by Deb Christenson, Humanities Teacher
I have long been inspired by my heroes; aspiring to write like them—Willa Cather, to teach like them—David Watters at the University of New Hampshire, to show the kind of caring they showed me—“Butch” Furse. Some of my heroes I knew personally, but not all. Reading widely, I often find heroic examples that also stir me. Such is the case of the life of Thomas Sobol, professor emeritus at Columbia’s Teachers College.
Sobol had been among the first to call for standards as the New York State Commissioner of Education in the late 1980s, standards that he believed would create equity in a state wide system which he characterized as “one largely suburban, white, affluent and successful; and the other largely urban, of color, poor, and failing.” (http://nyti.ms/1Uy6orB) After a lengthy illness, Sobol died early this month, leaving a legacy of writing, of teaching, of caring.
I never met Sobol; I wish that I had known him in person. However, I knew him in spirit. I knew him through his beliefs, a legacy that he passed to me without knowing it. Teaching is like that. We often don’t have a clue about the impact we have on the students in front of us. Wildwood students show gratitude for their schooling in small and large ways: saying thank you to a teacher on the way out of class, emailing as they leave for college with a desire to keep in touch from afar. And yet, I don’t really know what my legacy might be. I operate on faith: faith in the future that Wildwood students will create. Faith that education is still the promise for American democracy that relies on an educated citizenry to vote. Faith that setting high academic standards is akin to having ideals. Faith in heroes.