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Ron Clark, panel talk of great expectations in education

By Nenad Tadic | Emory Report | April 18, 2012

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Educator Ron Clark keynoted "Classroom on the Green" on April 17. Emory Photo/Video.

Ron Clark, educator, author of New York Times bestseller "The Essential 55," and Oprah Winfrey's first "phenomenal man," spoke April 17 as part of the "Classroom on the Green" series—an outdoor discussion on universal themes. Education reform was this year's topic.

Though originally planned for Asbury Circle, the forum took place in the planned rain location of Cox Hall Ballroom. The first 150 guests at the event received a complimentary copy of Clark's latest piece, "The End of Molasses Classes."

Clark is widely known for establishing the Ron Clark Academy, a private nonprofit school in Atlanta. Opened in 2007, the school houses an award-winning staff, 120 students, and a mission for every child's success by implementing passionate and innovative learning techniques in the instruction of fifth- through eighth-graders.

"Our school is a bit of a revolution," Clark explained, as he described the academy's emphasis on student and teacher learning. Clark noted that the school hosts conferences for educators across the country to come in and discover methods that educators can acquire and transfer to their respective institutions.

Lack of creativity is a commonality in most schools across the country, Clark said.

"If you don't have the energy, you're going to lose the kids," he said. As an example, he recited to the audience an R&B song by Rhianna that his students adapted and memorized in order to solve a math problem.

Parents and teachers also have low expectations for students, Clark said. Parents are more concerned with their child's grades and self esteem than the intended goal of learning, he said.

To illustrate this, Clark related a story of a parent who called him one night to ask why her daughter, a student in Clark's class, didn't receive a cookie for a job well done. When Clark explained to the parent that the job wasn't in fact well done, the parent was infuriated and demanded that her daughter should get a cookie since everyone else did.

Clark concluded by declaring that while sometimes the going gets rough in schools, "in life, don't make excuses: find solutions."

The keynote was followed by a panel moderated by Emory College senior Stephanie Spangler. The panel featured Italian studies professor Christine Ristaino, education studies professor Aiden Downey, and Emory alumnus Michael Turgeon, who works for Teach for America.

The panel — which discussed topics like the rise of standardized testing and perceptions of the teaching profession -- was followed by questions from the audience.