A month went by fast, and I will be the first to admit that it has been both a painful and hopeful learning process. A painful process because I am feeling a little less trust in this community. A little less trust that people presume best intentions – something I am guilty of not doing and certainly something that I have felt on the receiving end of this last month. But hopeful because I have met some really wonderful individuals who have given of their time, talents and resources to try and ensure that this process remains as productive as possible for the sake of our larger community and the larger goals we share.
Equity And Accessibility
I said it would be a week before I posted on the Oppressive Schools letter and it’s been longer than that. The honest truth is that I struggled about whether or not to sign my name to it; the back-and-forth in my mind and heart has led to lost sleep and moments of anxiety. It’s been hard to put my finger on exactly what the issue has been and I am thankful for the chance to talk with friends, and even strangers, about that question because it has helped me clarify my thinking around why signing onto this particular articulation of the problem didn’t fit for me.
Last Wednesday evening was one of those nights when I was struck by what it means to really be an ally for those who don’t feel they have power or voice. I live in Denver, CO, a wonderful city on many levels. As is the case with many wonderful cities, its benefits are sometimes its drawbacks. This feels true in many sectors, and the education sector is no different. I feel lucky to have had the chance to get to know and work with and alongside many amazing people who are all committed to doing what they think is best for children. I don’t agree with people on everything but I do appreciate that everyone believes they are working towards a better system. However, Denver is a small city or a big town – take your pick. Over the last seven years I have watched the same roster of players fill different leadership roles in the education community, and being able to work with others and not rock the boat becomes a bit of a pre-requisite in that type of environment.
I took the summer off. Not from thinking, but from writing. Because honestly, who can manage to be disciplined when the kids are out of school? ☺ But welcome back to the Third Rail. Even though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and interviewing and have a whole host of fun issues to dig into. So let’s start with an easy one.
Since becoming a mother I have come to realize that one of the most powerful statement of my values comes in the choices I make about and for my children. I give far more thought to the food I buy for my sons than I did when I was making choices about my own food habits. I think a lot more about the music I listen to, the words I use, and the habits I model than I did when they were not watching me. Somehow knowing that my choices have an impact on them makes me pause and choose more thoughtfully to ensure that my choices match my deepest values.
In my last post I shared stories of some of the students I interviewed at the MET schools in Providence, RI. What I am finding most interesting about my MET experience is what happens when I tell people about it. It drives home to me the fact that our leadership and our notions of success reflect our biographies. Given who I am, where I work and who my peers are, the people I interact with most are college graduates, most of whom also have one or more graduate degrees. We belong to the economic upper and upper-middle class, and fall into the category of people who were successful in formal school settings and generally tried to keep our professional options open for as long as possible. We took courses in high school that made us competitive applicants to four-year universities; attended colleges that had general education requirements that allowed us to decide as late in the game as possible what our majors would be and whether we wanted to go to medical, business, law or graduate school. We then spent anywhere from 2-7 years after college doing more academic work. And finally we got jobs. However, we are the demographic most likely to move for a job, which reflects a bit of an obsession with always seeking different, better, more meaningful or more lucrative professional opportunities. Unsurprisingly, our idea of success is the path we took; this type of success is our expectation and hope for our own children. It is not surprising then that, almost without exception, everyone in this category of friends who I tell about MET immediately expresses grave concerns about a high school experience that would not ensure that all students to get the “well-rounded” education needed to allow them to do whatever they want after high school. When I ask them to clarify what this well-rounded curriculum would be it turns out people mean the algebra, geometry, calculus, US History, European history, world history, biology, chemistry, physics, foreign language, English, general literature, physical education, art and technology classes that most of us took in high[…]
I have to admit being wryly amused these days after conversations with colleagues who have been on the “reform” side of education policy conversations over the last four years. The reason? Many of them are now parents whose children are getting ready to enter preschool or kindergarten. People whose day jobs often entail wholesale advocacy of higher standards and accountability for schools, students and educators seem to forget these issues during conversations about the programs they are considering for their own children. A recent exchange at a social event is reflective of this general trend:
College prep charter school models like KIPP began as middle schools. The idea was to catch kids before they went to high school and to ensure that they were brought up to levels of proficiency in basic math and literacy. In other words, these schools focused on academic remediation. The fastest way to achieve this goal was to have teachers deliver a lot of content quickly and efficiently.
Not surprisingly, schools developed highly prescribed and scripted curricula, and focused on behavior management and routines that ensured teachers used time efficiently and all students covered the same materials. The push to expand these models was facilitated by an influx of enthusiastic but generally untrained college graduates into urban classrooms through Teach for America (TFA). A highly scripted curriculum allowed TFA Corps members to teach because it reduced the need for planning lessons and facilitating student-directed learning experiences.