Bank Street Commencement Explores Ways to Improve Education

Everything at the Bank Street College of Education originates from the belief that education is the most essential process in people’s lives and has an unmatched impact on our society as a whole.

The lineup of speakers at the school’s commencement ceremonies, who all received honorary doctorates, reflected this belief. They covered the entire spectrum of education: a writer who has enriched lives with her books, a teacher famous for getting her point across in the most meaningful way, and a politician who’s had the integrity and know-how to improve education, and provide quality instruction for the poor and disadvantaged throughout his career.

To the 258 graduates and their friends and family in attendance, Richard W. Riley, former Secretary of Education, asserted that “we are in a great time of transition in American education.”

“The only way to ever give up the tyranny of low expectations is to raise the bar for all of our children,” he said. “We are, in fact, at the moment of truth in defining the standards movement in America. We must do it correctly, or all our effort in the last decade and a half will be for naught.”

Raising standards, however, is much more than just one make-or-break test. It’s making sure that every child has the opportunity to attend a quality pre-K class, that every child is reading well by the end of the third grade, that every high school in America is offering Advanced Placement classes and the arts, and making sure that all of our children can speak English well and be fluent in at least one other language, he explained. “I believe, and I believe this very strongly, that a quality education should be the basic civil right of every child here in America in this 21st Century.”

Joan W. Blos, a children’s book author and a member of the Bank Street Writers Workshop during the 1950s and 60s, discussed the chief concerns of every artist in this age of commercialization: How to continue writing “wonderful, profound and educational children’s books in an era when everyone is a customer.” And how to “take your time” in your art when children are inundated with the questionable values of immediate gratification. Blos helped to conceptualize and write the Bank Street Readers, the first-ever, multicultural texts for and about children in urban settings.

“Reading aloud to students should receive a new emphasis in schools,” she said. “It gives students and teachers a chance for that extra layer of understanding. Through books, we reflect on the fundamental question ‘what does it mean to be human?’ Books stretch our imagination and enrich our life experience.”

Bank Street graduate Dr. Suzanne Carothers, now a Professor of Education at New York University, talked about “teaching summer school to the neighborhood kids in my North Carolina backyard when I was 9 years old.”

One of the nation’s leading authorities in the area of early childhood education, Carothers was clearly born to be a teacher. “I am a teacher,” she emphasized, and re-emphasized. “I am most passionate about my work. To me, there can be no greater compliment in the English language than when someone calls you his or her teacher.”

“The heart and soul of a quality education is good teaching,” said Riley. “But teachers can’t do it alone. We will raise achievement levels only if we involve the entire community. In fact, our schools need to be seen as centers of community. Helping children reach new high standards must be a community-wide effort that involves parents, mentors, tutors, and senior citizens as well.”