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Posts Tagged ‘schools’

People in relationship with Blitzen quickly recognize that she’s brilliant in many ways — curious, creative, quick to make connections, adept at learning new skills with her body, a divergent thinker, a problem solver.  Carrie and I don’t spend much time talking about her intelligence; it’s taken for granted by all who know her, and we move on to the important stuff.  Where do mermaids swim?   When do you feel joyful?  How do you make cartoon characters?  How do you be a friend?  What do you do when you feel really angry?  How do you make Dolphin Cove into a real island?  What makes a family?  How do we change patterns of behavior?  In the book Ingo, why does the sea call to Sapphire?

Blitzen and the wonderful folks in her life are wrestling with those questions every hour.  That’s the work, that’s the joy.   We’re Team Blitzen and this is what we do.

Yesterday we received a Department of Education evaluation by email.  It came in upside down, but it can be read if you print it out or stand on your head.  It’s filled with numbers and clinical-sounding words designed to distance and intimidate.  The word deficient is used a lot.

Reports like that shouldn’t matter.  Blitzen’s brilliance is an ontological reality; her intelligence and glee exist whether or not they’re acknowledged.  My instinct, as a privileged, educated white man who does well on my culture’s bubble tests, is to ignore the upside down email and channel ee cummings:

While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

The problem is that our measuring is not benevolent.  The systems of dominance embedded in our education and child welfare institutions are have consequences in the lives of kids like Blitzen.  Evaluations like that have the effect (and, I’d argue, the intent) of separating undesirable kids from their peers and offering them an education with less creativity, less critical thinking, less joy, less humanity and less possibility.
This disproportionally affects traumatized kids, kids of color and kids in foster care.  (If you’re a footnote type, 40% of kids in care are in special education and 50% of kids in care don’t graduate from high school.)

Blitzen and those of us lucky enough to be on her team won’t have the privilege of  kissing, singing and swimming in Dolphin Cove without spending time, energy and creativity in the soul-sucking battle against the measuring instruments that prop up systems of inequity.

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I love Carrie’s last post, where she described Blitzen’s school as a “controlled not controlling environment.”  A couple of commenters (we love commenters) asked about the school, which is probably my cue.  I feel Carrie nudging me from 8,000 miles away.

Blitzen attends a progressive independent school that believes that education begins with the individual kid: her experiences, interests, questions, hopes and fears.

Her school values community — Blitzen works in close partnership with her nine delicious, diverse classmates and with a team of brilliant, diverse teachers.

Her school thinks that learning should be filled with exploration, discovery, collaboration, creativity, passion and joy.

Her teachers have the autonomy to follow their own talents and passions, and that of their students.  There is no pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all curriculum.  There is no standardized testing.

Her school tries to connect learning to the real world, believing that kids can make a positive impact on society right now.  It operates from a place of great privilege, and tries to acknowledge privilege and power while striving for equity and justice.

One commenter asked how Blitzen’s school compares to KIPP, a network of charter schools targeted to families in underserved neighborhoods.   My least snarky answer is that Carrie and I, like most higher SES families with an array of educational options, don’t send our kids to schools that organize around constant testing, rewards/punishment, behavioral control and classroom call-and-response. Instead, we typically choose schools where kids can create, invent, make choices, build independence and develop higher level thinking skills.  I believe that underserviced kids deserve the same thing Blitzen deserves — schools where the environment is controlled but not controlling.

Carrie and I are happy to talk about education or NYC schools with anyone interested.  Not to get all bibliography on you, but a couple organizations I appreciate are IDEA and Rethinking Schools.

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