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 effectivelyWhy 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.”

Yes, ok.

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.

but

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…

 

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “First Impressions: Your Words are Not Enough

  1. Open heart AND mind, smart girl. Poor showing by the principal on the matter of race and their approach, though. Do you think he felt intimidated– you are, indeed, an informed and well-spoken lady– and reverted to stock answers? Do you think he was terrified to say the wrong thing to the Black Woman? I honestly think you’ve hit on something that’s going on in our whole country right now. Well meaning people design thousands of programs in the name of diversity, but how many of them are helping us really see how the world is a different place inside another skin color? Anyone with google can quote MLK.

    My children can give you many many many examples of how children “see race” quite plainly. I was only ever drawn with the pink crayon. What kind of program SHOULD exist to support black kids in a very white school? He probably has no idea. Maybe you’re the person to design it.

    • I’ve been thinking about your questions and am trying to come up with thoughtful answers.

      So… let’s say he felt intimidated:

      That’s still not an excuse, right? He’s the principal. This is his job. He gets paid not a little bit of money to do it. All of the bucks for all of the decisions stop with him. He has made choices to create a school that has earned a reputation of being progressive and forward-thinking, and he’d put that fully on display for the parents who visited for two days. How could he be so unprepared for a question such as mine? If you’re so super progressive about education, and you’re feeling confident enough about yourself to drop those two big-brand names, then that means you SHOULD be studied up on the intersections of race, class and gender in American classrooms, ESPECIALLY suburban classrooms. Right? He put it all out there… he should be prepared for any question, but especially THAT question. It was pretty softball, frankly. Awkward, yeah, because people don’t want to talk about this, but I didn’t go for the jugular. I could have been like, “what are your thoughts about the School-to-Prison Pipeline and where do you think your school is on that pipeline? Are you teachers familiar with the term and have you done any training on it? How often do your teachers meet with the parents of color at this school and do you have any Black parents in the PTO?”

      Why would he be terrified to say the wrong thing? What’s the worst that could happen to him? I put his school low on my preference list? Who cares! Another kid eagerly takes Major’s place. I have no power here. There is nothing I can do to this man but eat was he’s serving me or leave it at the table.

      I don’t know what kind of program should exist, honesty. I’ve seen programs implemented and I’ve heard about their results. The one I’m most familiar with is at Milton Academy and I’ve heard wonderful things and not-so wonderful things. The biggest thing, instead of a program, is simply to know who your kids are and what they are facing. Be honest about you know and don’t know, and keep a very clear and open feedback look between parents, students, teachers, administrators and maybe someone from outside of the community to keep things fresh. Everybody should be talking. Everybody should be listening. Everybody should be reflecting, and everybody should be connected. A little family within the family.

      If this dude had said, “you know what? I’ll be honest–I haven’t really tapped into the Black experience at my school. I’m so glad you brought that up. I’d love to talk to you about your expectations and what I can do to meet them if you choose to send your child here. In the meantime, I’d love to get you in touch with two families who are here at the school who I’m sure would be happy to talk to you. Can I have your email address so we can get a conversation started?” I would have been impressed. I would have given him my information. I would have felt better about thinking about him and his school. That’s leadership. That’s progressive leadership. He who thinks he knows everything knows nothing at all.

      • I love that answer: everyone should be talking and listening and connected. Everyone should also be as honest as this: hey, I don’t know anything about the Black experience… but let’s get that conversation started. (Would have PAID to see you ask him about the School to Prison Pipeline, though.) You DO have power… no doubt they will want your smart cute boys at their school! Especially when they see them in bow ties.

  2. Trust your instinct, but know that wherever you choose your children just may not like it. Kids are fickle creatures and although my son likes his school, he mentions once a month how he would like to try a new school. New school, new friends, new teachers. I take this as him exerting his independence and trying to carve out his own place in the world. I like that. But, your boys will be fine as long as you are involved which I know you will be. On another note, how is your mom doing after the blizzard?

    • Do you find that such expression also comes with anxiety over certain aspects of school? Like a test is coming up, or a school performance or even a field trip or something else social? I’m curious… I find that with my boys, the thing that they are complaining about isn’t REALLY what they’re complaining about. It’s like living with Yoda and the Cheshire Cat.

      Everybody made it through the storm with power. God, in His infinite wisdom, put the last snowblower in the entire state on sale and put together right in front of my step-father as he stepped into homedepot the day before the storm. There were plenty of texts about how hard it was coming down, how bad their ondemand movie was… the lights flickered a bit, so there was maybe an hour of nervousness, but everyone was fine for the most part. My grandmother, especially, was warm and well cared for during the storm.

      How about you guys? Loved the pictures of Munch in the snow (and loved your comments about parenting and work. I was like, dang, she said she got to work EARLY! lol! Mama needs a break!). My facebook feed was full of people either having fun, getting drunk, or complaining. Didn’t feel homesick until I saw people sledding on Capitol Hill.

  3. OK, let’s be honest here – if I saw posters hanging all over with pithy crap like “Peace Starts with Us.” I would think: Hmm, this school has an anger management problem that they’re trying to overcome. What kind of trouble is afoot at this here school?

    Personally, I wanna see fingerpainted posters that say things like “I like to eat grasshoppers.” Now that’s a well-adjust kid. No other issues than whether he wants to dunk them in ketchup or mustard. That’s a good sign there will be good learning and good teachers.

    NOw, as always I LOVE your adventures, and you dearly; so I must thank you for the fun I had reading your miserable post 🙂

    LOLZ1 – MLK “casually” – RIGHT?!

    LOLZ2 – “We Shall Overcome” up on the smart board. – Your school fees are paying for their PR firm

    LOLZ3 – Jamaica, I’ll take it – cryin’ over here, dude!

    LOLZ4 – I thought she was from India – smooth move, Ex-Lax

    Well, there’s always public school…

    Crossing my fingers for you guys.

    • Oh my God, I was so embarrassed. She was like, “Hi there!” and I was like, “opps… you look like a different kind of different. My bad.”

      *Sigh* I’ve never advertised myself as perfect.

      Dude! This IS a public school! ALL OF THESE ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS! That’s the frustrating part!!! The only private school is the current preschool and that’s because ALL preschools are private here!

      Everytime I see that picture of that smart board, I throw up a little in my mouth…

      • STFU! They’re public?! Dude we gotta start doing car washes and fundraising like now if those boys are gonna make it to second grade…

      • Btw, the private preschool has gotten kinda weird. The lobby in the one down the road from us looks like jurassic park and chucky cheese had a love child, and I think they hired the architect from LA Fitness

Thank you for contributing to the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s