Ann Arbor Open won’t administer the state’s standardized tests this year! It will be allowed to develop its own form of assessment. Bravo!! This is a huge step past opt-out. Current principal Kit Flynn has tenaciously and effectively presented the case against standardized testing. Yay Kit!! Their founding principal, Joan Goldsmith, made an early connection with the progressive North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation. That is where I first met teachers Bette Diem and Mary Wigton, who were instrumental in bringing August To June and me to their school. May others take heart from their success! In fact, this is a good moment to share their success with any progressive administrators you know of. That might lead to more stories like this next testing cycle.
Join these 26 organizations Saturday May 17 2pm in City Hall Park at the Take Back Our Schools March and Rally:
BATS – Change The Stakes – Children Are More Than Test Scores – Class Size Matters – Coalition for Public Education-Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action at Manhattanville College – EDU4 – iCOPE – Lace to the Top – LI Opt Out
MORE – New York Allies for Public Education – NY PRINCIPALS .ORG – NY Student Union – NYCORE – Parent Leadership Project-Parents to Improve School Transportation – Port Jeff Station Teachers Association – Radical Women
Reclaiming the Conversation on Education – Save Our Schools (SOS) – Save Our Schools-NJ – Stop Common Core in New York State-Students Not Scores LI – Students United for Public Education (SUPE) – Teachers United – Time Out from Testing…and more!
This past month I spent time at two programs working hard to keep parents engaged in their children’s education. Wickliffe and Barrington Informal Programs, part of the Upper Arlington School District near Columbus Ohio, and Ann Arbor Open in Ann Arbor Michigan are well established progressive public schools with traditions of parent involvement. Both recognize the importance of renewal.
In Ohio the renewal was spurred by attendance at the Progressive Education Network Annual Conference last October in Los Angeles, where we showed the one hour version of AUGUST TO JUNE. Principal Chris Collaros and several members of his staff signed up there for PEN’s first six day National Institute, and made the focus of their work at the Institute the deepening of their commitment to parents as co-educators. They saw an opportunity to engage their larger community by showing August to June, and inviting me to visit the school to interact with parents and teachers. They screened the film several times, with focused discussion after each screening.
When asked what their hopes for their children were, there were over a hundred responses. These examples will not surprise people who have been following our progress:
* I hope my child will get his hands dirty with lots of opportunity to engage in project based experiential learning.
* He will be able to tap into his passions and live an inspired life.
* I hope she continues to grow and be aware of herself and her interactions with others…and use many available resources both emotional and analytical to solve problems.
* That they never lose their ability to appreciate the wonders that occur every day in their lives.
But how do hopes like those fit with parents’ roles in the classroom? When I got there we had fascinating conversations about that! Should there be a requirement for parent participation? Is there a difference between being a parent volunteer and a co-educator? Do parents feel comfortable acting as co-educators? Do teachers feel prepared/ ready to be parent educators?
These questions were taken very seriously. The conversation is ongoing, with first steps that everyone can agree on in the works. I just sent them our school’s handbook. Chris and his colleagues would be happy to hear how other schools are addressing the roles families play in creating and supporting whole child education.
I went on to Michigan where I saw a heartwarming example of how parents, teachers and adminstrators can collaborate. For over 30 years Ann Arbor community members have gone on retreat together to reaffirm and question their practices. This time Teacher In A Strange Land blogger Nancy Flanagan and I were the guest speakers, but equally important were the people from the school community who guided and participated in discussions. Nancy wrote ably about that gathering. What I would add is the tremendous value there is in creating a place where questioning is as welcome as it was here. Teacher Bette Diem had put together an excellent group of readings, including one from Alfie Kohn that teacher Rick Hall used as a basis for reviewing Ann Arbor’s practices. I gave a workshop at the same time as he did, so I didn’t get to hear the conversation his questions provoked, but he had put the questions up on sheets of paper with a place for people to put sticky notes showing their level of agreement as to whether that represented the way Ann Arbor currently functioned. That graphic representation all by itself was fascinating, and showed room for growth, as well as where things were working well.
While the retreat of around 60 people represented a small percentage of the families involved in the school, it was still an impressive number when you consider the logistics and commitment involved in coming to an overnight gathering without children. Clearly there would be ripple effects.
Saying there is always room for growth, and making room are two different things. Ann Arbor and Wickliffe are making that room.
The Chicago Teachers Union rallied on March 10 in opposition to ISAT testing. Joined by parents and students, teachers are boycotting the tests at several schools. The district is threatening teachers with loss of certification, and bullying and intimidating parents and students who have opted out or wish to opt out of the ISAT.
They need your support. Please call the Chicago Board of Education and voice your support for Chicago’s teachers, parents and students standing up for their rights. Call 773-553-1600 and tell the Board:
“I’d like to leave a message for all members of the Chicago Board of Education. I support families boycotting the ISAT and there should be no retaliation against teachers who stood up for their students on the ISAT.”
Also, if you haven’t signed this petition yet, it is not too late to do so now.
One of my favorite events these last few years since I retired is the annual meeting of the North Dakota Study Group. The name confuses the uninitiated. In its first years the gathering was held at the University of North Dakota, but for most of its 40plus years it took place in Chicago. The full name is the North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation. Their website says “The North Dakota Study Group (NDSG) is a diverse network of progressive educators dedicated to advocacy for useful, fair, and democratic ways to document and assess children’s learning and offering a criticism of educational reform and practice in the light of an enduring concern with democracy and the estate of childhood.” Jay and Helen Featherstone and Deb Meier drew me here, but every person I have met here keeps me coming back.
What I love about this group is the lack of pretense. The people who come to this meeting really come to study, to reflect and to talk as honestly as they know how with each other. It is small. The only vendors are folks who are also attending the conference and have brought along a book they have written (or perhaps a video they have created ) We stay together the whole 3 days, and while the conversations can take people to their growing edge, there is a sense of caring that makes it more possible to step into the unknown.
A year before I started coming a remarkable community organizer from Detroit named Grace Lee Boggs came to the meeting. They were still talking about her ideas the following year, and for the past two years the group has abandoned Chicago for Detroit. Grace is closing in on 100 with her wits firmly intact, and a perspective on change that we young’uns just haven’t been around long enough to understand. We saw this fascinating film about her life and ideas. She is optimistic about this moment in history, and she is optimistic about Detroit.
How can that be? Detroit is a mess. Even more has gone wrong since our last visit. But I have come to understand her optimism. The short way to say it is “chaos leads to opportunity.” Gardens grow in vacant lots. Young people who spend time in Grace’s living room become ‘solutionaries.’ And the progressive public charter school they envisioned a year ago is up and running.
After years of planning it had almost not happened because they lost the building in the community where they had organized. At the last minute they were able to get use of a former settlement house. The staff, community volunteers and future school families spent the summer preparing it.
When we visited the students weren’t there, but you could feel their vibrant presence everywhere. NDSGers didn’t just come to look. We sat with the teachers and shared. We shared our impressions, they shared their struggles, we listened, offered suggestions–and reassurance that they were on the right track: small classes, lots of emphasis on community and emotional development, building positive self images and working from their children’s strengths. They will use a place based model for their experiential integrated curriculum, and they have plenty of material to work from just in the history of the building they are in.
Back at the meeting place, frank talk about race, and white privilege…never easy, always another layer to get through. People get passionate, express frustration, and keep talking. Then we eat too many potato chips. I really love this conference.
Dec 27 at 7pm find us on KBDI channel 12 in Denver, or set your recording unit to 3am Dec28 for the rebroadcast.
Dec 29 at 4pm it plays on WQED Pittsburg, and again on Dec 30 at 2:30 pm!
Could this be a good time for a family conversation about what counts, and how to change the picture for the children in your life?
A particular train of thought began with listening to physicist Fritjof Capra talk on NPR about Leonardo Da Vinci. For Capra, Leonardo’s genius (and that of others who we so identify) is closely tied to insatiable curiosity, combined with highly developed observation skills.
Next I came across The Shanker Institute’s A Call For Common Content written in 2011, which is based on defining nationally what knowledge we all should have by the time we finish school, and developing a sequential curriculum that would enable students to attain that knowledge.
Then I read the last two installments of Deborah Meier’s Bridging Differences Blog, where she is corresponding with Robert Pondiscio. Pondiscio would agree with the Common Content people. Deborah Meier and I would not.
Nor would my colleague Sandy Dorward. Over a cup of tea this afternoon, we considered our experiences with the energy created by emergent curriculum– study that comes out of the interests of one or more people in the learning community (students, teachers, families…). Neither of us, obviously, has an objection to gaining knowledge. But we are interested in knowledge with a lower case “k”, while it seems the Common Core and Content folks, no matter what they say about in-depth thinking, end up going for the capital “K” kind, arrived at in a linear fashion, and judged by computerized testing. Other than a few very basic facts, and the ability to read, it seems to me that even if children across the nation were to study the same material, if the study is authentic, the beauty is that they may well not arrive at the same conclusions or perspectives–the same “Knowledge”! We would once again be comparing apples to oranges to then judge what has been learned with a ‘one right answer’ test.
In a world where we have access to information tools that Leonardo could only dream of, I wish we’d truly move away from lockstep. It’s time to develop the genius in each child by encouraging curiosity, empathy, observation skills and tangential thinking. With that as the Core, couldn’t the content of the curriculum be as varied as the individuals and communities that make up our widely diverse society?
We now have a version of August To June with French, Spanish, and German subtitles! Huge thanks needs to go to Gabriel Pannwitz and Gabi Friedrich. Gabriel contacted me in June of 2012. Before he’d seen more than the website trailer he made e-books out of the original 3 years of my blog, and posted them for us! He ordered and showed the film to friends in Berlin, and when he found that it was difficult for them to follow the English, he volunteered to translate the transcript. Of course we were happy to have him do so, but it is expensive to update a DVD, so we were not sure when we would be able to actually use what he gave us. In the meantime, my former classroom aide and good friend, Gabi Friedrich offered to read over Gabriel’s translation and consider the best German idioms for some of the phrases the children use. It has taken a year and a half, but now if you know of people who would be better served by a German, Spanish or French subtitled version, just tell them to contact us directly after they make their online order, as we have a limited number of copies with subtitles.
In case you are interested in the blog e-books Gabriel made, here are the links:
–A .zip file of the plain text version
–The plain text version
–The .mobi version ( for Amazon Kindle devices and reading applications )
–The .epub version ( compatible with lots of ebook readers that are not
The conversation was hitting me with particular relevance because of an encounter the night before, after showing August To June. It was with a young woman who had previously taught in a small east coast independent school, and was in her first year in a Los Angeles public elementary school. She was close to tears as she explained how nothing she tried seemed to be creating the kind of joyful classroom she had expected. Her students were disinterested and disruptive. The day before she had broken down in class and told them she was at her wits end. When I asked her if she had found any more experienced teachers to ask for guidance, she said she had no one to talk to.
I was now sitting with a group of mostly independent school teachers at the Progressive Education Network Conference in LA, discussing what role, if any, teachers in the private sector have vis a vis public education. Earlier in the conference a speaker had suggested that independent schools should raise money for public schools in their neighborhood, or share specialists free of charge. Others had taken umbrage with that, saying it smacked of paternalism, missed the point of the need for communities to fund their schools.
As this small group talked, it turned out that several of them had been public school teachers earlier in their careers, and had left the public sector wanting more freedom, and a more progressive setting. They talked about how isolated they felt in those conventional public schools. Another person in the group was involved in a progressive teacher training program in LA. She would like to place her student teachers in progressive public school classrooms, but can’t find enough of them, so finds herself using independent schools for many of her students. This has double consequences. It reinforces the idea that if you are a progressive creative teacher, you’d be better off in the private sector. But if her student teachers do chose to teach in a public school, they will not have had a student teaching experience that prepares them for some of the realities: large class sizes, limited funding, the plethora of issues related to poverty, and everyone else so busy with all the mandates, that they have no time to help a new teacher.
A light went on. While it was not enough, my small conversation last night had given that young woman some tools with which to go back to her class. A teacher in a private school wanting to engage might be able to offer a listening ear and some reflections to an individual teacher. But not only those in the private sector. What about the ranks of retired boomers who may have spent an entire career inside the parameters of public schools, finding ways to make school meaningful?
Here’s my tiny start: within an hour I had linked up that young teacher with a woman living not far from her who had been a public school science master teacher. They both had big smiles on their faces. Anyone ready to take this idea and run with it?