Photo: Progressive Massachusetts Liberalism is sometimes so utterly preposterous that I often don’t know if I should be laughing, crying or packing up to leave. Seriously. So much pomp and circumstance to put the bleeding heart blue on display… but do you say what you mean and mean what you say? Or are we all so damn skin-deep around here that the display is just enough to get by?
It’s a funny thing. I started this process and was like, “I’m not going to think like a teacher. I’m going to think like a mother.”
But last night, I came home thanking God for my education degrees, as they allowed me to be unimpressed by the stuff they went out of their way to tell us about. The school meeting last night and small-ground school tour this morning were so full of buzzwords and educational philosophy it gave me a headache.
So imagine this school: a newer building with bright walls and natural lighting, windows everywhere and fresh details throughout. Student art and posters are proudly on display with slogans like, “Peace Starts with Us.” The cafeteria, the center of the school, is huge and bright, a child is playing “Imagine” in the piano (and doing it really well) while others are watching–another spectrum of brown, though there are notably more white children there… and more white parents in the audience, too. A different set of parents at this meeting than there were at last week’s meeting.
I’m sitting there and I’m impressed by the physical stature of the building. I can see my boys in the space. The entire staff is present and while, yes, they are all white, there are a few men present, including the principal. Ok, so that’s one check for the pro column.
Then the presentation starts and here comes the onslaught of education buzzwords. I’ll just rattle them off:
Project-based, collaborative learning, constructionist theory, studies out of the Harvard Ed School, studies out of Wellesley College, full-subject integration, specialties, presentations, whole-school meetings, in-school families, whole-child wellness, Open Circle peer monitoring… blah blah blah.
I hate that so much. I hate the buzzwords and the posturing. Of course you’re studied up, of course you’re keeping up with trends, but are you using them effectively? Why did you choose these ideas instead of others? How is this combination working for your students better than other methods? This is an upper-middle class area with most people in the room having advanced degrees. Let’s move past the buzz and get to the meat, please!
And as they were trotting out all of the projects the students do over their time at the school (Historical treasure chest, create a book from scratch, sew bean bags and learn juggling, paint birds of prey, create column pottery), all I could think to myself was, “how many hours am I going to spend getting Major to make this project? That project? How much clay am I going to have to purchase every month to build the next crazy thing?”
The 6th grade students stood up and performed a song from the musical that they, as a grade, have written and produced. That’s right: the 6th graders at this school write, compose (with help, borrowing music from other places) and perform their own original musical every year. Then the music teacher, on the fly, was like, “do you remember the [whatever] song from 3rd grade?” The kids all looked at each other, tentatively nodding their heads. Then the music teacher just prompted with ” a 1 and a 2 and a 3!”
And the kids started singing it, acapella.
Ok, yes, that was impressive. The principal explained this morning that the students are all very comfortable standing in front of large groups of people because the skill is a big part of their curriculum, and they have weekly all-school community meetings that are a showcase for student achievement.
and then I thought to myself, “Major would love this! LOVE it! Minor? Minor would hate every single second of it.”
And then there is the rest of it…
“Our 3rd grade students are reading [such and such book] while studying a unit on segregation. Students were in their reading circles, giving a critique on the author’s presentation of the hardships and challenges during that time.”
Martin Luther King came up “casually” at least twice during the presentation. I love that he, too, is a buzzword of sorts.
There was a student-made poster about the 14th Amendment with two happily colored-in Black people (brown crayon and everything!). The notes: “Blacks get to be citizens and can vote.”
In the music room, during the time when parents are wandering in and out of rooms to see everything, there is the sheet music for “We Shall Overcome” up on the smart board.
Oh yes, how delightfully enlightened.
But when I had the opportunity to speak with the principal directly about diversity this morning, I couldn’t get much out of him. I was really frank: “I’ve got two bi-racial boys. Squiggly, wiggly, happy boys. Can you tell me a little bit about the philosophy around boyhood, learning and discipline? And maybe a bit about the diversity of the school?”
Same sort of platitudes: kids don’t see race, teachers are trained in Open Circle discipline strategies, the diversity of the district has really expanded over the last 20 years, proactive about positive attention and lots of opportunity for activity…
Ok, but “I haven’t seen a lot of other African-American parents during my journey so far. I see you have Black students here, which is great. I know that it’s diverse, which is wonderful. But can you tell me a bit about how you’re supporting your students of color, especially the boys I’ve seen here? I just want to get a better sense of the African-American experience in this district and at your school, specifically.”
Something something school psychologist. Something something such and such program training. Something something happy families. Nothing concrete. Nothing to point to. No names to give, no sessions I can observe. He could have said anything other than what he’d said and I would have been satisfied.
You either live it or you don’t. We’re either talking about it and thinking about it or we’re not. Don’t put wrap yourself in your liberal progressiveness and then have nothing to say when it’s time to say it.
there is good news. There just happened to be another Black woman in the room when I asked the question. She’s Jamaican. I’ll take it. She’s got a beautiful little boy, too. So, actually, when I was telling this principal that I hadn’t met any other Black parents on my school choice journey so far, she waved at me. “Hello!” (I’ll admit to my own assumptions and biases: I thought that she was Indian. She said she “gets that a lot” and that she’s multi-racial. Still though, I apologized.)
We talked for a long time and exchanged numbers. A playdate is in the works. She and her family are new here too, and adjustment has been challenging. We have a lot to talk about!
I’m… disheartened, Dear Reader. Suddenly, the first school doesn’t seem so bad! But this one certainly isn’t for me. The Husband visits our first-choice school on Monday, and there is another school open house next Tuesday. I came home after the meeting last and questioned everything we’ve ever done. “Maybe we should have fought harder to pay for that Montessori school. Maybe he’d be better off if we looked at private schools again.”
My husband was very kind to me, but reminded me that such a thing was and still is impossible. He also reminded me that such action most certainly wouldn’t fix my problem. At all. That’s why he’s the genius and I’m not.
So the journey continues. Open mind? Open heart?
Quiet Thoughts on Friday…