Archives for the month of: July, 2020

One day I read George Lucas’ Third Internet For Education testimony before a House Subcommittee. It sounded like an exotic pipe dream whose realization was still light years away.

I’d just returned from a tour of what passed for summer school where I’d seen hundreds of children crammed into classrooms, following rigidly-scripted lesson plans, with the single objective – a passing score on the local version of a NCLB-No Child Left Behind test.

What joyless containment tanks, where it was absolutely verboten to fire up computers for the frivolity of PBS Kids, Starfall or FunBrain.

Nose to the grindstone little darlings, definitely grin and bear it time. I was seriously down in the dumps when my phone rang with an edgy Jack on the other end. “I thought you should know we aren’t going back to school in August.”

“Come again?” I replied. “Did you say YOU weren’t returning to school because you can’t do that, Jack. You’re our Teacher Union salary negotiator. You promised!”

“Forget all the union stuff,” he hurried on. “I mean that’s definitely and forever scraped since none of us are going back, at least not until later in the fall.”

“Have you spent the afternoon at El Imperial draining Margaritas with your flea market buddies? You certainly aren’t making much sense.”

“In my capacity as Jack the lead salary negotiator, I just received a courtesy call from the Superintendent’s office. There will be a press conference at the Admin building at 4PM Friday where the announcement will be made. The teacher building reps will be given the opportunity to make a supportive statement.”

My face contorted in confusion and disbelief. “A supportive statement about what? Everyone knows how the state stiffed us to the tune of a $26 million-dollar shortfall. What’s to support?”

“A Bungled Global Pandemic, a skyrocketing deficit, along with fuel and food prices, catastrophic, climate flooding, $800 Billion on military, and multiple bank collapses, have brought thousands of districts to a financial closure crisis that we are being asked to help out with,” Jack replied.

“And in my capacity as union president, I bet I get the thankless job of telling the rank and file that it is Love It or Leave It on some kind of pro-rated contract. Suck up the pay cut and help out. Next, pass the hat and run a Toys for Tots donation drive?” I was beyond disgusted.

“We’re being asked to create an electronic, community-based curriculum that will run in place of an official school term and perhaps after that, to supplement via pay cuts a reduced week, now under consideration.”

“They have got to be kidding! You’re the math teacher, Jack. So what are we talking about here? This sounds like a chapter out of FDR’s New Deal. Subtract 30 contractual days and then slim down to perhaps three days a week…what are we left with?”

“Affirmative but we’d be paid for our Think Tank time both onsite and virtual. ‘A National Educational Emergency’ is being declared that will be governed by guidelines and funding mandates issued from Washington. We’re going to have to go along to get along. Ham has called a meeting in his office tomorrow morning at 9AM. You’re expected. All the tech support will be present, as will the curriculum chairs. I’ll save you a seat so we can slide notes back and forth. Our two heads are always better together.”

Jack clicked off and I stood there with my mouth hanging open. We weren’t hammering out a salary agreement, we were making up education out of thin air.

Everyone in the meeting seemed up for the bump, pumped is more like it. I glanced around the room and saw talented educators who’d spent decades watching their bliss broken to bits by a procession of mindless, bureaucratic testing mandates. Now they looked alive, a little angry but animated for sure. Finally we would get to think outside of the restrictive, dumbed-down box public education had become. We might be dodging viral infections, headed to the poor house, queued up in soup lines and driving around on fuel ration coupons but at last we were free to do what we did best.

Horace Hamilton was my cut-to-the-chase kind of guy. He had a sly as a fox twinkle in his eye as he convened the gathering, hinting that this challenge might be exactly his cup of tea. A positive tone was established and his can-do attitude untangled my brain from most of the paralyzing anxiety I’d wrestled with the evening before. “Thanks for coming everybody. We don’t have time for the usual blah-blah-blah so tech team is up first.”

They’d been busy was my first reaction. I listened as a power point outlined first steps. The district server would be opened to all registered students using standard passwords. Software site licenses had been expanded to include as many remote/community-based hook-ups as necessary. Programs had been clustered into web pages according to grade levels but scholars were free to take on any level of complexity they could handle. Popular educational pages like BrainPop. Enchanted Learning, National Geographic, BBC Kids and many more had been added to the mix as had those of museums, libraries, government repositories and publicly funded literacy, history, math and science projects.

Next came some wrangling about hardware. Should it be left locked up for the duration? Should it be distributed out to Third Internet Free Wi-Fi neighborhood sites like supervised homes, store fronts, church halls, libraries or community centers? Was there any point in calling the Nicholas Negroponte guy at MIT with his $100 laptops? Could we locate a stash of used/cheap but web-ready PDA’s, cellphones, iPods, iPads or comparable tablets? No one seemed to have an easy answer because the idea was to Socially Distance, conserve gasoline, not squander strong immune systems by driving all over creation on techie, troubleshooting calls. Better to wait and resolve this once we knew how long it was going to drag on.

“Precedent for any of this?” Hamilton asked. “Have we done this before, people?” Silence sat heavy on us for a few seconds and then I heard Jack clear his throat and begin hesitantly.

“Well there was the natural gas shortage. We closed school for the entire month of January, as I recall, and the world didn’t come to an end. We nearly froze to death but we made it through, teachers got paid and seniors graduated on time. The state even issued a waiver on number of days required.”

“Exactly, so we’re in somewhat familiar territory. Treat it like that and maybe everyone will relax and think deeply.” Then I saw Horace fix me with one of his meaningful stares. “Didn’t you gather up your crew and drive them around to cultural institutions during that closure? I distinctly remember that you talked some front office idiot into approving educational road trips for those baaad kids of yours.”

Groans and grins erupted. My students always look like a casting call for Blackboard Jungle and yes I had run them all over Kingdom Come during the month off. We had fun, bonded, learned a lot, and kept everyone engaged and out of juvenile detention lockup. From then on, I knew that extreme situations could offer up golden opportunities for intelligent innovation and experimentation. Why should this be any different?

“What’s going to happen when the first thirty days are over, we’re not heroes anymore and everyone’s figured out that we’re hanging on by our fingernails?” Thus spoke Jakco the realist.

Ham nodded his head in agreement, “Peek around and you’ll see that hanging on by one’s fingernails is a fulltime occupation for much of the nation at present, but Jack’s right. We may look good in a clutch but if this moment doesn’t go away, then we’ll be held to a different standard. Our social institutions are facing major chiropractic adjustments and while changing horses in midstream may not be the safest, it is now officially the order of the day. How do we do a good job, remain accountable and keep our folks feeling comfortable and confident? Jack, what’re your major concerns?”

I’d watched him doodling on a legal pad and knew he had a punch list of problems at the ready. “ How about Kids of all ages out of school, unsupervised or inadequately supervised. Kids spending more time in already dysfunctional families where they don’t get enough to eat, physically and intellectually. Insufficient concentration of funded, neighborhood programs to take up the slack. Complying with state-mandated curricula, advanced placement courses, graduation requirements and college matriculation. I can’t begin to imagine….” and his voice trailed off.

Others jumped in citing concerns about the retooling of teachers for a job description that was yet to be created, what to do with the closets full of textbooks, narrow test-derived lesson plans inappropriate for virtual schooling, special needs students, progress reports and report cards.

Everywhere device-agnostic, Universal Smart Boards must be blooming with the roots and branches of mind maps and brainstorming sessions like ours. The planetary swap meet was about to begin and what a trader’s village it would be. Emphasis on local solution-seeking was too good to be true but I was prepared to ride the wave for as long as it lasted. The best ideas usually came from those closest to the kids but most often these ended up suppressed or ignored. Desperate days had turned everything topsy-turvy, which suited me just fine.

I plugged a vintage, Targus keyboard into my beat-up Handspring and began ticking out a different kind of tune – past efforts that harmonized with our present plight. Jane Addams and the Hull House posse wedged themselves onto Halsted Street, folding in and out of the crowded tenements like an immigrant accordion – a call, a response, a need, an invention. 1889 or 2021, either way riding with predators, gougers, high-rollers, warlords, scaplers and fat cats always lands us in the same place – hunkered down together trying to triage the mess and jumpstart a recovery. Might the karmic reincarnation of the settlement movement return in the form of emptied out, Covid-infused, traumatized condos, cottages, subdivisions and cul-de-sacs, offering up in common thinking spaces for compassion, cultivation and civic transformation?

“School Is Not A Place But An Activity,” – a catchy but necessary rationalization for Philly’s 1968-1971 Parkway Program where high schoolers actually woke up one day and discovered that their district, burdened with debt and broken-down buildings, was sending them on a school without walls walkabout.

In church nurseries, police stations, City Hall, and county court buildings, tutorials cranked out the 3 R’s as well as an ambitious assortment of student-supplied electives like Urban Economics, Multimedia Journalism, Market Research, Intro to Physical Chemistry and Business Skills for Beginning Jobs! They hooked up with the Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, the Academy of Natural Science, the Philly Zoo, Smith Kline and the Philadelphia Inquirer and all of this BEFORE the arrival of search engines, email, texting, podcasts, community video,YouTube, blogging, del.icio.us, My Space, or Facebook!

Edgar Dale used to toss around copies of the New Yorker magazine and playfully order an underlining of all ‘telling phrase’. Grad students sat and read an entry out of the World Book encyclopedia every time they visited his university office or routinely researched the etymology of several weird words of which he seemed to have an endless supply. He was the guru of planned but flexible, non-traditional, self-pacing, correspondence course, personalized, programmed, intensive, self-study and he meant it when he said it was the educator’s central mission to show people how to learn and think on their own and for themselves.

Vocabulary development, readability and all manner of audio-visuals were his passion – instructional technique and technology a life fascination. His Cone of Experience paradigm was my Steady Eddie for figuring out how in balance or out of whack things were. Imagine an upside down ice cream cone with a base wide enough to support plenty of old fashioned, first hand, full-bodied, get your hands on it, sink your teeth into it experience.

The re-experiencing continued up a spiral in the form of working models and mock-ups, dramatizations, demo’s, homemade or ready-made exhibits, dioramas, television/film, photographs/slideshow, filmstrips, radio and recordings, whiteboards, charts, diagrams, graphs or maps. And at the narrowest, most abstracted pinnacle of the cone was the place where teachers now seemed to hangout the most …letters, sounds, words, flashcards, paragraphs, concepts, definitions, formulae and aphorisms. We’d gotten it all wrong but maybe our upending would ultimately set us straight and launch us in the original direction we were headed forty years ago.

We could always pull a Civil Rights Era Esau Jenkins and fire up a fleet of alternately fueled school buses. If he could drive all over 1950’s Johns Island on dino-petro, teaching disenfranchised citizens how to read and answer questions on the unconstitutional, South Carolina Constitution Test for Black voters, I suspected we could manage to outfit a few mobile classrooms. A foundation in Fullerton, CA dreamed up a series of Arts Learning Activities Buses/Arts LABs ,featuring digital filmmaking, theatre production, music-making and dance, art studio & gallery and even an architecture office equipped with giant tinker toys, large Legos, Velcro building blocks and CAD software for kids.

Or maybe we should ring the equivalent of Pearson’s Digital Learning headquarters and ask for the specs on their broadband, satellite-powered, internet accessed eBus4’s that roared into Bay St. Louis, Mississippi right after Hurricane Katrina, transforming the destroyed Second Street Elementary into a ‘TENT’ school worth crowing about. I was sure someone at our district’s transportation barn knew how to calculate how much fragrant french fry oil it would take to fill up a modified diesel tank on a 60-seater Blue Bird. They’d done it in NOLA and so could we!

I knew some 4th graders who loved to chant ‘How Low Can You Go?’ whenever the Chubby Checker Limbo Dance CD was played in gym class. Instant stardom was guaranteed to anyone who could lean back and take the crown of the head all the way to the floor. Did we grownups embody the same flexibility? Could we bend over and envision at our feet, a program of study in a muddle of clay, water, millet, sawdust and sisal?

EDC’s African Primary Science Series sure did. One 1966 creepy-crawly, unit entitled, Ask The Ant Lion, zeroed in on Myrmeleontidae – a hardy creature available throughout most of tropical Africa, non-biting/non-stinging, easy to observe, maintain, feed and replace. Everyone was plenty familiar with its existence but hadn’t a clue how to organize a scientific investigation into the everyday behavior of this crater building Insecta Anthropoda Animalia. Simple experiments flowed from children’s questions. How does it move? How does it catch its food? How does it make these little pits and can it do it in gravel, flour, bran, rice, cassava meal, sugar or ashes? How does it throw things out of the pit it digs and how big a thing can it throw? In one study an eyedropper was used to trail water along a crossroads drawn in tabletop sand to see if an ant lion would cross a simulated river.

Science of Sound contains beautiful photos of pupil-made East African instruments like the balophone, the kihembe ngoma drums, slit gongs, makaji and malume xylophones, thumb pianos, horns and flutes made from gourds or bamboo and mouth bows, zithers and tube fiddlers.

Common Substances Around The Home (Mixing Powders and Liquids) begins by amassing a huge supply of clear containers, bottle tops, hollow reeds, flat sticks, water, chalk dust, cassava starch, Andrew’s Liver Salts,vinegar, baking soda, white wood ash and limes or lemons. Rudimentary labs were assembled where powders got stirred, mixed, dissolved, diluted and bubbled. Very cool!

Now if you’ve ever had to count the number of hairs on your head, the number of eggs produced by a chicken flock in one month, or the number of fish that fit into a lorry, then Estimating Numbers is chock full of the practice that makes perfect. Good guessing about big quantities was done with items easily found in the immediate environment. Field studies included strategies for reckoning the number of leaves on a tree and the number of ridges in the corrugated iron roof of a school.

Arts and Crafts, Cooking, Dry Sand, The Moon Watchers and Making Paints are equally brilliant adventures including one of my all time favorites, common sticks changed into paint brushes by chewing down the fibers while walking to school.

Suddenly it struck me that it had only been five days ago when I’d spent a Saturday morning with high school teachers, previewing their labors of love, online Algebra II and Biology II courses. It surely was an African Primary Science moment when one of them handed me a big, fat, familiar red onion as the actual/non-virtual artifact used for studying mitosis in this newly minted e-Academy.

What these young faculty-facilitators had taken three months to create, we might have to crank out in three weeks. I shrugged my shoulders at the absurdity of it all. If only we had started earlier – like three decades ago.

The Eight Year Study

The Eight Year Study came out of a National Capitalism Crisis and a democratic tradition of struggle for both change and the freedom to change. It closely resembled exactly where we stand today and that struggle has a very long history.  If we stood on the steps of the original Jane Addams Hull House on Halsted Street in Chicago, we could see the ghostly outline of the Hart, Schaffner Marx building.  Knowing the history of labor activism in this country, we would be reminded of the battles that went on in the early years of the garment industry, in Chicago, New York and elsewhere.
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These were battles to achieve adequate wages and decent working conditions. Since we didn’t exactly welcome the humanity of immigrant labor, we at least allowed them in and then colonized their work ethic, knowing it made Team USA that much stronger economically.
As a pioneer in the American settlement house movement, Jane Addams found herself living and working in neighborhoods that were isolated, ethnic enclaves. Lithuanians claimed one section of Halsted, Greeks another, Italians yet another.  These were people insisting upon remaining distinct and separate in terms of a positive cultural identity, yet needing at the same time to work together on the common problems of housing, work, health and education.  Hull House provided that place for collaborating.
One testimony of Hull House’s ability to value the differences while using them to build a common ground, are the maps drawn by community people that today are displayed in the front hallway of Hull House Museum. Immigrants went out and canvassed the neighborhoods to discover who lived there.  Their findings  were then translated into beautiful, color-coded maps.  Go stand in front of these maps because they are absolutely riveting!
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Today we can only imagine how such a project was organized.  From all the ethnic enclaves came people speaking no common language, yet finding the words, the time and the energy to compile a record of who they were and where they lived.
It was a collective effort issuing from a common place.  There was desperate need in those turn-of-century times for such places and so, when Graham Taylor, his wife and children, and a cluster of graduate students from the University of Chicago decided to establish a settlement house, they called it Chicago Commons.
What happened at Hull House and at the Chicago Commons was also what happened at settlement houses in Boston, Baltimore, Des Moines, Jersey City and Fort Worth.  The conversation centered around human problems and the social value of a democracy that MUST shape solutions to those problems.  A kaleidoscopic range of individuals came together to exchange ideas, voice needs and coordinate action.  To make the exchange as extensive and inclusive as possible was a challenge.  Hull House met that challenge by numbering among its friends such people as John Dewey, Florence Kelley, W.E. B. DuBois, as well as Russian tailors, Italian factory workers and Bohemian seamstresses.  Wish we all could have been there!
If we stretch to identify a similar institution dedicated to many of the same ideals and values, only one comes to mind – Public Schools.  It therefore comes as no surprise that during the last decades of the 19th Century and early decades of the 20th, as settlement houses cropped up in urban settings across the USA, we see as well the stirrings that were to lead to the formation of the Progressive Education Association and finally, to the Eight Year Study organized under its auspices.
As the settlement house workers had an expansive notion of what education could do and be, so did the pioneers of progressive education.  Both were concerned with blunting the raw edges of industrial civilization and with reinvigorating human community.  Both were discovering the forms of human association that could nurture individuality.  They were concerned with demonstrating the necessity and efficacy of freedom as a wellspring of personal and social growth.
Just as the settlement house workers had to deal with the destructive human consequences of harsh and mindless factory labor, so the progressive educators were moved to eliminate the factory as a model for organizing the work of classrooms.
The growth of the progressive education movement really began in the years following the end of  WWI.
In 1919 a group of educators founded the Progressive Education Association.  In the same year, Carleton Washburne became superintendent of schools in Winnetka, Illinois.  This was a post he held for 25 years.  Under his leadership came The Winnetka Plan, which enabled children to learn at their own pace.
It eliminated failure based on age-linked standards and placed strong emphasis on group activities that strengthened the school and its community.
In this same period, Harold Rugg, Director of Research at the Lincoln School in New York City and professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, developed his Social Science Course – six volumes complete with workbooks and teacher editions.  The Winnetka schools were among the first to pilot the Rugg series.  In his texts, Rugg asked students to think together about issues like the invasion of Native American lands by Europeans, the engineered dependence of Puerto Rico, and the contradiction of slavery as an institution in a “free” society.  Not surprisingly, the series became notably controversial and was even burned in some American towns.
The explosion of experimental activities in American schools during these early years of the 20th Century is impossible to summarize in a few sentences.  Perhaps the best way to capture some of the animating ideas of the progressive impulse is to cite the basic principles adopted by the Progressive Education Association at the moment of its birth in 1919.
1.  Children should have the freedom to develop naturally.
2.  A child’s interests should be the basic motive for all her school work.
3.  Teacher should function as guide and not a task master.
4.  Record-keeping empowers sympathetic and scientific study of a child’s development.
5.  Schools pay equal & active attention to ALL facets of children’s development.
6.  The school and the home MUST be active partners in meeting children’s needs.
The Eight Year Study began as a conversation at the 1930 P.E.A.Conference.  Two years of further conversation followed.  Initially there were no foundation dollars involved and people participated at their own expense.  Beginning in 1932, support from Carnegie and the General Education Board helped underwrite the expenses of what was called the Commission on the Relation of School and College.  It was this commission, created by the Progressive Education Association, that designed and directed the Eight Year Study.  Its first action was to conduct an assessment of American secondary schools.
The Commission found that students were graduating with no sense of what it meant to be a citizen within a democracy.  They found no connection between daily community life and the fundamental human values intended to guide that life.  Student concerns and school curricula were miles apart. Does this sound familiar?
 Where to begin?  What to change?  How best to change it?
As a starting point, the Commission focused on the freedom to change.  That may have been one of the wisest decisions it ever made.  It was clear to all members that high schools were most powerfully and extensively regulated by college admission criteria.  So the Commission sought and won the agreement by some 300 colleges and universities to waive their existing criteria for graduates of the experimenting group.
It was also clear that experimentation could not and should not be the exclusive right of a few private and privileged schools.  There had to be diversity of character, economic class and geography.  And so the roster of participating schools included Altoona Senior High in Altoona, PA; Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, IA; Tulsa Senior and Junior High Schools in Tulsa, OK; Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles, CA; and Shaker Heights High School located outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  On the private side were such schools as Francis Parker in Chicago, North Shore Country Day in the northern Chicago suburbs; several Quaker schools; Lab Schools like those at the University of Chicago, Ohio State and Wisconsin; and other private institutions like Milton Academy, Baldwin School and the Winsor School.
(1939) https://youtu.be/b7lHva6HAlc
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In the fall of 1933, all schools began building new curricula.  The process was intriguing and it varied dramatically from school to school.  Institutions affiliated with the P.E.A. had been dealing explicitly with the following questions for years.  What are democratic values?  How do we recognize them in practice?  How do we test such values publicly?  How do we teach the ability to think deeply and critically about the social issues and problems of the day?  How do we construct a descriptive yet dynamic portrait of a student’s personality and character?  How do we use that portrait to understand a student’s needs, actions and feelings? Imagine considering all of this instead of simply casting about for worksheets that make life easier on Google Classroom, Google Hangouts and Zoom.
As bold and fascinating as it all was, it also was a very human venture just as it would be today.  Complexity and the frustration of false starts were all part of what was to be explored.  The English Department at Altoona High replaced required reading lists and book reports with literary parties, discussions, impersonations and book clubs.  It also designated one day a week as a free reading day. No one ended up reading as few as the 14 books formerly required. Student were reading because they wanted to read.  A junior high school math teacher in Altoona organized an insurance company run by students.  It insured students against loss and damage to school books.  The need to invest premiums led to a study of banking and investment because the students had money to invest, not because it was demanded by a grade level course of study.
Radnor High School in Pennsylvania addressed program needs for non-college bound students. They developed a senior curriculum known as the Cooperative Course. These were tryout training opportunities for students in one or more vocational fields. Each tryout lasted two weeks.  Local business people agreed to provide some form of introductory experience or training in a given field.  These field experiences amounted to something between a part-time job and an apprenticeship, where instruction, supervision, evaluation and reports to schools became routine practice.
In 1936 a group of nine men began working across the country as Eight Year Study consultants.  They served only at the pleasure and invitation of individual schools.  The consultant did not stick around for long and it was not his role to dictate or impose. Instead, he assisted by NOT having an ax to grind or a stake in the local broils.
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Like a Pony Express rider, each carried news of work in other schools. They visited classrooms, gave demonstration lessons, and served as a mobile clearinghouse for research, ideas and materials.  Often they helped school people move their own mountains just by taking the time to leave a well-placed word of encouragement and understanding.  In short, they were summoned to assist teachers in discovering their own ability to act and change. It all was very similar to the Advisory System we saw in the British Infant School Classroom movement of the 1960’s.

 

There is renewal of interest in the Eight Year Study today because we still have educators who believe that American Schools must once again become innovative and lively places.  The essential value then and now is democracy.  This feature, more than any other, sets the Study apart from contemporary school reform movements propelled largely by technology-driven appeals for increased test scores, accountability and productivity, aimed at debilitating poor and working class communities.
We get our possibilities from one another. Simple and inescapable.
This means we must have well-funded, public and not privatized or stratified charter schools bent on profiting from us, separating us and making us STRANGERS to one another. Public schools nurture a democratic citizenry wherever kids from diverse backgrounds arrive and are permitted to learn with and from each other.
Coronavirus has now introduced public schools to the nightmare of impoverished and infected households where faculty, children and youth are suspended in a national nightmare of inaction. A mockery of education is being transmitted to millions of laptops, tablets and cellphones. Students cannot meet one another in person due to regional infection levels and they cannot meet one another intellectually, creatively or academically because state-controlled bureaucracies refuse to take principled action in their behalf.
Good teachers are once again stepping up and speaking out in protest over the dis-information, disorder and dis-ease now being inflicted on public schools 2020-2021. It is guided from above, by a technocratic mindset adept at junk bond trading, corporate takeovers, bank bailouts and economic dominance.  But for those of us committed to the democratic tradition, the Eight Year Study is both our ancestor and ally.  It reminds us that the idea and broad practice of democracy comes with a price.
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If we want it to remain or become the centerpiece for citizens, teachers and students, then we’re going to have to fight for it.  Eternal Vigilance is an action and not a slogan. Those who have most recently been taking their feet to the streets are absolutely leading the way.
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Parkway Program Philadelphia

Make Your Coronavirus Community Into a Schoolhouse

This is an old idea but it is also a young idea because it is lively, mobile, flexible and fresh.

A schoolhouse does not equal a brick & mortar classroom. This is a confining equation. It is limiting and it certainly is expensive. During a Pandemic, it could prove DEADLY.

Instead, begin to imagine a group of students with learning dimensions that extend outside the restriction of a specific lab, studio, building or campus. Free from infection and insulated against contagion.

Draw three concentric circles.
EDUCATION is at the center.
STUDENT-PARENT-TEACHER-ADVISOR is the next ring.
Outside curve reads COMMUNITY.

All have equal access to each other.

Once upon a time Philadelphia City Schools were “healthy” but absolutely over-crowded.
They had exhausted budgeted, physical space but their civic minds were energetic.
Thinking and problem-solving carried on even in the face of scarce resources.

Philadelphia created something that became known as The Parkway Program.

Parkway Had:
School buildings and classrooms outside the traditional arrangement.
High School courses offered all around the city.
Students consulted in the hiring and evaluating of staff.
Students participated in curriculum planning.
Students and Staff directed the program using “Management Groups”.
Business and Industry contributed instructors, sites and in-kind resources.
Tuition-paying students attracted by the innovative spirit.

Parkway created classes that did not bear the designation of 10th grade, junior or advanced placement.

The formal IQ of participants ranged from 74 all the way to 150.

Alfred North Whitehead once wrote, “There is only one subject matter for education and that is LIFE.”

The Parkway Program engaged itself in the study of life. To create curriculum it asked, “What is useful to us in life? What do we need to know and investigate to make the best urban life for others and ourselves?”

Tutorial Groups were established from the onset. These student-staff units worked on basic academic skills, computerized learning, remedial studies as needed, social skills – all of this leading to a diploma.

Not everyone fit the Parkway Profile. It was not a universal solution for all.

City-based studies were often 4-day units entitled along these lines:
“The Urban Environment”
Class Schedule looked like this:
8:00 – 9:00 Physical Fitness Class
9:00 – 11:00 Out in city at business/corporate sites, cultural centers or in
city-based classrooms.
11:00 – 1:00 Management Groups met. Lunch. Check-ins with Advisors.
1:00 – 3:00 Academic Tutorials – Personal dialogue and exchange of ideas between students and faculty.
These may have involved an independent study project or a review of research underway.
Learning how to take criticism and stand up for ideas was emphasized.
3:00 – 5:00 “Pedagogical Mile” Two hour unit of city resource-based research
and learning.

Wednesdays from 11 AM to 5 PM were specially arranged activities and/or individual study.

The city’s public transit system was virus-free and was used by older students to travel the city for study
AND the city’s transit system became a civic and economic curriculum unit. Who funds it? Who uses it? How is it administered? How does it operate as a business? What are its finances? Where are its routes? What are its special services?
Law Enforcement is an example of an Elective that was offered.
Math class was taught at the famous Franklin Institute. Literature class was conducted at the city library.
Art Appreciation was taught at the Art Institute.
Physical Education was held at the YMCA.
Zoology was conducted at the Zoo.

Students always attended the Friday Faculty Meetings.
Typical days were 9:00 – 5:00 and included Saturday classes.
Students considered Parkway and referred to Parkway as a “School for Kids”

The Parkway faculty profile was that of a teacher who was experienced in experimental and/or innovative approaches to excellence and education.

There were volunteer interns from co-op program at Antioch, Reed, Oberlin and Goddard College.

Weekly Town Meetings were held for the entire learning community and that included parents. Above is a video clip of four “survivors” remembering a fun and formative experience.


Millbrook Discovery Mathematics For Top Infants And Lower Juniors: CAPACITY, Printed by ESA in England 1967. Such a strange and wonderful “workbook” because the very first page does nothing but send children around their house for objects.
The opening salvo is the assumption and announcement that homes, no matter how impoverished, contain precious equipment necessary to mathing about.
A debut illustration is of children spilling down a sidewalk, waving at one another and chatting, as they clutch in their arms and hands oversized cooking spoons, tea tins, washbasins, plastic pails, watering cans with elongated spouts, dented kettles and empty marmite jars.
Such treasures!
Isn’t it wonderful to own and loan something that school study truly needs but cannot supply without YOUR help.
Work areas look like a cross between a flea market and The Container Store, with watering troughs shoved up against rickety, wooden tables crowded with any object capable of holding liquid.
Apparently no one cycles off to the Teacher Store for pre-made wall decorations because the little ones are hunched over huge sheets of chart paper drawing careful and imaginative renderings of receptacles that hold MORE than 1 pint and LESS than 1 pint.

Such investment of time and attention to detail must be its own kind of neurological impress, as it goes on for weeks before a produce scale or a spring balance ever makes an appearance.

The non-standardized gives birth to the standardized and it is clear that THIS is how a successful journey begins to the mastery and mystery of so-called Standards.

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Mrs. Murphy’s Sunflowers is a unit of study found in Ellsworth Collings’ 1924 edition of An Experiment With A Project Curriculum. Might this be the book used for inspiration by the Corporation For Computerized Coronavirus Craziness as they constructed their test riddled virtual unit on Early Civilizations? No, probably not.

Back in 1924 Ellsworth Collings was not driving data points into the hearts and minds of little children and he was not abusing his status as “expert” by dictating courses of study and sterile worksheet content for human beings he had never met and knew nothing about.

Sure, standard subject matter was actively in the mix, but it was never weaponized to precisely and intentionally destroy student development. Collings threw the education machine into reverse and then paid close attention to what happened when human beings were guided to select activities and PURPOSE their own learning based on interesting, immediate, everyday life.

One day Carl called a group meeting of his fellow 6-8 year olds and asked why did they think Mrs. Murphy was forever growing big sunflowers at the BACK of her vegetable garden. It didn’t make any sense to him. The other kids agreed. Weren’t flowers intended for flower gardens or front lawns? Iona said she had no idea what a sunflower looked like so if they wanted her help, she would need a first-hand visit to Mrs. Murphy’s. So off they trooped armed with two questions. Why was Mrs. Murphy growing these sunflowers at the rear end of her vegetable garden? How were sunflowers different from her other flowers?

Next day, Mrs. Murphy walked everyone out back and introduced them to the color, shape and distinct seed of the sunflower. She had them inspect the stem, the leaves and explained that she planted strategically so her cucumber vines would be protected from the hot, late afternoon sun. To the children’s delight, she actually cut off the head of a big sunflower and pitched it over the fence to her chickens so the class could watch the flock devour the seeds off the flower head. “Homegrown poultry feed,” she announced matter-of-factly.

Later, back at school, of course there were paintings and drawings of beautiful sunflowers and many, detailed, written accounts. These were enhanced by reading and researching flower guide and nature study books but also by uncovering stories and poems about sunflowers in traditional texts like the Elson Readers: Book Three and several others. Lantern slides and stereograph pictures of wild flowers were also put to good use.

And what did Carl make of this adventure? Well, here is what he reported in cursive handwriting, accompanied by a detailed, scientific illustration of the sunflower.

The Sunflower

“Mrs. Murphy uses her sunflowers to shade her cucumber vines. The sunflower has a big yellow flower. Mrs. Murphy’s chickens like sunflower seed. She gave us some seed to plant. Sunflowers make pretty yard flowers. I am going to grow some in my cantaloupe patch next summer to shade my cantaloupes. They grow best in a rich soil, sunshine and moisture. They are easy to grow.”

CORONAVIRUS CHOREOGRAPHED DISASTER FOR DEMOCRACY

CHOREOGRAPHED DISASTERS

“In the Guatemalan village of Santiago Atitlan, people used to build their houses out of traditional materials, using no iron or lumber or nails, but the houses were magnificent.
Many were sewn together out of bark and fiber.
The house that a person sleeps in must be very beautiful and sturdy, but not so sturdy that it won’t fall apart after a while.
If your house doesn’t fall apart, then there will be no reason to renew it.
And it is this renewability that makes something valuable.
Because the village huts were not built to last very long, they had to be regularly renewed.
When your house was falling down, you invited all the folks over.
Once the house was back together again, everyone ate together, praised the house, laughed and cried.
In some ways, crises bring communities together but Mayans don’t wait for a crisis to occur; they make a crisis.
Spirituality is based on choreographed disasters – otherwise known as rituals – in which everyone has to work together to remake each other’s houses or the community or the world.
Everything HAS to be maintained because it was originally made so delicately that it eventually falls apart.
It is the putting back together again, the renewing that ultimately makes something strong.
That sort of constant renewal is the only permanence we should wish to attain.”

Martin Prechtel: http://www.floweringmountain.com

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This is not school. This is not learning. This is not education. American parents have had enough. The deliberate derailing of a Professional Pandemic Plan has created an awakened citizenry. People are fed up and they are not going to sit at home, jobless and exhausted, while watching their children bored silly with Brain Lean Teach To The Test software masquerading as intelligence.

THE DESERT AS GARDEN OF PARADISE
Every drought-resistant plant has its own story
Each had to learn to live
With less and less water

Each would have loved to laze
In long, soft rains
In the quiet drip
After the thunderstorm
Each could do without deprivation

But where drought is the epic
Then there must be some who persist
Not by species betrayal
But by changing themselves minutely

By a constant study
Of the price of continuity
A steady bargain
With the way things are

Time’s Power by Adrienne Rich 1989

No more the “steady bargain with the way things are”.
A neighbor just off his construction job stands railing in the street over his three daughters, each tethered to a laptop, staring down static assignments that nobody can wrap their heads around. He is hot and tired and angry. He is particularly resistant to the bureaucratic pressure being applied to return his children to in-person classroom instruction.
The virus is raging. Nearby, few are masking. Even fewer are distancing, wearing face shields, googles or gloves. Bus transportation will be routinely sanitized for only as long as the media attention persists. After that, it will be unregulated and anything goes. He does not want his offspring hospitalized or buried due to the price of big business continuity. He is not a Think Tank but nor is he stupid about how things work on this desert.

Bored youth are cranky youth. Unengaged and deprived of the quiet drip accompanying interest and excitement, they mass produce resistance and rebellion. They fight for a lush life. They perform hand-to-hand combat in behalf of wonder, rigor and revelations. They refuse to betray their own minds.

In the 1930’s when the economic drought in the USA really was epic, schools negotiated a steady bargain with the way things weren’t. They rendered service to their disaffected youth by doubling down on societal crime scene investigations. In Southern California the problem of concern settled on WATER.

This was for high school juniors and seniors who, in many cases, had fled a dustbowl catastrophe with family, only to land in Southern California where WATER continued to be the crisis of the moment and for decades of moments beyond.

Together with faculty from multiple disciplines they climbed into the Mono Basin habitat. The Metropolitan Water District was visited. Hoover Dam construction became a playground for the intellect.

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All things water were of importance. Hydro-electric developments, water purification, water softening, water as a chemical compound, water as a geological agent, sources of ground water, conservation of water and water sheds, irrigation, electricity as a by-product of a water supply or water as a chemical re-agent.

These high schoolers weren’t drowning in a  pacifying sea of digitized worksheets. Instead they made models of  functioning, pressurized artesian wells. They built amphibious airplanes. There were mock-ups of traps used for baths, tubs, sinks and showers. Boats were designed and water displacement was measured. Bird baths were manufactured. There was a crew making their own “ancient” porous, clay pot Ollas for irrigating olive groves, citrus groves or gardens. Water was tested for temperature, pH, chloride, salinity, turbidity, bacteria, mineral content, pesticides, nitrate and phosphate. They carbonated water. Water got removed from crystallization. It was used to act on metals, and oxides.

The desert of Southern California classrooms became a Garden Of Paradise for those who had been hammered by forces of world destruction 1930’s style. It was called The Eight-Year Study.

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