By Steve Wilkins
How Carroll’s signature philosophy came to be—and how it continues to change lives.
Origin stories. Every culture in the history of the world has generated mythology about the beginning of the universe, our time on earth, and human evolution. Iroquois tell the story of The Great Turtle on which humanity emerged, while Zulu culture evokes the image of all life emerging from one planted seed.
Carroll’s origin story is a little less fantastical and a lot more recent (1967), yet this school emerged from the vision of a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Edwin M. Cole, and the parents of children with dyslexia whom he evaluated in the “Cortical Function Laboratory.” Today’s profound truths about the reason Carroll exists resonate in the phrase “Give Each Child.”
“Give Each Child What They Most Need” has become part of the nomenclature of the Carroll School. Our shorthand is to write “GEC,” and we have introduced a new verb into our parlance called “gecc’ing.” I doubt there is a single member of the Carroll community who questions that mantra as a unifying principle that defines Carroll’s promise to our students.
The reason why GEC is highly significant is that it marks a major change in the way Carroll delivered education to its students. Prior to the notion of gecc’ing, Carroll had one excellent program for children with dyslexia. Upon the arrival of GEC, Carroll committed to a customized program of each child. The difference is that gecc’ing requires that the needs of each child define the program, rather than fitting the child into Carroll’s program. In the words of alumnus David Arrow, “I used to think that education was a train I had to try to catch. I learned at Carroll that I was the train!”
The challenge with Carroll’s creation story is that no one remembers the moment when GEC came into our focus. There was no memorable “Aha Moment,” no “Eureka, I found it.” In an electronic community meeting email in 2006, there is a reference to the need for a period in the day that was designed specifically to meet the unique needs of each child. Something called “Friday as One” was mentioned as a means to train faculty to deliver this level of personalization. Somewhere around 2015, the term GEC first appears in Carroll literature, presentations, and blogs. (It is interesting to point out the evolution of GEC even in the course of six years to remove gender-based language.)
Carroll has challenged my thinking as a teacher by reminding me that we all learn at our own pace and our role as teachers is to respect each child’s learning process. There are so many ways to foster understanding and Carroll’s individualized, multisensory teaching approach ensures that each child is getting the most out of their education. This is what “Give Each Child” embraces and this is why GEC works.
Martha Lamb '03, 4th Grade Teacher
Carroll’s Creation Story? There is no question that GEC grew out of summertime brainstorming sessions among Sue Kingman, Larry Brown, and Steve Wilkins. We had a routine for many summers where we would meet in the morning to take on the challenges of improving Carroll and readying for the upcoming fall. After those intense and focused sessions, our lunch excursions would often further develop big thinking, “what if”, and dreaming big. Perhaps GEC emerged from a plate of enchilada verdes at some Watertown restaurant that Larry dragged us to. Maybe that’s our creation story.
No doubt, the essence of an Orton-Gillingham lesson design contributed powerfully to the powerful symbol of GEC. Our lead trainers in Orton-Gillingham instruction--Alice Garside, Angie Wilkins, and Louise Freese-- always emphasized that the lesson for tomorrow is a direct response to the individual student’s performance today. That’s gecc’ing. Most certainly, the work of Isabel Wesley, Pat McGonagle, and Phil Burling twenty years ago to provide more tutoring and targeted services was a forerunner of GEC thinking.
Modern neuroscience also plays a role in Carroll’s commitment to improving the underlying cognitive processes that support academic success (e.g. speed, memory, organization, attention). The miracle of human neuroplasticity makes Gecc’ing not only effective, but it makes it essential.
As parents, we love Carroll’s unique approach to individualized teaching. Carroll was a leader in the 80’s when I attended. But today, by far, it is at the very forefront of using learning styles to group children and using data to be able to target what and how they teach each child. It’s nurturing approach helps our son feel as if he is in good hands and is among “compadres” on a similar journey.
Jeremy MacDonald ‘89, Parent of a 4th Grader
This article is part of a series from Carroll Connection, A Timeline for Transformation: 2005-2021.
- Carroll Connection 2021-22