It’s not every day that a Hollywood actor truly walks the talk, and 80s sitcom star Tony Danza, famous as Tony on “Who’s the Boss” has just raised the bar for his Tinsel town comrades. Danza spent the entire 2009-2010 school year in an inner-city Philadelphia high school teaching English because he’s “always been concerned about the state of American education… I’m basically fearful for our future,” and after teaching, he discovered that “the kids are victims of our culture.”
And it seems the teacher learned a few lessons of his own. In a recent interview with Fox News about his new book, Danza reflected on his time as a teacher and argues that the influence of parents and a true desire of students to learn is a far better model for success than “better facilities, smaller class size, better teachers.” He argued that “parents who care” are crucial to a child’s scholastic success.
“I was poor, but I had parents who said, ‘This is important.’ They expected things of you,” Danza said.
“You know what one of the best indicators of student achievement is? The academic success of the mother. If you have 75 percent single motherhood, you have a problem and that no teacher can solve.”
He did however mention that poverty is indeed “an obstacle” to education. After mentioning that almost one million kids drop out each year, he said, “We have to convince the kids that in spite of the formidable obstacles that many of them face, and I mean it, one in three kids in New York City lives in poverty, and if you think poverty’s not an obstacle to education, you’re crazy.”
But Danza was insistent that it was personal responsibility and a students’ ownership of their education that will propel them to success. “The solution is we can’t want it more for the kids than they want it for themselves … So let’s convince the kids that in spite of those formidable obstacles, and even if it’s a bad school and you’ve got the worst teacher, you’ve got to somehow want it, and it’s up to you.”
When he said kids are “victims of our culture” he mentioned that today’s America is different than the one he grew up in. “When I was a kid everything was about nurturing the kid. There was a family hour, there were regulations that said we are nurturing our children, and that’s all gone now. Basically every message they get now is almost antithetical to education.”
It wasn’t easy. Danza admitted, “I really wanted to try, and then when I did it, I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.” He stated that the 180 day school year is “emotionally grinding” because, “you gotta be there every moment and you’ve got to show them you care.”
Though an admitted fan of unions, Danza recognized the existence of union abuse. “I really think they’re are always going to be abuses on both sides but I’m sorry I’m a union guy,” he said. “I think this country is better for unionism. If you track the downward trend of wages, it’s the exact downward trends of unions.”
It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood celebrity not just throw money at a cause he or she believes in but actually get tangible experience learning about his or her passion. Danza got first-hand knowledge of what it takes to get students to succeed, and it’s encouraging to see that he recognizes the importance of personal responsibility on behalf of the students, parents, and teachers.
Many talking heads are quick to blame government or lazy teachers or the culture for America’s educational failures – it goes to show that a little time in the classroom can really illuminate where reforms are needed and where success can thrive.
Danza’s experience was chronicled in a 2010 documentary titled “Teach.”