I had good initial conversations with 3 people from the world of education this week—well, two were email correspondences, and one was a real voice on the other end of the phone. Each is working on a different piece of this same puzzle—how to explain to the general public what we can do in the world of education so the next generation can have happy, productive lives. Vicki Abeles and I talked about the progress of her film, RACE TO NOWHERE. Her main focus is the unintended negative consequences of a system and culture based on competition. Her film is designed around interviews with students, teachers and parents. Our conversation was around what ways we can support each other’s efforts, knowing that it will take a great deal of effort to overcome the current trends. We also sympathized about the difficulty of finding funding when there are so many societal needs going unmet. She may have use for a bit of our footage for some positive visual images.

Jodie Newdelman, a parent in our district’s Montessori program, heard a radio interview with Richard Rothstein, and suggested he was right “up our alley”, so I wrote to him. He teaches at Columbia, and has a book called Grading Education that sounds well worth reading, and I have added it to my list!! The book has an appendix of transcribed interviews with a dozen or so creative teachers in inner city schools, who have been forced by NCLB to abandon successful approaches.

Last, but not least, I chatted with Jerry MIntz. Jerry is the man behind AERO–the Alternative Education Resource Organization. They publish a newsletter called Education Revolution, have an online store full of resources for people looking for alternatives to status-quo education, and host a very successful conference every June in upstate New York. Jerry helped film maker Dorothy Fadiman find progressive public schools for her 1990 film WHY DO THESE CHILDREN LOVE SCHOOL?. The film is an overview of practices that make for a positive school environment, in contrast to AUGUST TO JUNE’s intimate following of one class. In some ways our film is a logical extension of hers, which aired on PBS. As we talked, I realized that at this point I have at least made a dent in identifying many of the players in the world of education who are speaking and writing from perspectives similar to my own. There is still a lot for me to read!!



Here are three quotations to think about:
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.” Albert Einstein
“Measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of education.” Linda McNeil, Rice University,
“…the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.” Nel Noddings, Stanford University

When we talk about assessing education, do we really know what are the important areas to measure? I’d like to see an assessment model that measures how much time each day the child is smiling. How much time does he or she spend looking alert and involved, eyes twinkling? What percentage of his or her interaction with teachers involves critical thinking skills and means of expressing oneself? When I review a day in my classroom those things are as much on my mind as what concepts I have attempted to teach, or what standards I am focusing on. Childhood is a time of lively engagement. If it doesn’t look like that in the classroom, something is wrong.

Children are genetically programmed to LEARN. They really are sponges. No matter what situation you put them into they will learn. The question is not “will they learn?” but “what will they learn?” They will take in along with the math or reading everything associated with the environment they learn it in. Will they approach new situations with confidence in the future? Will they smile when they see a book or math equation? Will they be devastated by “setbacks” or see them as the natural way of things? Where will the word “school” move the dial on the emotion meter? And how will that manifest in their lifelong attraction to learning?

Alfie Kohn cites a national study of first, third, and fifth grade classrooms in more than 1,000 schools: “Children spent most of their time (91.2%) working in whole-group or individual-seatwork settings” and “the average fifth grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning; this ratio was 10:1 in first and third grades” (Robert C. Pianta et al., “Opportunities to Learn in America’s Elementary Classrooms,” Science, vol. 315, March 30, 2007, p. 1795) This is what concerns me, not how those classrooms scored on multiple choice tests or what standards those teachers thought they were teaching.

I frequently remind children who are frustrated because it is taking them longer to become fluent readers than some of their peers, that while some babies may have started to walk long before others, in the long run we can’t tell which were the early walkers or the ones who got their teeth first from the ones who got them later. Comparison is the bugaboo of the classroom, even when you don’t give marks, use standardized tests or expect everyone to be on the same page on the same day. It is a typical human reaction to look at your peer group and measure yourself by what you see reflected there. There are times when I accept competition as a positive motivator. Still, the concept of readiness must be remembered. Being “ready” means you have the tools to accomplish the next goal. While there may well be information and concepts we as a society want to see included in every child’s education, I resent the assigning of grade levels to so called “educational standards”. I see them as a continuum. Everyone will get to the important concepts and skills over time, just not in unison.

Take a look at this website: http://stopnationalstandards.org/



The front page of the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle today had a big article about anorexia. It reminded me of a film I have been reading about, RACE TO NOWHERE–
http://www.reellinkfilms.com/ and a conversation I had recently with a young parent describing the waiting lists for preschools, and the homework her child was getting in kindergarten. Why are we creating such stress in the lives of our kids and their parents? I don’t have the answer, but I see causative agents all around me: from ads that glorify a certain body type, to test scores for schools published in newspapers. Our society seems to have confused happiness with a single model of success.

And while real problems of inequity in our public schools are not addressed, we impose this same level of stress on teachers and students in impoverished inner city schools. doubling the issues they face.



You may have noticed that the catch phrase No Child Left Behind has fallen into disrepute. When Congress remakes the legislation I am sure that will not be the title. The packaging will definitely change, but will the contents be any less onerous? It seems like the new catch phrase is National Standards…innocuous, but deadly (or deadening, as the case may be). I read two good pieces today as part of the research arm of this endeavor. Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator from Utah whom I greatly admire wrote an open letter called Educating for Individuality, that reflects directly on the idea of national standards. You can read it at http://definegreat.ning.com/forum/topics/educating-for-individuality It makes me think how we are operating in a period where fear is being used to dictate much of the actions of our policy makers. Uniformity feels safe. Individuality is somehow threatening. We need to reverse not only the current policies, but the current psychology.

The other piece that impressed me came from The Forum for Education and Democracy’s newsletter: Why Send My Son to Public School? by Forum National Director Sam Chaltain http://www.forumforeducation.org/blog/why-send-my-son-public-school It includes some substantive other directions that do have national significance, but would bring back into focus a broader understanding of how to measure a good education.

Every day I read pieces by thoughtful people who are adding their voices to say “enough lockstep!” One of my jobs is to make sure the people I reach know that they are not alone.



Okay, I have spent a week carefully refining the words for the website description of August To June. Each time I write about the project I get both a new appreciation for the skills involved in saying something with clarity, and a new “aha!” about what we are doing. What was important to me this time was to both emphasize the specificity of this being about one class, and also to concisely give reasons why that might matter to the larger society. First I said it was “to raise” a discussion about our educational goals and values . But the discussion has already been raised by
people as diverse as William D. Green (of the Business Roundtable), Arne Duncan, and Alfie Kohn (The Schools Our Children Deserve) to name just a few who give a feel for the spectrum. So we don’t need to raise it, we need to expand the number of people thinking and talking about what they really want for their children, and how we go about getting it. And it needs to be ordinary folks, not just policy makers. And they need examples to draw from. So we can be an example. Clearly everyone won’t agree with everything about the model we show, but will some basic agreement about a wider definition of what it means to educate percolate up? Hope so.



We started simply with the idea that we would show a year in the life of a class –my class, which is part of an open classroom program… but more specifically the life of the children in the class. Being that it was a documentary project, we figured the story would emerge. What we perhaps didn’t realize was how many stories would arise, and how difficult it would be to follow any one of them in an environment where children move freely, and many activities are happening at the same time. So part of the process we have been engaging in since the filming period ended has been looking for what stories we can tell well. Tom always knew that we wouldn’t be able to give equal weight to each child (harder for me, because I see each one as equally important!). While filming he attempted to identify a few students to follow more carefully. Interestingly, as the year went along, the ones he originally picked didn’t always turn out to be the ones who he found himself following. At this point we have identified 7 students whose development we think we caught enough of. We’ll see as we edit how many can be intertwined with the rest of the action of the film.

So what became clear by the time we finished the initial reviewing of the footage was that we have plenty of stories, but keeping track of them, and building to a climax that ties things together will be our challenge. Stay tuned!



Every time I run into someone whom I haven’t seen for a while, I’m asked “How’s the film project coming?” I usually think to myself “the long answer or the short one?” and go for the short one: “Slowly but surely!”

And sure enough, I have slowly arrived at the point where I can start blogging a better answer. At almost 4 years since we began, I think we are getting a handle on what we are doing!!

I am at this moment sitting in Tom’s entirely windowless editing studio. I sit next to him with my laptop, while he edits with at least four monitors showing images and data. I see my former students frozen eternally as 8-10 year olds, and relive over and over again my last year of teaching. So when I meet them on the street, and their voices have dropped, I am startled to find they are now 12 to 14!