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September 07, 1990 - Image 41

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-07

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Dennis Littky: "The job of a school isn't to get kids to spit back information but to use their knowledge."


A new concept in education, that's what's up,
and it's all the work of a former Detroiter named
Dennis "Doc" Littky.


Assistant Editor

ennis Littky be-
lieves in the
three Rs: Read-
ing, wRiting and
Relating to stu-
dents about issues like the
environment and finding
And together with
teachers, parents and com-
munity volunteers, the
Detroit native, called "Doc"
by his students, turned a
New Hampshire high school


around, making star
students out of teen-age
troublemakers and leaders
out of class clowns.
He also inspired nation-
wide debates about edu-
cation, drawing strong sup-
port from administrators
and teachers who admired
, his determination to make
learning fun and give
students information they
could use. Dr. Littky drew
ire from local leaders who
insisted the way to learn is
by memorizing state capitals
and mathematical theories.
Most recently, Dr. Littky

was the inspiration for a
book, Doc: The Story of
Dennis Littky and His Fight
for a Better School, which
traces his childhood in a red-
brick house in Detroit to a
hard-won battle to retain his
position as principal of
Thayer Junior/Senior High
in the small, blue-collar
town of Winchester, N.H.
Education was the last
thing on Dr. Littky's mind
when he moved to Win-
chester. A principal with
numerous success stories
behind him, Dr. Littky mov-
ed to the area to get away

from work. His first stop was
a cabin deep in the cold
woods, where he set up
Dr. Littky hadn't been
long in the cabin before he
emerged to establish a corn-
munity newspaper, The
Winchester Star. He wanted
it to be a paper created by
and serving its constituents.
Working on The Star
brought Dr. Littky in fre-
quent contact with Win-
chester citizens. When not
discussing the paper, they
were often voicing their
frustration with the local

school, Thayer. The building
itself was covered with graf-
fiti and obscene scribbles.
The students were dropping
out or failing. Even the
police were afraid to ap-
proach the school.
But Dennis Littky was not.
Before coming to Win-
chester, he served as prin-
cipal of an inner-city New
York school. Working with
uninterested and uninspired
teens was exactly the sort of
challenge he liked.
So when the Thayer High
principal announced he was
leaving, Dr. Littky put in his
resume. Though troubled by
his wild beard and hair and
his wrinkled green jacket,
the school board decided to
hire the man from Michigan.
Dr. Littky immediately set
his agenda. On the top of his
master plan was changing
the face of Thayer High. He
found crews to scrub walls
and fix toilets. He estab-
lished a student board to
help plan the discipline code.
He reached out to commun-
ity members, convincing
them their input was vital to
the success of Thayer and
signing them up to teach, to
organize school projects and
to drive students to out-of-
town events. He found part-
time jobs for students inter-
ested in shop, auto
mechanics and cosmetology.
This approach to education
was new for Thayer, but it
was a theory Dr. Littky had
been formulating for years.
"As I was going through
school, there were always
people who got really excited
about an author and would
read all his books. I just knew
there was something right
about this, that these people
were the ones doing the real
learning," said Dr. Littky,
who graduated from Mum-
ford High School and at-
tended the University of
Michigan. "They might fail
the tests, but memorizing
just for tests isn't learning.
"The job of a school isn't to
get kids to spit back infor-
mation but to use their
Thayer projects designed
to promote the use of knowl-
edge included a program
where students compiled
historical, sociological and
psychological reports on
New Hampshire; a moun-




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