Morris L. Eisenstein United Community Centers Brooklyn, NY

 
I’m not non-partisan.  Instead, I’m here to convince you about a point of view.  I have a point of view.  I believe in it. These are the basic assumptions from which I start and I am making them public. That is what you do in a democracy. Hidden assumptions signal a hidden agenda.  The first assumption is that education is an organized, directed, conscious process of preparing people to deal with their world, to deal with the world in which they live.  I am therefore saying that any kind of learning which is not conscious and not directed toward the goal of preparing people to deal with their world is not education. If it manipulates, indoctrinates, hobbles, stratifies or diminishes people so that they can not deal effectively with their world then it is not education.  There may be learning about a separate and unequal society going on but not education.

Curriculum is the organized way in which we try to achieve educational goals.  Anything which is not intended to achieve those goals is not curriculum and should not be called curriculum.  There are educators who speak of “hidden” curriculum.  I say there isn’t any such thing as “hidden” curriculum.  There is only curriculum.  Everything that happens in the school is part of curriculum.  Everything that happens in a school is deliberate and intended, whether admitted or not.  Everything that happens in a school is an outgrowth of the goals of education in that school, whether written down or not.  Everything that happens in a school which affects children is part of that curriculum. So, emaciated curriculum or a testing tyranny that reduces all learning to boring bits and pieces that alienate and sublimate the development of creative human beings is deeply and fundamentally intentional.

My assumption about the learning process is that people learn what they experience, not what they hear.  Children learn what they experience, not what is told to them or what they read only as an abstraction. If they cannot experience it firsthand, or if nothing is related to their immediate experience of the world and how to shape and humanize it, then we can’t call it learning.  The learning process entails the interpenetration of learning and teaching.  I believe in the process of learning where the  student becomes a teacher and the teacher becomes a learner.  The fundamental process in the school is the relationship between the teacher and the child.  Child and teacher stimulate one another.  Each recognizes and stimulates in the other the learning and the teaching. Remotely-authored and imposed, corporately-constructed “goals and objectives” for teachers and students who are then routinized, objectified and thereby made strangers to one another, does not constitute learning. 

Because people are social animals, the basic assumption is that the individual achieves her highest development in relationship to other people.  We receive our possibilities from from others and not from our insides, nor from bureaucracies operating outside our circle of daily life and activity.  Integration and education are inseparable because there can be no education in which people do not have their education in relation to one another and develop themselves and their understanding in relation to their total worlds. When we separate children and families into multi-tiered educational sectors of have’s and have-nots, it is called an institutionalized caste system.

What would be the implications for policy in a school organized on the basis of my assumptions?  There would have to be a policy of conscious consistency between verbally expressed beliefs and overt behavior.  To put it in plain old language, put your money where your mouth is.  A school which teaches one value system, and then behaves on the basis of another value system, teaches the behaviors that the kids actually experience, and not what the school says. A free public school system in support of nationwide democracy would look radically-to-the-root different from our current arrangement.

Another policy would be the rejection of perfection as a goal for both youth and adults.  People are always in the process of becoming. No one is ever a finished product until you put that person in the box and throw dirt over the lid.  Therefore, the emphasis is on struggle with people around the kind of a world we live in.  The policy of such a school would be to develop a positive identity within the class, race and nationality groups among the students.  There would have to be the recognition that minority and working class cultures have positive contributions to make to the development of all children.  There would be an atmosphere where young people feel free to explore differences with the help of sympathetic adults, who though they may disagree, help young people to explore the realm of  possibilities. Banished would be all directives which test, judge, label, track, segregate, humiliate and destroy the human potential that schools are pledged to protect and promote.

The classroom would be defined as the world we live in.  This would give school what so many people love to call relevance, which is real and not contrived.  Biology teachers in this community are only 15 minutes from one of the finest laboratories, right here on Sheepshead Bay.  Yet students from Thomas Jefferson High School tell me that some of them have never been on a field trip to that Bay.  There are a million and one new possibilities.  It requires the desire, the commitment, the understanding to move out and deal with a concept of education which involves young people and teachers as partners in a process which is of the utmost importance to them and to their world.

Give me a group of kids, and the whole Bay, and I’ll keep them there for a week.  United Community Centers once ran an interim school and teachers from Thomas Jefferson H.S. who taught in our interim school said, “This is an ideal school you have created here.”  It was the first time those kids ever went down to the Bay.  They spent hours there, exploring the life of the sea, the ocean, the intertidal zone.  We have kids going there now, studying the ecology.  There are a million things you can do if you want to study, are not afraid, have some imagination and are aware of what’s under your nose.”

Thomas Jefferson was one of 7 public high schools in New York to receive a M.P. Moller pipe organ for their auditorium back in the 1920’s when beautiful music was just one of many investments that public budgets considered inspirational.  Famous alumni included Howard Zinn, Shelley Winters, Danny Kaye, Steve Lawrence and Jimmy Smits.

In the fall of 2002, Thomas Jefferson High School was named one of 7 low-performing Brooklyn high schools scheduled for restructuring.  In 2004 it was announced that Jefferson would no longer accept incoming 9th graders.  Closed in 2007, Thomas Jefferson was broken into several different schools due to low graduation rates. Morris Eisenstein’s vision of an ideal school was silenced and shuttered.

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