Most Americans first heard about Marva Collins in 1981 when she was potrayed by Cicely Tyson in a made for TV movie called The Marva Collins Story that also co-starred Morgan Freeman. She was offered the position of Secretary of Education by President Ronald Reagan but she preferred to stay a teacher. Marva is an outstanding Illinois educator who has won national praise for her results-oriented old-fashioned approach to teaching by the Socratic method. She believes that every child can learn and wants to learn in a respectful teaching environment. She believes that challenging children is a more direct path to true self-eteem and self confidence than any artificial or contrived dumbing down of lessons.
Marva was born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1936 and grew up in Artmore, Alabama in an era when segregation was the cultural norm. Her father Henry was a businessman and a strong and positive influence on her life. She learned to read from Bible School books and the directions on tin cans and from books her father borrowed in Mobile. He graduated from the all-black Eschambia County Training School in Artmore. According to the Marva Collins Seminars web site, black people in her town could not get a card at the public library and her grammar school had few books and no indoor plumbing. But her family inspired in her a strong desire to learn and achieve independence and self respect. She graduated from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1957 and taught school in Alabama for two years. In 1959, Marva moved to Chicago and married Clarence Collins. In 1960, she was hired as a substitute teacher in the Chicago School system even though she did not yet have a formal teaching certificate but quickly got one to teach full time. She taught in Chicago public schools for 14 years until 1974.