Free Forum Q&A – RAFE ESQUITH Multi-award winning 29-year LA 5th grade teacher REAL TALK FOR REAL TEACHERS Advice for Teachers, From Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!”Written on July 23rd, 2013
This week we’ll spend the hour with RAFE ESQUITH, who’s been teaching fifth graders in LA’s Hobart Elementary public school for nearly thirty years. Now a teacher of teachers, he recently returned from doing that in China.
I first learned of Rafe’s work in 2005, when POV the PBS film series pitched me a documentary, THE HOBART SHAKESPEARIANS, about the full Shakespeare productions that his students – most from families where English is not the primary language – perform each year. The film was directed by MEL STUART, a wonderful director of at least two landmark films – the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder and 1973’s WATTSTAX concert film of funky music and Black Power. Mel Stuart passed away a little less than a year ago. And he is missed.
In September 2005, introducing my interview with Rafe and Mel about the film , I said this: Documentaries may be giving us what we hunger for. March of the Penguins, Mad Hot Ballroom and The Hobart Shakespeareans are documentaries about goodness, dedication, and purpose, and whether penguins or fifth graders, they’re about respect and treating others well. Each of these films made me giggle, and each brought me to tears. There’s something joyfully and painfully touching when we see the life force in action with purpose. When so much is going wrong, from Iraq to New Orleans, I think we need to see these things.
Eight years later, Rafe Esquith continues to leads fifth graders at one of the nation’s largest inner-city grade schools through an uncompromising curriculum of English, mathematics, geography and literature. His classroom mottos are “Be nice. Work hard.” and “There are no shortcuts.” Despite language barriers and poverty, many attend outstanding colleges. Esquith expects the best from these kids no matter what their backgrounds, and he backs up that expectation by giving them the educational resources to defy the odds.
Do you consider yourself to be creative? Do you think of creativity as a gift, a talent, something you either have or you don’t? Do you find creativity to be a bit mystical or magical, dependent on luck, the muses, or higher powers?
Today’s guest, JONAH LEHRER, has written a book in which he looks at the latest brain science and attempts, in his words, “to collapse the layers of description separating the nerve cell from the finished symphony, the cortical circuit from the successful product.”
In Imagine: How Creativity Works, Lehrer makes clear, “Creativity shouldn’t seem like something otherworldly. It shouldn’t seem like a process reserved for artists or inventors or other “creative types.” After all, he points out, the human mind has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code.” Creativity is a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively. In the book, Lehrer reveals the importance of embracing the rut, thinking like a child, and daydreaming productively. He also shows how we can use this knowledge to make our neighborhoods more vibrant, our companies more productive, and our schools more effective.
ROBERT SCHEER, editor-in-chief of Truthdig, was Vietnam correspondent and an editor of Ramparts magazine from 1964-69. He worked with the Los Angeles Times for nearly 30 years, as a national correspondent from 1976-1993 and as a weekly syndicated columnist until 2005. In 2005 he co-founded Truthdig. Scheer is heard weekly on Left, Right and Center on NPR's KCRW. A clinical professor of communications at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, he is a contributing editor for The Nation as well as a Nation Fellow. Scheer has written nine books, including With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War; The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us about Iraq; The Pornography of Power and his newest, THE GREAT AMERICAN STICKUP.
JEREMY RIFKIN is the bestselling author of The End of Work, The Biotech Century, The Hydrogen Economy and The European Dream. A fellow at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania, he is the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C. His newest book is THE EMPATHIC CIVILIZATION.