Free Thinkers by Joshua Davis – Inspirational Case Study

Sergio Takes Action

  • He started by pulling his desks into groups and when the students sat down, so did he. He told them that while they were poor, they had as much potential as kids anywhere in the world. He then asked them what they wanted to learn. He experimented with different ways of asking open-ended questions and letting groups work on them. The new environment was a bit noisy and chaotic unlike the factory model. To teach democracy, he had the class elect leaders who would decide how to run the class and address discipline, which thanks to this approach was not a problem. He also hosted regular debates on controversial subjects like homosexuality, abortion, and immigration.

Then Came the Standardized Tests

  • Even though Sergio did nothing to prepare his students for the national standardized tests, they did remarkably well. The previous year 45% failed the math section and 31% failed the Spanish section. This year only 7% failed math and 3.5% failed Spanish. None posted an excellent score before, but now 63% were excellent in math. One student Paloma Bueno, who’s father had recently died, had the highest math score in Mexico! Many other students weren’t far behind.
  • Sergio’s response was “it’s just a test and not a great one. It tests what students know and not what they can do,” which he feels is more important.

The Impact

  • Sadly, the larger system that Sergio is changing in his classroom is slow to recognize and adopt innovations like his. The system was constructed almost 200 years ago to meet the needs of the industrial age. Now that our society and economy has evolved beyond that era, our schools need to be reinvented, not just reformed. In spite of the impressive results for Sergio’s students, Mexican authorities are dismissive and claim that the teaching method makes little difference.
  • In my view, many of the policy makers in the United States are no better. They are convinced that the test culture will change education for the better, and that scripted, teacher-proof lessons are the way to go. My only hope is that this inspirational story will help push our system in a very different direction than the one in which it is currently headed. Thanks Sergio for your inspiration and vision.
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