School Smarts: The Four C’s of Academic Success
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2004
Carolyn Moser, a North Carolina teacher, introduces Burke’s central idea, that going to school is as much a learned thing and necessary to succeeding as the academic subject matter. Burke identifies, from the perspective of student and teacher, the four C’s: commitment, content, competencies and capacity.
Citation: Burke, J. (2004). School smarts: The four C’s of academic success. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
By Jim Burke
2004; 176 pp/paperback
Reviewed by Carolyn Moser
Leesville Road Middle School
Wake County (NC) Public Schools
Jim Burke begins this book by sharing some of his personal background. Once the reader has read about the experiences Burke had with the educational system, his emphasis on "school smarts" takes on greater significance. All teachers can think of someone who fits the characteristics of the student who coasts through school with no knowledge of what it takes to succeed in that world. Jim Burke was such a student, and his suggestions for teachers and students grow out of his own experience.
For Burke, who later became a renowned English teacher and author, school was not clearly connected to the real world. As a middle and high school student, he had no idea of how to meet the expectations of teachers. During his senior year Jim had a GPA of 1.7 and barely managed to graduate. After a year of work, he realized that he needed to get serious about his education, but when he entered junior college, he found had none of the skills required to "do school." This knowledge had to be learned slowly and painfully.
The message here for teachers and parents is to somehow get students to understand that learning how to go to school is just as important as the information you learn in school. Going to school is a learned skill, not something that children are born knowing how to do.
After the introduction, Burke proceeds to cover the Four Cs of Educational Success. He explains these from the perspectives of both the student and the teacher. How can we as teachers get students to accept responsibility for their own success?
The Four Cs are:
Commitment – School is not easy; it requires hard work, dedication and persistence. As teachers we must not accept anything less than success from any student. Every student can learn with the right support and encouragement. "Determination + Discipline + Hard Work = The Way to Success." Many times, students may be the greatest obstacle standing in the way of their own success. They may refuse to accept the idea that failure is not a viable option. A quote from the book sums it up: "If content were viewed as a mountain, commitment would refer to the desire one has to climb that mountain." The question is, "how do we instill this commitment in children?"
Content: This refers to the information or process that students must master in order to reach success. The "content" involves not only academics, but social, procedural, cognitive, cultural, ethical, and existential factors as well. How to teach this to a classroom of diverse students is a challenge, but the author gives some very concrete suggestions for teachers.
Competencies: Burke offers a detailed list of competencies necessary for success and suggestions for teaching those to children. Competent students know that success is not something easily attained and must be repeatedly strived for and earned during the school year. He includes surveys and other tools that can help teachers check for student competencies.
Capacity: A student's capacity includes confidence, dexterity, fluency, joy, memory, resiliency, speed, and stamina. Taking an exact measure of capacity is difficult, but Burke believes we need to help children recognize how these traits and skills influence success.
Overall, School Smarts reinforces what all qualified teachers already know. Children come to school with all levels of skills and experiences. Unfortunately, before all children can reach success, it is necessary to reteach many fundamental skills that should be acquired during the early years before children come to school. If a child comes from a home where education is not valued, how do we, as teachers, make school have importance? Unless teachers are able to teach children "how to go play the game of school," they have little hope of academic success.
Teachers must learn how to access children in a kind and flexible manner so that rather than shutting the door on the initial efforts of children to succeed, they encourage and support every small step they make toward learning how to thrive in a school environment. All children want to be successful and have the natural ability to learn. Like the author, many children do not come to school with "school smarts" and must be taught. Jim Burke provides good food for thought for educators who are searching for ways to unlock the potential inside of all children.