Monday, October 26, 2009

An Ethic of Excellence

An Ethic of Excellence
Berger, R. (2003) An ethic of excellence. New Hampshire: Heinemann.

I read the Introduction and first chapter of Ron Berger’s book An Ethic of Excellence. In this book Berger uses his experience as a veteran teacher and carpenter to illustrate how he has built a classroom with an ethic, or culture, of excellence. In the Introduction he describes his life long passion for strong, accurate, beautiful work. Berger explains that beautiful work goes beyond aesthetics. Beautiful work is the product of craftsmen. A craftsman, like a student, he believes, is “someone who has integrity and knowledge, who is dedicated to his work and who is proud of what he does and who he is. Someone who thinks carefully and does things well.”
In the second chapter, Berger explains his experiences as an archiver of excellence and details how models of student drafts that lead up to final drafts have helped other educators understand that all students are capable of beautiful work. His models also serve as starting points for new assignments. Berger writes, “When my class begins a new project, a new venture, we begin with a taste of excellence. I pull out models of work by former students, videotapes of former students presenting their work, models of work from other schools, and models of work from the professional world. We sit and we admire.”

Having heard about Berger from a classmate in the HTH GSE class I was anxious to get my hands on his book. His twenty-five years of experience as an elementary school teacher and numerous classroom anecdotes create a convincing and admirable proposition to teachers. Can we create a culture of excellence in our classrooms and schools that “transcends race, class and geography”?

“In the classroom or on the building site my passion is the same: If you’re going to do something, I believe, you should do it well. You should sweat over it and make sure it’s strong and accurate and beautiful and you should be proud of it.”

“Some schools are very good; some are not. Those that are good have an ethic, a culture, which supports and compels students to try and to succeed.”

“High expectations guarantee nothing: they are simply the starting place.”

“The key to excellence is this: It is born from a culture.”

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