Marva Collins, born August 31, 1936, to Henry and Bessie Knight, Jr. in Atmore, Alabama, is an 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. She is famous for applying classical education successfully with impoverished students, many of whom had been wrongly labelled 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." She has written a number of manuals, books and motivational tracts describing her history and methods, and currently (2006) has a web site 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.
She graduated from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia known today as Clark Atlanta University, and then 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, 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.