Wednesday, February 22, 2012

That Helps Me Keep Plugging Along

I had breakfast this morning with two of my favorite bloggers, Gina Osher of The Twin Coach and Janet Lansbury of her self-named Janet Lansbury blog. Not only are they both even more beautiful and delightful than they are online, but they're also both as brilliant and insightful in person as on their blogs. I've found that's not always the case, when meeting people you admire in person (I always feel I come off as slightly disappointing, even if it's just because I don't typically wear the cape in my day to day life) but this was not one of those times.

Our discussion was wide-ranging (and at least until I ask them specifically, off the record) as these face-to-face meetings ought to be, but we did hit for a time on one topic I've been thinking a lot about these past few days: parents and schools.

Of course, being a teacher in a cooperative, I think about parents and schools every day. Specifically, I think about how blessed I am to live in a world in which we're all pulling in the same direction, learning together through their kids. But lately, prompted in part by Gina's recent post, I've been thinking about parents who live both inside and outside the progressive, play-based bubble in which I quite happily reside. I often think about all of us here in the online world and how it feels that we're at the heart of a kind of early childhood revolution, or that we could be, as our international web of like-minded people grows.

I see a revolution of classroom teachers, administrators, parent educators, and policy wonks coming together as a kind of grassroots movement dedicated to a future in which our progressive ideals become the mainstream. But every time I get a peek outside this bubble, say when one of my posts takes off and gets read by a lot of folks outside the bubble and I hear their responses, I'm slapped in the face by how hard this might be, that this future is not just right around the corner, that the purveyors of for-profit, drill-and-kill, fill the empty vessel, high stakes education are way ahead of us, especially when it comes to money, and they have no qualms about deploying fear to get their way.

At the policy level this fear is conveyed in sound bites like "the Chinese are beating us," or "our schools are failing," or "lazy, union teachers." At the classroom level it's about making teachers worry that if their students don't meet some arbitrary number on a standardized test or deviate from the state approved curriculum, we'll get the sack. And for parents it's the fear that maybe the Tiger Mom is right, that we are somehow gambling with our child's entire future if we step outside the traditional, corporate approved model. The fact that this is pure fear mongering with virtually no evidence backing it up, while we have mountains of research-based proof for our approach, makes it all the more aggravating.

When I think about that, when I take an honest look at what we're up against, it doesn't make me want to give up, but it sure lets me understand why some folks do. Sure, what Teacher Tom is saying sounds wonderful, but . . .

Then I read about something like this.

Angry parents and protesters have called off their occupation of an underperforming elementary school on Chicago's Northwest Side after they were promised a meeting with education officials before a vote on the future of the school next week . . . The protesters had spent Friday night and Saturday camped out at Brian Piccolo Elementary Specialty School, where teaching staff could learn this week whether they'll be show out the door . . . But Saturday afternoon, a member of the Board of Education met with them inside the school and agreed to grant the protesters a meeting with the entire board.

Specifically, the parents are upset with the school board's plans to fire the entire school staff and turn their children's education over to a private corporation. This article gives a lot more details about what's happening.

I don't know anything about this school and what's best for it, but I do believe that these brave parents must be listened to. Stories like this inspire me and let me know that not everyone outside the bubble is going to let baseless fear get the best of them. And that helps me keep plugging along.

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Carmin said...

As a Chicago reader, I'll offer a few ramblings, but I can't guarantee they will be coherent, because I'm lost and confused about all of this. And I read this post about the same time that I read the news that the CPS board had voted to close the school at issue. So, parents are trying to speak up, but that doesn't mean their voices will be heard.

My kid goes to one of a handful of play-based preschools in Chicago (a fantastic one!). It had a huge waitlist this year, so I know that there are lots of parents sold on the concept of play-based and emergent curriculum. But upon leaving preschool, our kids are tossed into the corporate, testing-based curriculum that is CPS.

The mayor has decided that the answer to all the problems is to extend the school day to 7.5 hours, without increased funding, and to "turnaround" all failing schools. These "failing" schools are, of course, underfunded in a way that the turnaround schools aren't. Even given the extra money, the turnaround schools results are pretty much the same (or at least debatable).

I can't say that the teacher's union has been perfect throughout their history either. So, the result is really frustrated parents, caught between the union and corporate-oriented mayor who is choosing not to listen. Of course, it is really the kids who are caught. Kids without PE, art, music and who are sent home with pages of homework from kindergarten.

Meagan said...

"we have mountains of research-based proof for our approach"

Well... Sort of? It's true that there is a ton of research out there on the importance of play, of unstructured free time, but I think it gets a little tricky talking about an "approach."

One of the reasons testing based schooling is so "popular" is because it's easy to understand. There is a clear, if misguided method, a unified lesson plan. It may not be effective, or benificial, but what it IS is measurable. Easily. People like simple math, and learning and teaching are not easily expressed with math.

"Play based" is great and all, but it's not clear what it means. Or maybe it's clear what it means, but not how to go about it. If a school claims to be play based, they could as easily be a poorly organized academic preschool with concrete and plastic recess as a school that takes a similar approach to yours. And even if a parent has the necessary understanding to tell the difference, there is the difficulty in seeing learning. Sure, YOU see it all the time, but you're a teacher with years of experience, and part of that experience is recognizing what you're seeing as learning instead of wasted time.

I'm not arguing that testing based programs, or academic preschools are BETTER. I just think there are very clear reasons why a play based method is a tough sell, especially on any kind of widescale basis.

janetlansbury said...

Tom, you were no disappointment! Quite the contrary...I found you even more handsome, winsome and unassuming than I'd imagined. Thanks for your kind words. I loved our time together.

And I also love your interest in education that is meaningful, stimulating AND successful for our children. Those things go hand in hand. As you said today, maybe not in our lifetime...but I for one am grateful you're plugging along.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I find myself respectfully disagreeing somewhat with Meagan, that playbased learning is not quantifiable or docmented.
One can look at the masses of information from playbased learning schools such as the Reggio Emilio schools, Montessori schools, and as well many academics in the field in North America such as Theresa Hearns, et al. - who coauthored ECERS.
I think it depends on where the mainstream is looking for information, and it also seems to be based on political will, and money sources.
In a better world, politicians and those with the power to make decisions for young children might spend a good chunk of time observing and helping out in playbased schools before dismissing them.
Thanks for a good post, Tom.

Meagan said...

I wouldn't consider Montessori a play based program... They have a lot in common, but are very big on correct process, "this is how we cut food. This is how we stack the stacking blocks, etc." Not quite as open ended as the kinds of activities I see being described in play based programs.

I can't comment on Reggio Emilio because there aren't any in my area. When I looked for a play based school nearby, all I came up with was Goddard schools, and as far as I can tell, the are a pretty typical academic preschool.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Hi, there,
Meagan I do agree that Montessori is probably not a true play based school... but you may really enjoy reading about Reggio Emilio (sp?) - many schools in North America are using these principles. The book "The Hundred Languages of Children", tells in detail about this system, which started in a small town in Italy, and it is really a good read.
However, I guess I just wanted to point out, in my very clumsy way, that there are many wonderful, articulate and authoritative defenders of child focused and play based education.

:) Brenda


Unknown said...

I'm late in replying to this, but I wanted to first, agree with all that Janet said (I loved getting to meet you and it was such an inspirational couple of hours - I wish it could have gone on longer)! Second, thank you for sharing my post on the parenting paradigm shift.

Most of all, I wanted to say that I am so grateful to parents and educators like you who constantly push people to see past what has been done before and open their minds to the possibility that there may be a better way. We may be parenting in a bubble, but now and then I get glimpses that the bubble is expanding!

Keep fighting the good fight. ;-)
-Gina (The Twin Coach)

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I'm sorry, Tom, I would like to correct my mistake with the name of one of the co-authors of ECERS - Dr. Thelma Harms, not Theresa Hearn - I really enjoyed listening to a keynote address made by her several years ago, and the audience was so enthralled with her that we gave her a lenghty standing ovation.
Sorry for all these comments, I just needed to correct this.

stephanieleah said...

to be a fly on the wall at that breakfast date! i would have loved to hear wisdom x3! two of my favorite bloggers plus a new one to follow.

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