(This is the latest in a series of interviews I’ve conducted with educators and activists around the country who are on my radar as people who are doing their best to change policy and practice in their communities.)
Alan Shusterman, who lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with his wife and three children, is the founder of School for Tomorrow (SFT), an independent nonprofit secondary school (grades 6-12) located in Rockville, Maryland which opened this Fall with 18 students, 3 full-time teachers and 6 part-time teachers. Its website describes the school as a “one-of-a-kind, cutting edge, student-centered education model designed in and fit for the 21st century.”
I was intrigued by that description, and by the fact that the school stated up front that research shows little value to homework, so I interviewed him to find out more about SFT and his inspiration for starting it.
Interview with Alan Shusterman
by Sara Bennett
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and why you decided to start a school?
I was a public school kid, always a good student but never particularly engaged in school. I was able to get As despite myself. Growing up I loved hanging out with kids younger than me, I set up school for my younger sister and taught her how to read, and I always had the teaching bug.
But because I was a good student, I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania, and becoming a teacher was never on the horizon. Back then, before Teach for America, it wasn’t culturally acceptable for someone graduating from an Ivy League school to go into teaching. So, instead, I went to Harvard Law School. As history would have it, Barack Obama was in my class at Harvard; as luck would have it, I didn’t befriend him.
Every little aspect of my life story has informed my philosophy of education, including having gone to Penn and Harvard and seeing firsthand what the best and brightest secondary school graduates are like and do. Of course this is an over-generalization, but, in general, the students who succeed in high school arrive to college narrow-minded, conformist, and supporters of the status quo. That President Obama, for one, has turned out to be a rather conventional politician, especially with respect to education, has not surprised me, given his educational pedigree.