“Character is what you know you are,
not what others think you have.”
She knew what to do.
“Determination and perseverance move the world; thinking that others will do it for you is a sure way to fail.”
She did not fail, in the long run, despite all the obstacles. Just ask her numerous, successful, students.
Marva Collins, Fieldmarshal Rational, (August 31, 1936 – June 24, 2015) was an American educator who in 1975 started Westside Preparatory School in the impoverished Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. She ran the school for more than 30 years until it closed in 2008 due to lack of sufficient enrollment and funding.
She was known for applying classical education, in particular the Socratic method, modified for use in primary schools, successfully with impoverished students, many of whom had been wrongly labeled as learning disabled by public schools. She once wrote, “I have discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities.“
After working as a substitute teacher for 14 years in Chicago public schools, Ms. Collins cashed in her $5,000 in pension savings and opened Westside Preparatory School in 1975. The school originally operated in the basement of a local college and then, to be free of red tape (the same reason she said she had refused federal funds), in the second floor of her home.
Fieldmarshals are bound to lead others, and from an early age they can be observed taking command of groups. The reason is that they have a strong natural urge to give structure and direction wherever they are – to harness people in the field and to direct them to achieve distant goals. They cannot not build organizations, and cannot not push to implement their goals. When in charge of an organization, whether in the military, business, education, or government, Fieldmarshals more than any other type desire (and generally have the ability) to visualize where the organization is going, and they seem able to communicate that vision to others. Their organizational and coordinating skills tends to be highly developed, which means that they are likely to be good at systematizing, ordering priorities, generalizing, summarizing, marshaling evidence, and at demonstrating their ideas. [Please Understand Me II]
She began with four students, including her daughter, charging $80 a month in tuition. Enrollment at the school, on Chicago’s South Side, grew to more than 200, in classes from prekindergarten through eighth grade. It remained in operation for more than 30 years.
“If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything.”
She made people. She built Character, first one student, then another, then another…
Collins took these children and lavished attention, love, and discipline on them all. She concentrated on reading, mathematics, and writing. She used classical teaching methods that have been around for hundreds of years, but also believed in her students. She taught them that they could learn, that they were going to have to work for it as no one was going to give it to them. More than that, she helped them want to learn.
Collins’s school was noted for two characteristics: the Socratic method and the use of the Classics. No readers were used; the children read classical literature by great authors. Then she used the Socratic method of questions and answers to draw the children into discussions that stretched their minds. In this manner she emphasized both knowledge content and the logical use of it.
Ms. Collins set high academic standards, emphasized discipline and promoted a nurturing environment. She taught phonics, the Socratic method and the classics and, she insisted, never expected her students to fail.
‘During the first year of Westside Preparatory School, Marva took in learning disabled, problem children and even one child who had been labeled by Chicago public school authorities as borderline retarded. Over the years, she continued to take in children labeled as dyslexics and every other kind of learning or behavioral disability. These children were often classified as “hopeless” by other teachers.’
“Working with students having the worst of backgrounds, those who were working far below grade level, and even those who had been labeled as ‘unteachable,’ Marva was able to overcome the obstacles. News of third grade students reading at ninth grade level, four-year-olds learning to read in only a few months, outstanding test scores, disappearance of behavioral problems, second-graders studying Shakespeare, and other incredible reports, astounded the public.”
“All children can learn. For thirty years, we have done what other schools declare impossible,” explains Collins, who has trained more than one hundred thousand teachers, principals, and administrators in the methodology developed and practiced at her Westside Preparatory School in Chicago. “I don’t make excuses–I take responsibility. If children fail, it’s about me, not them. I tell my students, if you think excellence is difficult, you don’t want to try failure.”
Collins says the critical element is instilling self-worth and convincing children that they are born to succeed. “Values can be replicated, excellence can be replicated, but it has to begin with the idea that everything is about me, not the other person, and about being proud of my work. Many parents are busy giving their children everything except a sense of self-esteem and self-worth.”
Ms. Collins later turned over the operation of Westside Prep to her daughter, Cynthia. It closed in 2008, with annual tuition at $5,500 and enrollment dwindling. Ms. Collins moved to Hilton Head, S.C., where she organized programs to train teachers and administrators.
Other Fieldmarshal Rationals include: Dambisa Moyo, Mary Lasker, Sheryl Sandberg, Malala Yousafzai, Tan Le, Muriel Siebert, Jerry Buss, John Adams, Indra Nooyi, William Pitt, the Younger, Ellen Sirleaf and Joyce Banda, and Margaret Thatcher.