Language Learning Flip-Turned Upside-Down

Quick! Tell me how you learned to speak! (I’m going to assume that your native language is English because that’s the language I’m posting this in. Also, because I’m an American and we just assume that the rest of the world should do things our way.)

Seriously though. How did you learn to speak your native language? Did you memorize the basic structures of its grammar? Practice the correct conjugation of verbs? Make flashcards for the most important vocabulary words?

No, of course not. In fact, you probably can’t even remember how you learned to speak, since it most likely happened before the age of five. All that fancy stuff came later.

So why don’t schools teach foreign languages the same way?

To understand how to teach foreign languages better, we need to go back to very fundamentals of language itself. What is the purpose of language? Like, why do we need to be able to speak good, and stuff?

The purpose of language is communication. It is one of the few things that separates Homo sapiens from the rest of the Animal kingdom. Other animals communicate — some even with complex vocal structures — but none have the complexity, variety, and specificity of human language.

Once we acknowledge that fundamental truth, we need to flip our idea of formal language learning around. Grammar is good, but it’s not essential. Communication is key. Students need to be learning and practicing and trying to communicate before they are saddled with rules and structure. But the typical foreign language class is the opposite.

The typical foreign language class is also in high school, which is a mistake. In the US, over 90% of high schools offer foreign languages (even though only about 50% of students take a course), but only 25% of elementary schools offer language instruction. Not surprisingly, the percentage of middle schools sits right in the middle, making for a nice linear fit.

But learning a second (or third, or fourth, or…) language is hard. Shouldn’t we leave it to our more advanced learners with more mature brains?

Well…no. I mean, yes; learning a language is hard, but it is not the more mature brain that is more adept at language acquisition. It’s the opposite. Younger, less mature brains are more receptive to new languages. In a process called synaptic pruning, children’s brains undergo a radical change from early childhood until puberty. Synapses in the brain (connections between neurons) that are rarely used are culled, making for a more efficient network.

What this means is that, between the ages of two and six, children are incredibly receptive to new stimuli, like learning a new language. But starting at about age seven and going until puberty, it becomes increasingly effortful to learn new languages. After that, it’s the same as it is for an adult learner: stupid hard. So can someone tell me again why we wait until after synaptic pruning has occurred to teach students a second language?

In European schools, language learning starts much earlier. Sure, there’s a more practical reason for that as well — it turns out that being multilingual is an important skill in a polyglot continent — but they also implement language instruction in line with academic research. In Belgium, language lessons begin at age three and are compulsory up until the student is 18. Classes begin at age six in Norway, Italy, and Spain. And in Luxembourg, some students may take instruction in up to four different languages.

So we know language instruction needs to begin young. Like, really young. But why should we push for students to learn a foreign language? We’ve all known the student (or been the student) asking, “I’m not going to France anytime soon, so why do I need to know how to speak French?” Besides, in an increasingly globalized world, English is the lingua franca (you might not know what that means without foreign language instruction).

First — and this shouldn’t be all that surprising based on what we know about synaptic pruning — is that learning a second language literally makes the brain grow. The Swedish Armed Forces tested two groups in intensive study, one studying Arabic, Russian, and Dari and another control group studying medicine and cognitive science equally as hard. In an MRI scan after only three months, the control group (while ostensibly getting much smarter) showed no change in their brain structure. The language group, on the other hand, showed growth in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex. It appears that learning another language changes the brain in ways that learning other things don’t.

And this manifests itself in the way language learning affects all other academic domains. Multilingual people have better memories than monolinguals. They also show more cognitive flexibility, approaching problems more creatively. Because language shapes the way we think, and different languages use different words to make different meanings, being fluent in multiple allows a person to see a problem through multiple perspectives. Because their brains are physically different, they are able to make connections that can allow them to form innovative solutions.

Also on the nature of different perspectives, language learning increases empathy in students. This is born not only through seeing the world in a different lens, but also through experiencing the sheer struggle of learning a whole new language.

Students learning a new language also consistently outperform control groups on standardized tests in all other subjects, including reading, English, social studies, and math. And if we know anything from the modern education industry, isn’t the whole point of school to get students to do well on standardized tests? (/s)

Okay, so if you want smarter students, teach them a new language. How, exactly?

Unlike many other subjects, language instruction is really easy. Wait, no. Strike that. Language instruction is really simple. And as Thelonius Monk said (and I stole from Jay Johnson), “Simple ain’t easy.”

There is only one true way to learn another language: immersion. (To bring this whole post full circle, that’s how you first learned to speak.) Simple. But that’s sure as hell not easy. In fact, embracing the struggle is one of the reasons why immersion is so effective.

While it is easier for younger children to learn a second language, you don’t have to be young — it’s just going to be more difficult the older you are. It turns out that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks…if that trick is to speak, and if that old dog works really hard. Actually, accepted research suggests that being bilingual can improve your memory in old age and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, so language learning might even be more important the older you get.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, too often language classes focus on grammar and vocabulary — the structure of the language — instead of communication. It fits with how educators design most of their classes: the teacher is at the head of the classroom, directing work, and disseminating important information. The student’s role is to absorb, practice, and maybe participate. We tend to shy away from the productive struggle, because that’s messy and it may even make us look like bad teachers.

But that struggle is exactly what makes learning stick. Professors at the University of Illinois-Chicago tested these very two approaches to foreign language instruction. Using a made-up language, the experimenters divided the subjects into two groups. One learned the language using a traditional, structural approach, while the other learned through immersion. While all of the subjects learned the language, only the immersion group had brain processes in the same pattern as native speakers. Even more remarkably, six months after the experiment and with no further instruction in the language (which, I should remind you, was fictional, so it’s not like they were practicing by speaking to other people), only the immersion group still performed well on tests.

And with the explosion of various forms of technology, it’s never been easier to go immersive in the classroom. Actually, wait…before that, the first thing that needs to take place is that the students need to be the ones speaking in class, not the teacher. They need to be the ones directing the pace and the flow of the content. They need to be the ones riffing off of each other and making up Spanglish as they go. They need to be the ones struggling for meaning. When they embrace the struggle — when you embrace the struggle — then students will grow.

Anyway, back to tech. Never in our history have we had so many immersive tools at our fingertips! Technology breaks down time and space; it figuratively shrinks the world so that we can access it on whatever device we have.

Apps like Babbel, Duolingo, or Rosetta Stone bring simple practice to students’ fingertips. The News In Slow… suite offers language learning based on current events. Youtube is an international platform; there are seemingly infinite videos in any language imaginable. And many of them have subtitles!

For even more immersive content, why not talk to a native speaker? Skype and Google Hangouts make this more readily available than ever before. If scheduling a speaking partner is a problem, then how about a pen pal? ePals is your jam.

Or, better yet, why not go to the country of your choice and immerse yourself in that language (and culture, and society, and…)? Your school might not offer much in the way of foreign exchange; or, if it was like mine, it’s a very one-way program — foreigners come here, but Americans don’t go there. That’s okay, because the US Government does. The State Department’s National Security Initiative for Youth is an immersion program with the backing of Uncle Sam. (Well, maybe that’s not such a glowing endorsement…)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the point is that immersive opportunities are out there, and they’re more plentiful than they’ve ever been before. As educators, it’s your job to bring them into the classroom — which might mean tearing down walls, instead of building them up.

Where Do Grades Come From?

Welcome to school, the place where grades are made up and the points don’t matter! That’s right, the points are just like the Super Bowl aspirations of a Cleveland Browns fan!

If everybody jumped off a bridge…

When it comes to school, everybody grades. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a traditional A-F scale, or something more “progressive” like standards-based grading, 1-4 numbers, Grade Point Averages, percentages, or literally anything else, just about everyone does it. There are a few new-age schools that disassociate themselves from grades, but even Montessori schools begin adding in grades to “prepare students for high school.”

I mean, grading is so ubiquitous that there is very little academic research about the merits of grades (Alfie Kohn aside). When I was doing my teacher preparation courses, grading students was something we spent a grand total of five minutes on. The professor said, “You can keep a tally of total points or you can run an average of all student’s assignments. You do what you’re more comfortable with. Now, about aligning a lesson to the appropriate standards…” It was never a question of whether we were going to grade or not, it was just accepted that you will. Figure out the best way to keep track of ‘em.

Since grades are so central to the student experience in school, there has been a largely uncritical view of grades within the profession. Of course, if educators are supposed to teach critical thinking, then at the very least we need to model it ourselves; and if we can’t even think critically about the very bedrock of our practice, then how can we do so for anything else? Whether you agree with traditional grading or not, a healthy skepticism is good for improving your craft.

Talk to any educator (or adult, or student, or anyone who’s been inside a classroom ever), and I think we can safely add Grades to the other inescapable realities of life, along with Death and Taxes.


When it comes down to it, grades help us compare apples to oranges.


The question is: should we be comparing apples to oranges?

So whose great idea was this in the first place?

Something so absolutely essential to the education experience must have a solid foundation of scholarly application, right? I mean, if we all use basically the same method of evaluation, then it must have been designed by educators on the cutting edge?

Ehh…maybe. You’d be surprised how little professional input there was in the creation of grades. They just sort of…happened. Our modern grading system was very much a grassroots evolution out of the Progressive Era of administration (not to be confused with the Progressive educators, like Thomas Dewey and Maria Montessori).

You science teachers might now be screaming that evolution by means of natural selection leads to organisms that are best suited to their environment. I’d say that this evolution has stalled in the last 50 years or so. Of course, maybe that’s more a critique of the school environment than grades themselves. But I digress…

Fair warning: I’m a history teacher, so here’s a wildly oversimplified history for you.

In the 1790s, early elite American universities began the grade crusade by looking to the European model of using scores to rank students. Over two hundred years later, schools…do the exact same thing. Because that’s just the way things have always been done, so why rock the boat?

Half a century later, Horace Mann brought a lasting innovation to primary and secondary schools: the report card. Issued on a monthly basis, these cards communicated student progress to parents. (Interesting side note: this also gave rise to the phrase “the head of the class,” as students who performed better actually changed seats to the front of the classroom.)

As compulsory schooling met the Industrial Revolution, grading became even more widespread. This time period saw massive levels of immigration from outside the US as well as in-migration from farm to city. With so many students moving and transferring and entering and dropping out and doing who-knows-what-else, schools needed some way to track the progress of students. How will we know what students are learning? Grades.

By the 1920s and ‘30s, educators began questioning whether these mass grades were standard across the country. Does the same grade equivalent have the same value across different teachers? In different schools? Different states? We’re all using the same numbers (or, rather, letters), but how do we know they even mean the same thing?

Yes, those questions were posed a century ago. Anyone come up with a good answer yet? Someone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?


Instead of answering the question, schools simply continued course. By the 1940s, the three main grading systems fused into the one we have today, where a letter equates to a percentage band and a number on a 4.0 scale. Because numbers are obviously objective and they don’t lie, so the more numbers we can apply to performance, the more accurate our assessment is, right? I mean, that’s totally how statistics work, right? (Another sidebar: it blows my mind that prospective teachers aren’t often required to take a Statistics course.)

And that’s where we are today. The same place we were during World War II. Because it’s always been like that and it’s just how we do things.

What’s the point, anyway?

If you ask teachers why they grade, you’ll likely get one of a variety of comments (or some combination thereof).

“Grades help motivate my students.”

“They communicate to students and parents how well the child is doing in school.”

“They keep track of how well students learn the topic.”

“Without grades, how would I ever know who’s mastering the material?”

While all of those may be true, they can all be answered — more effectively, I’d argue — without grades.

Let’s start with motivation: it’s a common misconception that students are motivated to perform better by grades. Actually, let me clarify; I’m being a bit disingenuous. Grades absolutely do motivate students — to get better grades. Grading doesn’t motivate students to learn more, or to think creatively, or to problem-solve; grading just motivates students to do what it takes to get better grades. It incentivizes the wrong thing: memorization and regurgitation instead of true learning.

In fact, grading may actually have perverse incentives on student growth. Not only is grading (an extrinsic motivator) a less effective motivating force than more intrinsic models (individual autonomy, mastery, and purpose), but they can actually have the effect of stifling students’ creativity and other critical and analytical thinking skills.

This isn’t anything new; this topic has been studied for nearly 50 years. In fact, in one interesting experiment with med school students, a program switched from traditional grades to a simple pass/fail system. Researchers found no statistically significant decrease in student performance, but they did find that it fostered a sense of collaboration instead of competition among colleagues.

Failure is one of the essential steps toward mastering a new skill. Unfortunately, traditional grades do not allow for failure; or, at least, they do not allow for growth and learning from that failure. When you fail, you just…fail. That’s it.


Next, on to grades as a means of communication. Sure, on some level grades do communicate student progress on a task. At a very simple and marginal level, wide grade bands communicate in general how a student is doing.

But if the purpose of school is learning, then grades are a pretty poor communicator. Let’s just ignore the fact that different grades mean different things from different teachers. An A in Mrs. Smith’s class doesn’t mean the same thing in Mr. Jones’s class, and it’s definitely not the same as in Ms. Frizzle’s room. And we’ve all had that one teacher who proudly refuses to give out As, because reasons. With all of that variation, what’s the point again?

As researchers in Wisconsin showed in a middle school science classroom, a more effective communicator than grades is teacher comments. It turns out that telling students what they did wrong (or right) and how they can improve their work goes a lot longer towards helping students learn than simply giving them a letter or a number. File this one under “No shit, Sherlock.”

Finally, about grades showing mastery. I don’t have too much to say about this, other than one question: shouldn’t mastery be self-evident? I mean, if our lesson involves students learning a certain skill, and we lay out concrete objectives for that lesson, shouldn’t it be obvious whether or not students meet those objectives? The way I see it, grades just complicate what should be a simple practice.

But really, what’s the point?

Grading is the epitome of what I view as one of the biggest problems in education: an uncritical atmosphere of “that’s just the way we do things.” People are afraid of change, and parents, educators, administrators, and politicians are much more comfortable with what’s familiar. If we want students to be better than that, then we need to be better than that.

Also, I freaking hate grading.


Pink, D.H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.

White, C. B., & Fantone, J. C. (2010). Pass-fail grading: Laying the foundation for self-regulated learning. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 15(4), 469-477.

Zhang, B., & Misiak, J. (2015). Evaluating three grading methods in middle school science classrooms. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 14(2), 207-215.

What’s Your Philosophy of Education? (Pt. 2)

While the previous post (Pt. 1 HERE) focused on more global philosophical approaches, this one will be a little more specific to your individual classroom. One of the problems with the school system is that (at various levels) we often implement policies that are contradictory to our philosophical approaches. For example, educators or administrators might push for an inquiry-based approach to learning, but then push for an ordered and rigid classroom management scheme and assessment based on uniform, standard tests. How effective can our lessons really be if our practice doesn’t match our philosophy?

Schools will often say that they are progressively student-centered, but their daily practices typically belie that statement.

What follows is an attempt to entrench your philosophy into the way you teach. Not only should a thorough grasp of your own educational philosophy help with lesson, unit, and year planning, but it should also help with hiring and job searching (i.e., making sure the school and teacher philosophies mesh well). Each of these four listed below corresponds pretty similarly to the first overarching set of philosophies, but they have more direct applications to the classroom.

  1. PERENNIALISM focuses on the unchanging great truth of (primarily Western) civilization. The purpose of school is to cultivate the intellect in the classic disciplines. Lessons emphasize the great achievements of mankind; for example, take a look at the Great Books curriculum proposed by Robert Maynard Hutchins in 1963. The classroom is highly structured and orderly while the teacher is an authoritarian figure (at the head of the class) and the disseminator of truth. Assessment consists of objective exams of student knowledge.
  2. ESSENTIALISM advocates for a common core (now that should sound familiar…) of knowledge to be passed down in an organized, systematic way. This Core may change over time, but schools still need to pass down the skills to produce young adults who are contributing members of society. The classroom has strict moral discipline and behavioral expectations, while the teacher is authoritarian but also a demonstrator. Assessment is performance-based and standardized. I would argue that most schools today fit this philosophy, whether they know it or not.
  3. PROGRESSIVISM uses a student-centered approach to education, as opposed to content- or teacher-focused. The goal of school is promote democratic society by providing experiential education. The classroom should be collaborative, democratic, and community-centered, while the role of the teacher is to be a facilitator or research director (providing problems for students to solve). Assessment takes the form of an ongoing monitoring of student progress. Schools will often say that they are progressively student-centered, but their daily practices typically belie that statement.
  4. According to SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTIONISM, social reform is the main goal of education, meaning that students should be equipped to create a better society than the one they grew up in. The curriculum will often critique cultural and social institutions to resist oppression. The classroom has a climate of inquiry and community building, often with respect to tackling real-life problems, while the teacher is someone who is transformational — an agent of change. Assessment is often done in an authentic environment as part of a cooperative effort.

Which of these do you most identify with? Should education preserve society as it exists or should it help students grow and create their own version? More importantly, does the practice of your classroom match your philosophy?

(Read more about these philosophies HERE)

What’s Your Philosophy of Education? (Pt. 1)

Here’s a question that you were probably asked during your certification program. A question that you likely had to write an essay about. A question that you perhaps haven’t entertained since you started teaching.

What’s your philosophy of education?

But first, why do you even need a philosophy of education?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you can be a perfectly competent educator without one. Planning curricula, executing lessons, instilling classroom management; none of these essential functions of teachers are directly tied to your philosophy.

But your philosophy — if you have one — forms the basis of all those tasks. In fact, your educational philosophy underpins every single thing you do as a teacher or administrator. What does your curriculum look like? How do you execute your lessons? Why and how do you manage your classroom the way you do? Consciously or not, your philosophical approach influences the underlying purpose behind everything you do as an educator.

Successful classrooms (and even schools as a whole) have a consistent, uniform philosophical approach. It may generally be more authoritarian, more democratic, or somewhere in between; the important thing is that it is consistent throughout all aspects of education.

To investigate school philosophy, let’s narrow down our list two four approaches outlined in George Knight’s Issues and Alternatives in Educational Philosophy. Of those four perspectives, two take their influence from classical thought while two come from a more modern tradition. Let’s take a look:


  • IDEALISM derives from the philosophy of Plato, especially that which is expounded in his treatise, The Republic. The goal of an Idealist approach to education is to develop the student spiritually and intellectually though the transmission of a society’s fundamental truths and values. An Idealist curriculum might focus on Great Literature, Liberal Arts, History, Philosophy, and Religion. Teaching methods would heavily include Socratic discussion and individual reflection. Students should develop moral character by emulating the example of collective heroes. People who pine for a “back-to-basics” approach to education are often referring to this philosophy.
  • REALISM, while still in the classical tradition, departs from Idealism in that the focus shifts to the observable world. Realism comes from the teachings of Aristotle, who was actually one of Plato’s students. Similar to the previous philosophy, the goal of a Realist education is to teach intellectual and moral virtue; however, the methods focus more on objective and observable natural truths. A Realist approach is orderly and focuses on applying the scientific methods to all aspects of education. Perhaps we see this being revived in the current push for STEM education.
  • PRAGMATISM is the first of the more modern approaches to educational philosophy, pioneered by Thomas Dewey and other Progressive educators in the early-1900s. While Pragmatists relate to the Realist approach of focusing on experiential reality, they differ in their view of eternal truths. For a Pragmatist, truth is not universal and unchanging; instead, truth is what can be shown to work in the real world. Truth changes, and thus the focus of education should be real-world problem solving. An education based on this approach would model democracy by using group work, experimentation, and the teacher as a ‘project director’ to solve problems. Project-based learning and Inquiry education are definite applications of a Pragmatist approach.
  • EXISTENTIALISM turns the focus back towards the individual instead of the outside world. An Existentialist approach focuses on self-discovery and the individual’s choice and responsibility. In an Existentialist classroom, students are empowered to discover their own personal truths. Class Management should focus on the responsibility of students to make decisions. Schools like to pay a lot of lip-service to a “student-centered” educational experience, but do they really embrace an Existentialist approach, or is it more empty rhetoric that simply sounds good?


In reality, your educational philosophy is probably a blend of all four. But before re-opening your classroom, it’s worth reflecting onto your own practice: which of the four perspectives do you most identify with? Does your daily approach to the classroom match the goals and methods of each your chosen philosophy? If not, how can you align them to create a more unified underpinning to your classroom?

Oh no…did I just ask you to reflect on your own individual truth? I must be following an Idealist philosophy. Or am I…?

For further reading, see this internet summary and this textbook.

Is Teaching An Art or A Science?


It’s both, and it’s more.

The way I see it, to be a successful teacher you have to balance science (fundamentals of human cognition, individual and group psychology, etc.) with your own personal experience and the collective experiences of fellow teachers (whether they be colleagues, mentors, or internet strangers); then you must refine your day-to-day approach based on the strengths and weaknesses of your own personality.

That, in a run-on sentence, is my way of saying that teaching is both an art and a science meshed with a bit of individual personality. Typically new methods or techniques in the classroom are developed, borrowed, and tweaked by the collective experience of educators. The role of science, through scholarly research, is to test those techniques and analyze whether or not they really are effective in the classroom — or, whether they can be extrapolated to a wider professional level. Your personality comes into play to determine how you execute those individual techniques, because every teacher will put a slightly different spin on the same thing.

For example, let’s take a (very) brief look at one of the most tried-and-true instructional strategies: Direct Instruction (“DI” from here on out). For centuries, DI was the primary method of imparting knowledge from an expert to a learner; only much more recently have educators begun to challenge its hegemony in school.

On the experience side of things, you’ll generally have two camps: one that swears by DI as fundamental to learning a new topic, and one that sees it as outdated, passive, and de-motivating for students. Many current teacher educations programs generally fall on the latter side of the debate, as does popular site Edutopia, which promotes a series of “Core Strategies for Innovation and Reform” that include integrating subjects, project-based learning, and social-emotional (aka, collaborative) learning. I mean, just Edutopia’s slogan surrounding Innovation and Reform should tell you all you need to know about its stance on “traditional” DI.

But if the experience of teachers is increasingly being pulled away from DI, it seems that academic research actually validates DI as one of the most effective techniques for learning. In fact, Rosenshine (2012) seems to imply that current research supports DI as a learning model. The second of ten principles for effective education is to “present new material in small steps with student practice after each step,” going on to state that, “the more successful teachers…presented only small amounts of information at one time, and they taught in such a way that each point was mastered before the next point introduced. They checked their students’ understanding on each point and retaught material when necessary” (Rosenshine, 2012). That sounds a lot like Direct Instruction!

So which approach is correct, the research-backed one in favor of DI or the experience-based one against it? Perhaps which is best depends on you, the educator. Some people have a commanding and energetic personality that lends itself well to engagement with DI, while others appreciate a much more hands-off, democratic classroom approach. It all comes together based on your personality and what you find most natural.

While this site is titled “The Science of School,” it’s goal is not to be a monument to scientific research. I find the notion that teachers (or any other profession/pastime) should only follow what has been proven to work by existing academic research laughable; there are simply too many variables in schools for researchers to have everything figured out. Rather, I find a more balanced approach the best, one that combines experience with research, or, better yet, asks, “Is there evidence that backs up this approach in school?”

This site is a monument to professional questioning and introspection, something that teachers have far too little time to do on their own during the school year.

Citation: Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. American Educator, Spring(2012), 12-39.


This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Welcome to the SCIENCE OF SCHOOL. Whether you came here from the website, newsletter, social media, or wherever, I hope you find the content informative and interesting.

The purpose of the SCIENCE OF SCHOOL is to connect academic research in education to the classroom. Too often what we do in the classroom is contrary (or at least off-base) compared to what research suggests the most effective approaches should be. We do things because that’s just the way things are done, instead of trying to find a better way. Educators have very little extra time as it is, so the purpose of this site is to interpret the practical applications of scholarly research in an accessible manner.

Further, I hope that you’ll find the content thought-provoking, if not downright controversial. By all means, disagree with the conclusions you see here! This is not a monument to scientific fact, but rather to the scientific process: questioning, hypothesizing, and experimenting. If nothing else, you should question everything you do in the classroom. Is it optimal for students? Parents? The community? How can it be improved?

Throughout this blog, you will see posts labelled to one of four categories. Posts about Methods will examine the effectiveness of different pedagogical strategies. The next category, Curriculum, will attempt to explain why we teach what we teach. Assessment will be a review of various evaluations, and finally Policy will analyze the overarching structure of schools at both the individual and systemic level.

My least-favorite phrase is, “That’s just the way it is.” As educators, we can be better than that. We have to be.