Archives for category: Creativity

The Financial Times reports on a new phenomenon: educators around the world see the pandemic as an opportunity to break free of standardized exams.

Tony Stack, a Canadian educator, was developing a new way to assess children even before coronavirus. The decision to scrap end-of-year assessments after the pandemic struck presented the chance to put the “deep learning” approach into practice. “It offered an opportunity for an authentic learning experience, outside some of the constraints of an exam,” said Mr Stack, director of education for Newfoundland and Labrador province. This alternative model, used in 1,300 schools across eight countries, that prioritises skills and independent thinking “set a way forward for a more ethical approach to assessment,” he explained. “Skills that students need to learn through the pandemic cannot be assessed in a single test,” he added.

Most viewed the abrupt cancellation of exams in countries around the world as a regrettable loss that would diminish learning and life chances for a cohort of young people. A vocal group of educators also saw an opportunity to call time on the traditional exams system they say is unjust and outdated. “The pandemic has exacerbated all these problems that were already there with exams,” said Bill Lucas, director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the UK’s Winchester university.

He believes traditional assessments unfairly standardises children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and put young people off through its rote-learning, one-size-fits-all approach. “Survey after survey says creativity, critical-thinking and communications are what we need. Exams don’t assess those things,” Mr Lucas said. “Covid has forced us to ask the question: ‘do we want to go back to where we were or do we want to stop and think?’” Rethinking Assessment, the advocacy group he co-founded to push for change, has attracted support from teachers, trade union leaders, policymakers and academics. Among them is Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Cambridge university neuroscientist who argues that exams such as the GCSEs taken by 16 year-olds in England exaggerate stress and anxiety at a time when teenagers’ brains are still evolving. “We need to reassess whether high intensity, high stakes, national exams such as GCSEs are still the optimal way to assess the academic achievements of a developing young person,” she wrote late last year.

https://www.ft.com/content/9d64e479-182c-4dbd-96fe-0c26272a5875

He believes traditional assessments unfairly standardises children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and put young people off through its rote-learning, one-size-fits-all approach. “Survey after survey says creativity, critical-thinking and communications are what we need. Exams don’t assess those things,” Mr Lucas said. “Covid has forced us to ask the question: ‘do we want to go back to where we were or do we want to stop and think?’” Rethinking Assessment, the advocacy group he co-founded to push for change, has attracted support from teachers, trade union leaders, policymakers and academics. Among them is Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Cambridge university neuroscientist who argues that exams such as the GCSEs taken by 16 year-olds in England exaggerate stress and anxiety at a time when teenagers’ brains are still evolving. “We need to reassess whether high intensity, high stakes, national exams such as GCSEs are still the optimal way to assess the academic achievements of a developing young person,” she wrote late last year.

Gary Rubinstein may be one of your favorite bloggers. He is certainly one of mine! He is also an administrator of my blog. I literally don’t know how to put PDF files into a post or how to add graphics; I reach out to Gary and he helps me. I first met Gary about a decade ago when I started researching “miracle” schools. I discovered that Gary uses his powerful analytical skills to debunk miracle claims. Since then, we have become good friends, and I admire him about as much as anyone I know. He is a truth-teller, a man of impeccable integrity.

I just learned that Gary has written and published a book of his essays, not his blog posts. They are available on amazon for only 99 cents. I don’t think there is a better bargain anywhere on the Internet. I also learned by reading this post that Gary has done stand-up comedy!

If there were a category on my blog for “Integrity,” that’s where I would place Gary.

He wrote in this post:

About 8 years ago I published a Kindle e-book of essays I had collected over the years. This included essays about my family and about my neuroses and also some older writings from when I wrote a humor column in college. I even included my college application essay. So I put it out there and after a few weeks it had been downloaded a bunch of times. Unfortunately some of those downloads were by my family. And some of those family members are more sensitive than I had anticipated. So I had to un-publish the book. It was sad for me to do this since this was the net result, even though it was only about 150 pages, of a lifetime of the thing that I think I was born to do.

The past four years with Trump in office has been rough for many people. For me, it caused me a lot of stress and I spent hours every day watching MSNBC as a way, I felt, to keep my sanity. So when Biden won I felt a great cloud lifted and decided I was going to enjoy my life and my hobbies more without needing to spend so much time obsessing about Trump. And I took another look at my e-book. And I decided it wasn’t so bad. I changed a few sentences to hopefully make some of my family members less embarrassed and I put it out there again. I’m 51 years old now and I’m really proud of my essays so I’m re-publishing. I’ll deal with the fall out if there is any.

You know the old line, “Failure is not an option.” Well, we have federal education policy built on the idea that failure doesn’t matter. Failure is not only an option, it is the only option. No Child Left Behind failed; the same children who were behind were left behind. Race to the Top was a failure; no one reached “the top” because of its demands. Common Core was a failure: It promised to close achievement gaps and raise up fourth grade test scores; it did not. Every Student Succeeds did not lead to “every students succeeding.” At some point, we have to begin to wonder about the intelligence or sanity of people who love failure and impose it on other people’s children. Testing, charter schools, merit pay, teacher evaluation, grading schools A-F, state takeovers, etc., fail again and again yet still remain popular with the people who control the federal government, whether they be Democrats or Republicans.

Peter Greene sums up the problem with his usual wit and insight: Democrats need a new vision. They need to toss aside everything they have endorsed for at least the past 20-30 years. The problem in education is not just Betsy DeVos. The problem is the bad ideas endorsed by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Will Biden and Cardona have the wisdom and the vision to understand that?

For four years, Democrats have had a fairly simple theory of action when it came to education. Something along the lines of “Good lord, a crazy lady just came into our china shop riding a bull, waving around a flamethrower, and dragging a shark with a head-mounted laser beam; we have to stop her from destroying the place (while pretending that we have a bull and a shark in the back just like hers).” 

Now, of course, that will, thank heavens, no longer fit the circumstances. The Democrats will need a new plan.

Trouble is, the old plan, the one spanning both the Clinton and Obama years, is not a winner. It went, roughly, like this:

The way to fix poverty, racism, injustice, inequity and economic strife is to get a bunch of children to make higher scores on a single narrow standardized test; the best shot at getting this done is to give education amateurs the opportunity to make money doing it.

This was never, ever a good plan. Ever. Let me count the ways.

For one thing, education’s ability to fix social injustice is limited. Having a better education will not raise the minimum wage. It will not eradicate poverty. And as we’ve just spent four years having hammered into us, it will not even be sure to make people better thinkers or cleanse them of racism. It will help some people escape the tar pit, but it will not cleanse the pit itself.

And that, of course, is simply talking about education, and that’s not what the Dems theory was about anyway–it was about a mediocre computer-scorable once-a-year test of math and reading. And that was never going to fix a thing. Nobody was going to get a better job because she got a high score on the PARCC. Nobody was ever going to achieve a happier, healthier life just because they’d raised their Big Standardized Test scores by fifty points. Any such score bump was always going to be the result of test prep and test-taker training, and that sort of preparation was always going to come at the expense of real education. Now, a couple of decades on, all the evidence says that test-centric education didn’t improve society, schools, or the lives of the young humans who passed through the system.

Democrats must also wrestle with the fact that many of the ideas attached to this theory of action were always conservative ideas, always ideas that didn’t belong to traditional Democratic Party stuff at all. Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire talk about a “treaty” between Dems and the GOP, and that’s a way to look at how the ed reform movement brought people into each side who weren’t natural fits. The conservative market reform side teamed up with folks who believed choice was a matter of social justice, and that truce held until about four years ago, actually before Trump was elected. Meanwhile, in Schneider and Berkshire’s telling, Democrats gave up supporting teachers (or at least their unions) while embracing the Thought Leadership of groups like Democrats for Education Reform, a group launched by hedge fund guys who adopted “Democrat” because it seemed like a good wayto get the support they needed. Plus (and this seems like it was a thousand years ago) embracing “heroes” like Michelle Rhee, nominally listed as a Democrat, but certainly not acting like one. 

All of this made a perfect soup for feeding neo-liberals. It had the additional effect of seriously muddying the water about what, exactly, Democrats stand for when it comes to public education. The laundry list of ideas now has two problems. One is that they have all been given a long, hard trial, and they’ve failed. The other, which is perhaps worse from a political gamesmanship standpoint, is that they have Trump/DeVos stink all over them. 

But while Dems and the GOP share the problems with the first half of that statement, it’s the Democrats who have to own the second part. The amateur part.

I often complain that the roots of almost all our education woes for the modern reform period come from the empowerment of clueless amateurs, and while it may appear at first glance that both parties are responsible, on closer examination, I’m not so sure.

The GOP position hasn’t been that we need more amateurs and fewer professionals–their stance is that education is being run by the wrong profession. Eli Broad has built his whole edu-brand on the assertion that education doesn’t have education problems, it has business management problems, and that they will best be solved by management professionals. In some regions, education has been reinterpreted by conservatives as a real estate problem, best solved by real estate professionals. The conservative model calls for education to be properly understood as a business, and as such, run not by elected bozos on a board or by a bunch of teachers, but by visionary CEOs with the power to hire and fire and set the rules and not be tied down by regulations and unions. 

Democrats of the neo-liberal persuasion kind of agree with that last part. And they have taken it a step further by embracing the notion that all it takes to run a school is a vision, with no professional expertise of any sort at all. I blame Democrats for the whole business of putting un-trained Best and Brightest Ivy Leaguers in classrooms, and the letting them turn around and use their brief classroom visit to establish themselves as “experts” capable of running entire district or even state systems. It takes Democrats to decide that a clueless amateur like David Coleman should be given a chance to impose his vision on the entire nation (and it takes right-tilted folks to see that this is a perfect chance to cash in big time). 

Am I over-simplifying? Sure. But you get the idea. Democrats turned their backs on public education and the teaching profession. They decided that virtually every ill in society is caused by teachers with low expectations and lousy standards, and then they jumped on the bandwagon that insisted that somehow all of that could be fixed by making students take a Big Standardized Test and generating a pile of data that could be massaged for any and all purposes (never forget–No Child Left Behind was hailed as a great bi-partisan achievement). 

I would be far more excited about Biden if at any point in the campaign he had said something along the lines of, “Boy, did we get education policy wrong.” And I suppose that’s a lot to ask. But if Democrats are going to launch a new day in education, they have a lot to turn their backs on, along with a pressing need for a new theory of action.

They need to reject the concept of an entire system built on the flawed foundation of a single standardized test. Operating with flawed data is, in fact, worse than no data at all, and for decades ed policy has been driven by folks looking for their car keys under a lamppost hundreds of feet away from where the keys were dropped because “the light’s better over here.”

They need to embrace the notion that teachers are, in fact, the pre-eminent experts in the field of education.

They need to accept that while education can be a powerful engine for pulling against the forces of inequity and injustice, but those forces also shape the environment within which schools must work. 

They need to stop listening to amateurs. Success in other fields does not qualify someone to set education policy. Cruising through a classroom for two years does not make someone an education expert. Everyone who ever went to the doctor is not a medical expert, everyone who ever had their car worked on is not a mechanic, and everyone who ever went to school is not an education expert. Doesn’t mean they can’t add something to the conversation, but they shouldn’t be leading it.

They need to grasp that schools are not businesses. And not only are schools not businesses, but their primary function is not to supply businesses with useful worker bees. 

If they want to run multiple parallel education systems with charters and vouchers and all the rest, they need to face up to properly funding it. If they won’t do that, then they need to shut up about choicey policies. “We can run three or four school systems for the cost of one” was always a lie, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise. Otherwise school choice is just one more unfunded mandate.

They need to accept that privatized school systems have not come up with anything new, revolutionary, or previously undiscovered about education. But they have come up with some clever new ways to waste and make off with taxpayer money.

Listen to teachers. Listen to parents in the community served by the school. Commit to a search for long term solutions instead of quick fixy silver bullets. And maybe become a force for public education slightly more useful than simply fending off a crazy lady with a flamethrower. 

This is a beautiful https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/swans-for-relief-raises-money-for-dancers-amid-covid-19-47449883?fbclid=IwAR0VmXIqHyeeNP0X7SGh9mR-YShob4sj9yXYToYexWwlzJ1Bg02pGMgEp6Y of 32 talented dancers from around the world performing “Swan Lake.”

They are raising money for dancers whose income has been cut off.

Each dancer is alone, in isolation caused by the pandemic

They give a different meaning to the word “discipline,” which is often associated with punishment. These dancers are models of exquisite self-discipline.

The performances are beautiful and sad, when you consider that these young women practiced and worked for years to reach the peak of their profession and now have no audiences.

Certainly there are more tragic stories today, about lives and livings lost.

But pause for a few moments of beauty.

Veteran educator Nancy Bailey has some very clear ideas about the next Secretary of Education. All her proposals are premised on Trump’s defeat, since billionaire Betsy DeVos would want to hang on and finish the job of destroying public schools and enriching religious and private schools.

Let’s hope that the next Secretary of Education has the wisdom and vision to liberate children and teachers from the iron grip of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, High-stakes testing, privatization, and a generation of failed federal policies.

Bailey begins:

During this critical time in American history, that individual should be a black or brown woman, who has been a teacher of young children, and who understands child development. She should hold an education degree and have an additional leadership degree and experience that will help her run the U.S. Department of Education.

Children deserve to see more teachers who look like they do, who will inspire them to go on and become teachers themselves. A black female education secretary will bring more diverse individuals to the field and set an example. This will benefit all students.

Many individuals, including accomplished black men, have brilliant minds, and understand what we need in the way of democratic public education. Leadership roles should await them in the U.S. Department of Education, in schools, universities, or states and local education departments.

But with the fight for Black Lives to Matter and for an end to gender inequality, a knowledgeable black woman with a large heart to embrace these times should take this spot. The majority of teachers have always been women, and while men are critical to being role models for children and teens, it is time for a black woman to lead.

We have had eleven education secretaries, and only three of them have been women, including Shirley Hufstedler, Margaret Spellings, and Betsy DeVos. None of these women were educators or had experience in the classroom. Only two African American men have been in this role, and neither of them could be considered authentic teachers and educators. Both had the goal to undermine public schools.

The time is now for a black female education secretary who will set a positive example and be the face of the future for children from all gender and cultural backgrounds.

The media has been churning out stories about the exodus of people from cities, to escape crowding and coronavirus. People, they say, are rushing to the suburbs.

New Yorker Peter Goodman dissents. He believes that city life will bounce back in time. New York City already is healthier than most other parts of the nation, though mass transit has not yet recovered from the pandemic. Everything ground to a halt in mid-March, and city life is only now beginning to resume, but with masks and social distancing.

Goodman argues that “Cities are the Engines of Democracy, Innovation, and Growth and Schools Play a Major Role.”

As cultural life revives, so will cities.

Ambitious young people flock to them for exposure to museums, dance, concerts, theater, and civic life and diversity of people and experiences.

An interesting article on a real estate website called Curbed.com says that the “urban exodus” story is mostly a myth. True, there has been flight from two of the most expensive places in the U.S—San Francisco and Manhattan (but not Brooklyn!)—but the flow out of cities has not accelerated.

But a nationwide, pandemic- or protest-induced urban-to-suburban migration taking place on a scale that impacts both urban and suburban housing markets in a measurable way? There is zero empirical evidence to support such a trend. None. Nothing. Zero.

Earlier this month, real-estate-listings giant Zillow published an exhaustive study examining every conceivable housing-market data point related to cities and suburbia to see if there are major divergences that suggest an urban-to-suburban migration trend.

Are pending home sales between urban and suburban areas different now than they were before the pandemic? They aren’t!

Are suburban homes selling more quickly than homes in urban areas? Nope!

Are suburban homes selling above their list price at a higher rate than urban homes? Not at all!

Are urban homes seeing price cuts at a higher rate than suburban homes? If anything, the opposite!

Are home valuations accelerating faster in suburban areas than in urban areas? Urban zip codes have a slight edge!

Are suburban home listings getting a larger share of search traffic relative to urban areas now than they were last year? The suburban share is actually down 0.2 percentage points!

There is a German saying: Stadtluft macht frei (“urban air makes you free”). It has been true for centuries. It will be true again.

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of the Port Washington School District in New York and a friend of Sir Ken Robinson.

The Legacy and Impact of Sir Ken Robinson

The world lost an inspiring and incredible human-being on August 21, 2020. Sir Ken Robinson, the gifted author and educator, and one of the world’s leading thinkers made an incredible impact on everyone he met. You may know him from his famous TED Talk entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity”. It happened to be the most viewed TED Talk of all-time. To think people cared to watch an 18-minute discussion about school and creativity more than 66 million times shows us what an amazing orator he was. More important, it highlights his ability to connect with people who cared about what he had to say.

Most people know him from his multiple TED Talks. Not many knew that he led an incredibly multifaceted career before he hit TED stardom. Sir Ken was Director of the Arts in Schools Project, an initiative to develop arts education throughout England and Wales. He also chaired Artswork, the UK’s national youth arts development agency. Sir Ken was also professor emeritus of education at the University of Warwick. In 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the arts. I’m just scratching the surface of his esteemed career but this gentleman was also Senior Advisor for Education & Creativity at the Getty Museum. His contributions to the field of education and the world are vast.

I could go on and on about his legacy and his ideas concerning creativity. He deeply cared about the education system our children and teachers are “trapped” in because he felt it needed to be transformed. His quotes are legendary. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

2. “Creativity is as important as literacy”

3. “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”

I was blessed and fortunate to work with Sir Ken a few years ago and stay connected ever since. This past April I had the pleasure and honor of spending time with him for his new podcast series related to teaching from home. Sir Ken is like that old friend you don’t see for a while; and then when you do meet up again, it’s like you saw them yesterday. He made you feel like your work and ideas mattered. Sir Ken had the uncanny ability to use his humor to draw people in and then use his superpower of connecting with you to seal the deal.

I saw that someone penned, “Sir Ken’s loss offers everyone in the field of education an opportunity to honor him by reflecting and acting on his wisdom.” As Pasi Shalberg, another icon in the field of education wrote me earlier today, “His words would have been heeded now more than ever. We must carry his message forward, Mike.” I couldn’t agree more. We all must carry his message forward every single day.

In one of his last TED Talks, Sir Ken discusses how life is your talents discovered. He concluded his talk by saying, “Nothing is more influential as a life well lived.” I can’t think of another human-being that I know of who has lived a life more well lived than my dear friend. The world lost a great man but his ideas will live on.

Favorite video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSgCut1Ils when he speaks to the Dali Lama.

Please read the articles in Capital & Main’s series on teaching in the age of COVID-19, which is titled “The Year of Teaching Dangerously.” They spell out the frustrations and the learning curve that teachers and students have coped with in these uncertain times. Routines went out the window. Teachers had to improvise, to be creative and innovative, and to learn to live with unprecedented challenges.

They are linked here:

Elementary School Students’ Uneasy Year Zero” by Sasha Abramsky.

Are High Schoolers Zoning Out on Zoom?” by Sasha Abramsky.

Middle School Teachers Face a Fall Term of Uncertainty,” by Sasha Abramsky.

Teachers Discover that Distance Learning is a Dance,” by Larry Buhl.

From the last article:

Imagine you’ve been cast in your school’s spring musical – in this case, High School Musical — and you’ve been rehearsing for months, but the COVID crisis closes everything a day before the show opens. Andrea Calvo, a teacher at Orange County’s Ladera Vista Junior High School of the Arts in Fullerton, was directing the show and said the performers, as well as students and in her guitar and choir classes, have been emotionally “all over the place” since March.

“Some days [they are] depressed, some days happy. They went through all the emotions and the ups and downs that teachers did,” Calvo said. There was so much confusion on how online instruction would go, and how long it would last. “We were grieving but didn’t know what we were grieving.”

In July the Orange County School Board stepped into the national spotlight by declaring its schools, unlike Los Angeles County to the north and San Diego County to the south, would open for fall classes – and without masks or social distancing. It would prove to be a moot point, because later that week Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that all schools on the state COVID-19 monitoring list – including Orange County’s – be closed until they are off California’s monitoring list for 14 consecutive days.

A week before the fall term started, Calvo said that teachers’ stress levels have lowered somewhat since the March scramble to take learning online. Now there’s a plan to reopen schools – when the school meets the state criteria and not before – if not an exact date.

“Not knowing is stressful,” Calvo says. “Nobody thinks distance learning went well in the spring. We were in crisis mode.”

After a few months of trial and error, and a summer to connect with other music teachers nationwide on distance learning best practices, Calvo says she’s better equipped to teach online. She adds that the students at her school all had iPads, so they were already better poised for distance learning than students in other schools. Not that it made the switch easy. Nothing in her 20 years of teaching could prepare Calvo for Zoom meetings with choir students who appeared, singing, on 60 little video boxes on a computer monitor.

“We did warmups, they recorded themselves, and I hosted,” she said. “For musical theater, I demonstrate movement [in real time] and they follow.” There were too many students to fit on one computer screen, but fortunately Calvo had help from a student teacher, who monitored a second screen.

But Calvo says Orange County adopted what it calls a “Do no harm” grading policy during the crisis. The idea is that you can’t hold students to the same standards while schools are closed. “Some students were at home with family and quarantining there. Some may be at home all alone caring for siblings, some had sick parents. We don’t know what students are going through.”

But Calvo and fellow teachers and staff do want some idea of what students are going through, and they try to make sure everything is all right. “We make spreadsheets to see, ‘Oh this student didn’t log in for three days. So in that case we call and ask if everything is okay.’”

Not giving up on its plan to force everyone back into classrooms during the pandemic, the O.C. Board of Education last month vowed to sue Gov. Newsom over school closures, claiming that online instruction had been a “failure.”

Distance learning for the long haul
Calvo said that attitudes of parents and county residents have shifted over the past five months as more have accepted that the pandemic will change learning for the foreseeable future. “In May, Orange County posted photos of what classes would look like, with PPE and distancing, and people said, ‘Oh, that looks awful.’ Now, more people want schools to look like that when they open.”

“As a teacher and a parent I think distance learning is safest,” says Calvo. “But that is from a place of privilege, because I know I am able to stay home. A lot of parent friends feel the same way but I recognize we may be in a bubble.”

Calvo assumes distance learning will be the norm well into the new school year. That’s a challenge for any school, but for hers, which has 30 arts electives, it’s an even bigger challenge to maintain its culture. “There is a lot of creativity here. [Distance learning] is a dance.”

Capital & Main published a five-part series on teaching during the pandemic. The series is called “The Year of Teaching Dangerously.”

Sasha Abramsky launched the series with an article about how schools in California were adapting to the pandemic.

Abramsky writes about the uncertainty, confusion, and conflict that accompanied the shutdown, as teachers were required to address new realities and to confront stark inequities.

In March, when Northern California counties issued stay-at-home orders, followed shortly afterwards by a statewide shutdown, schools scrambled to improvise a pivot to online “distance learning.” Some were able to make the change within days; others took many weeks. Grading and assessment systems were largely put to one side, at least in the public school system. And school districts rushed – and in some cases struggled – to purchase and distribute Chromebooks or iPads to students who didn’t have them; to set up Wi-Fi hotspots for families lacking home Internet access; to work out how to keep distributing food to children from low-income families who relied on school breakfasts and lunches; and to set up methods of teaching online that wouldn’t leave out students who had special education plans, or who were English language learners.

Bureaucratic systems fabled for their inflexibility were, suddenly, tasked with finding kluge-like solutions, at speed, to meet these extraordinary challenges. Inevitably, the result was hit or miss.

The articles in this week’s new series, “The Year of Teaching Dangerously,” reflect the extraordinary challenges facing elementary, middle and high schools as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on daily life.

What began as a temporary shutdown evolved into a new way of life, for teachers, students, and parents.

Ashley McCall is a bilingual third-grade teacher of English Language Arts in Chicago Public Schools. She asked in a recent post on her blog whether we might seize this opportunity to reimagine schooling for the future, to break free of a stale and oppressive status quo that stifles both children and teachers.

She writes:

“What if?” I thought. What if we did something different, on purpose? What if we refused to return to normal? Every week seems to introduce a new biblical plague and unsurprisingly, the nation is turning to schools to band-aid the situation and create a sense of “normalcy”–the same normalcy that has failed BIPOC communities for decades.

In her memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors states that “our nation [is] one big damn Survivor reality nightmare”. It always has been. America’s criminal navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the ways we devalue the lives of the most vulnerable. We all deserve better than Survivor and I don’t want to help sustain this nightmare. I want to be a part of something better.

What If We Designed a School Year for Recovery?

“What if?” I thought. What if Chicago Public Schools (CPS) did something radical with this school year? What if this fastest-improving urban district courageously liberated itself from narrow and rigid quantitative measures of intelligence that have colonized the education space for generations, and instead blazed a trail for reimagining what qualifies as valuable knowledge?

What if we put our money, time and energy into what we say matters most? What if this school year celebrated imagination? In We Got This, Cornelius Minor reminds us that “education should function to change outcomes for whole communities.” What if we designed a school year that sought to radically shift how communities imagine, problem solve, heal, and connect?

What if this messy school year prioritized hard truths and accountability? What if social emotional instruction wasn’t optional or reduced to one cute poster? What if we focused on district wide capacity-building for, and facilitation of, restorative justice practices?

What if the CPS Office of Social Emotional Learning (OSEL) had more than about 15 restorative practice coaches to serve over 600 schools? What if we let students name conflicts and give them the space, tools, and support to address and resolve them? What if restorative justice was a central part of this year’s curricula?

What If We Really Listened?

What if we made space to acknowledge the fear, anxiety, frustration and confusion students, staff, and families are feeling? What if we listened? What if we made space to acknowledge the anger and demands of students? What if our priority was healing? Individual and collective. What if we respected and honored the work of healers and invested in healing justice?

What if our rising 8th-graders and seniors prepared for high school and post-secondary experiences by centering their humanity and the humanity of others? What if healthy, holistic, interconnected citizenship was a learning objective? What if we tracked executive functioning skills and habits of mind? What if for “homework” families had healing conversations?

What If We Made Life the Curriculum?

What if we recognized that life—our day-to-day circumstances and our response to them—is curricula? It’s the curricula students need, especially now as our country reckons with its identity. What if we remembered that reading, writing, social studies, mathematics, and science are built into our understanding of and response to events every day?

She goes on to describe how this reimagining could infuse the school and the curriculum and the way teachers teach.

School reformers and billionaire philanthropists say they want innovation. Do you think Bill Gates, the Waltons, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, and their friends would fund districts that want genuine innovation of the kind Ashley McCall describes?