- Listen to Ron's Interview with Roberta Israeloff and George McDermott -
Life Lessons from Both Sides of the Teacher’s Desk: Chapter 2
Today’s 45 Forward episode is Chapter 2 of a unique, 3-part conversation, focusing on of a fascinating book, What Went Right: Lessons from Both Sides of the Teacher’s Desk, by the co-authors Roberta Israeloff and George McDermott. Roberta, a long-time friend, was one of my classmates at Syosset High School on Long Island in the late 1960s; George was our 11th Grade American Lit teacher. Roberta, a lifelong writer and author, is currently the Director of the nonprofit Squire Family Foundation, dedicated to encouraging the teaching of philosophy at pre-college levels. And George, now a writer and poet, has had several teaching jobs , as well as extensive editorial experience in several business and media fields over the course of his career.
In my first conversation with George on June 13th, we talked about how he and Roberta reconnected after more than 50 years on social media and began a steady correspondence that evolved into a provocative exchange about their perspectives over several decades, from inside and outside the classroom, which ultimately turned into their book, What Went Right—essentially a story of their own “lifelong learning” experiences. Everything from what they’ve learned about the roles of teachers as instructors and mentors; to the continuous debates over curriculum and standardized testing; to the fundamental questions about how education should prepare young people to be “human”—that is, discerning and productive citizens in a complex, often unpredictable world.
George and I talked about his early experiences at Syosset with Roberta, and I shared some of my own recollections of that time, looking back at how things were—not so much with nostalgia, but rather, reflecting on what they meant, given changing perspectives and experiences over the course of a lifetime. Today, we’re going to continue the conversation with Roberta, focusing more on what’s changed in public education, society and their own lives since Syosset High School. It’s a decidedly different spin on the concept of “lifelong learning” as we get older, one of the most important ingredients to healthy aging. It's a story about teaching and learning, but also what we’ve learned about ourselves.
Roberta Israeloff has directed the Squire Family Foundation since its inception in 2007. The Foundation advocates for the inclusion of philosophy in elementary and secondary schools, and co-founded both PLATO and the National High School Ethics Bowl. She co-edited Philosophy and Education: Introducing Philosophy to Young People, and is on the editorial board of Precollege Philosophy and Public Practice. In her 35-year writing career, she has published numerous essays, short stories, book reviews, and books including, mostly recently, The Ethics Bowl Way: Answering Questions, Questioning Answers, and Creating Ethical Communities, co-edited with Karen Mizell.
George McDermott is a Philadelphia poet who lives in Florida (that’s not impossible, not even particularly uncommon). He’s also been an English teacher, a speechwriter, and a screenwriter (those are not mutually exclusive, not even especially different). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Painted Bride Quarterly, Toho Journal, Passengers Journal, The Fourth River, Notre Dame Review, Coastal Shelf, and MacQueen’s Quinterly, as well as in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his first collection—Pictures, Some of Them Moving—was published by Moonstone Press in 2018. He is also co-author—with Roberta Israeloff, who was a student in one of his high school English classes—of the nonfiction book What Went Right (Rowman & Littlefield 2017), a conversation about the successes and missteps of public education in the United States.