Marva Collins

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Marva Collins, circa 1982

Marva Collins (born August 31, 1936) is an American educator who in 1975 started Westside Preparatory School in Garfield Park, an impoverished neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. She ran the school for more than 30 years until it closed in 2008 due to lack of sufficient enrollment and funding.[1] She is famous for applying classical education successfully with impoverished students, many of whom had been wrongly labeled as learning disabled by public schools. She once wrote, "I have discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities."[2] She has written a number of manuals, books and motivational tracts describing her history and methods, and currently (2006) has a website and public speaking service. She was most widely publicized in the 1981 biographical TV movie The Marva Collins Story starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman.

Early life[edit]

Collins was born in Monroeville, Alabama. She graduated from Clark College (now known as Clark Atlanta University) in Atlanta, Georgia.


She taught school for two years in Alabama, then moved to Chicago, where she taught in public schools for fourteen years. In 1975 she started Westside Preparatory School, which became an educational and commercial success. In 1996 she began supervising three Chicago public schools that had been placed on probation. In 2004 she received a National Humanities Medal, among many awards for her teaching and efforts at school reform...


Marva Collins uses the Socratic method, modified for use in primary school. The first step is to select material with abstract content to challenge students' logic, and that will therefore have different meaning to different students, in order to aid discussion. This is done specifically to teach children to reason.

Next, the teacher should read the material, because unknown material cannot be taught. New words, the words to watch, should be listed, and taught, for pronunciation, use and spelling before the material is read. Without this step, the reading is meaningless.

Next, one begins a series of pertinent questions as the reading progresses, starting with a reference to the title, and a question about what the material is about. Predictions should use logic, reasoning and evidence without fallacy. The reading must be out loud, so the teacher can ask questions at pertinent points. Students are taught to test their reasoning. Afterward, they write daily letters to the author or characters, and write a critical review. Why is the work important to them? The child must be taught to refer to what was previously learned to support their opinions.

In the Socratic method, the rate of information is controlled by the teacher. Properly paced, this encourages participation, reducing discipline issues and encouraging self-discipline. The program specifically avoids work-sheets and inane busy work. It establishes an intellectual atmosphere, a general attitude suspending judgment, and examining reasoning.

Comparison to Chicago public schools[edit]

Marva Collins created her low cost private school specifically for the purpose of teaching low income African American children whom the Chicago public school system had labeled as being "learning disabled."[2]

One article about Marva Collins' school stated, "Working with students having the worst of backgrounds, those who were working far below grade level, and even those who had been labeled as 'unteachable,' Marva was able to overcome the obstacles. News of third grade students reading at ninth grade level, four-year-olds learning to read in only a few months, outstanding test scores, disappearance of behavioral problems, second-graders studying Shakespeare, and other incredible reports, astounded the public."[3]

During the 2006-2007 school year, Collins' school charged $5,500 for tuition, and parents said the school did a much better job than the Chicago public school system.[1]

Meanwhile, during the 2007-2008 year, Chicago public school officials claimed that their budget of $11,300 per student was not enough.[4]

Books written[edit]

  • Marva Collins' Way, by Marva Collins with Civia Tamarkin
  • The Marva Collins method; a manual for educating and motivating your child by Marva Collins
  • Ordinary Children, Extraordinary Teachers, by Marva Collins
  • Values: Lighting The Candle of Excellence: A Practical Guide, by Marva Collins
  • A conversation with Marva Collins: A Different School by Marva Collins
  • Grandma, What Is Learning? by Marva Collins
  • Redeeming Education by Marva Collins


In 1981, Collins received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.[5]


Further reading[edit]

  • The School that Cared: A Story of the Marva Collins Preparatory School of Cincinnati, by P. Kamara Sekou Collins

External links[edit]