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Close the achievement gap, Schorr urges graduates

October 08, 2001

  • News Image
    "We have to let the world know what we know: that we can improve the life trajectories of children and their families," Lisbeth Schorr told graduates of Lewis & Clark College Graduate School of Education.
  • News Image
    Daniel Schorr, senior news analyst for National Public Radio and the husband of Lisbeth Schorr, reads The New York Times as he waits for ceremonies to begin.

Lisbeth Schorr, renowned author, advocate and social analyst, urged graduates of Lewis & Clark College Graduate School of Education “to build a world in which all children can grow into adulthood with a realistic stake in the American dream.

“As exquisitely trained professionals, you know what works,” she told graduates at commencement on June 3.

“We fail to act on what we know for complex reasons, one of which is that, as a society, we have become very confused about what are societal responsibilities and what are personalresponsibilities.

“We have to let the world know what we know: that we can improve the life trajectories of children and families who have been left behind by America’s prosperity and who are surrounded by poverty and violence.”

Schorr invited graduates to organize strategically around explicit goals, “particularly the urgent need to close the achievement gap.”

Born in Hitler’s Germany, Schorr came to the United States in 1940. She recalled seeing the Statue of Liberty and her experience as a fourth-grader with a foreign accent, who wore her older brother’s laced-up shoes.

“The threat of being cast as an outsider made it easier for me to muster the courage of my convictions when my convictions didn’t match the prevailing wisdom,” she said.

Some risks are worth taking, Schorr emphasized.

Outlining the attributes of effective schools, she encouraged graduates to be more intentional about creating the conditions in which good schools can function.

“To that end, we have to be willing to be held accountable for producing results—results the public cares about,” she said.

Schorr encouraged school districts to provide parents and teachers with the opportunity “to choose the schools within the public system that match their own convictions about the kind of education that will accomplish shared purposes.”

Parents and teachers could choose from schools that represent various philosophies of education and could select the one that makes sense to them, she said. Then, rather than focusing on “the culture wars that are now so divisive and on the compromises that satisfy no one,” the public could focus on whether a particular school performs “well within the basic premises it espouses” and attains “community goals for the skills and knowledge all children are expected to reach to be prepared for a responsible, productive adulthood.”

She received an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the ceremony.

Erin Cameron M.A.T. ’01 was the student speaker.

Schorr is lecturer in social medicine at Harvard University and director of the Harvard University Project on Effective Interventions. She cochairs the Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families of the Aspen Institute. She is also author of two widely acclaimed books, Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage (Doubleday, 1988) andCommon Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America (Doubleday, 1997).

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