One School At A Time

I got a “joke” email from a friend of my dad’s a few days ago, providing me with examples of alleged teacher comments on student behavior and learning from New York City teachers. I won’t re-post it. I thought it was offensive to the Big Apple’s hardworking teachers, and disingenuous besides — most teachers don’t get to write personalized comments on their students, but choose codes from a list.

When I explained to this friend of my dad’s what I thought of this joke, he wrote back, quite politely, and asked what I thought schools needed, and if I could express in a simple phrase exactly what I thought needed to happen to fix America’s schools.

When I answered him back, I told him that I thought that many American leaders didn’t want to fix America’s schools, they wanted them closed. I cited the news from Wisconsin, the news from Providence, RI, and the news from Detroit. I cited my conversations at the coffee houses of my fair city, and my previous home, where more than half of my conversations around education centered around the idea of “homeschooling” or “unschooling”. This friend of my dad’s thinks that American families need resurrecting and reinvigorating, and that schools are the place to do it. What I encounter when “out and about in the world” is that the stronger the family reports itself as being, the less likely they are to want their kids to spend time in a public school. True, I tend to hang out in rather off-beat places for a teacher. I like to do grading at home sometimes, but just as often in a coffee house or in a restaurant (if I have the cash and time), as well as at my school-bound desk. Even so, the number of advocates for “I’m getting my child out of school now,” seems to be rising.

The thing that I tried to get across to my dad’s friend is that every school in America needs an interested multi-millionaire or three, an empowered and on-board group of parents, and an innovation-minded team of teachers. So many things die for lack of money, lack of intellectual creativity, or up and at ’em fight mentality, to get upper-level bureaucrats to move faster than they usually do. Those kinds of teams can be assembled, but once assembled they need to be cultivated and curried, occasionally harvested, and coddled.

But this is a bottom-up system. It’s not school choice that America needs, nor one-size-fits-all standardization. It’s engagement. It’s recognizing that the ethic of personal responsibility (Republican) goes hand-in-hand with community organization (Democratic) to provide for the next generation, in each and every school in America.

And I can’t think how to integrate that model nationally, except to urge that it happen, One School At a Time.

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