students IN TEARS on the last day of school. Perhaps they suspect few people in their lives will ever care this much again. I like to look at this video to recharge my batteries certainly as a teacher but mostly as a parent.
I lean toward media that supports the basic premise that by working hard and being nice, you can achieve much, probably everything you could ever desire. I guess I’m the opposite of the Tiger Mom, as I place success in personal relationships on a better than equal footing with professional and scholastic success. But I suppose the backlash Tiger Mom received suggests I’m not alone in this opinion. As I continue this exploration, I will examine the new and the old and invite you to join me in the conversation.