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!