Where are all the progressive public schools and school leaders?

Guess what? I decided to embark on a journey. One that is not entirely new for me, but a necessary one as we begin to promote democratic and progressive learning environments in our public schools. I’ve decided to search for and locate our progressive and innovative public school leaders in our nation. The models are out there; we just need to seek them out, and highlight them. Personally, just knowing these places  and leaders exist, gives me so much life. However, I will not be satisfied until all children, not just those in affluent private schools and communities, get a progressive education.

A few years ago, I worked as an organizer for a progressive organization whose goal was to promote democratic values within public schools. For many people, the first institution they encounter is our traditional public schools: one of the foundations of our democracy. Unfortunately, our public schools are probably the most undemocratic spaces to be. Many schools and districts across the nation structure their communities to fit an autocratic format at almost every level. Central office and the administrators call the shots. They dictate “directives” while all the “workers”, and their students must fall in line. It’s factory-style schooling at its best.

In more ways than I would like to admit, the autocratic, top-down control of the school and district often trickles down into the classrooms. Students are not allowed a voice. The teachers have no voice, and on most occasions, only the most outspoken parents are the ones who receive any consideration. Otherwise, the teachers, students, and parents are not respected as individuals who help co-create the learning ecosystem.

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Back in 2011, I collaborated with one other person on a project to identify progressive and innovative schools and school leaders. The idea was birthed at a retreat-like camp experience with a democratic education organization I used to organize with. My teammate and I decided we would locate these school leaders and schools across the country by creating a survey and distributing across our networks. We got about seven responses, of which five responded to our request for an interview. Although our project never took off as we wanted it to, we were proud of the work we were attempting to do and I believe it has set the foundation for what I am about to embark on.

So, public school progressives, where are y’all?
In the past few weeks, I have stumbled upon some amazing progressive educators and school leaders, but I know there have to be more. Then, where are they? We know since the beginning of time that there had been teachers, when prevented from providing a progressive experience for their students, who have subverted oppressive forces and worked to provide their students with the world. However, that’s not what I’m looking for now.

 

I am specifically looking for school leaders and their schools. I want to find school leaders who seek to create learning environments that allow the teachers and students the room and autonomy to co-create innovative learning experiences with and alongside each other. I am looking for learning environments that fully engage, encourage, support, and honor the voices of their students beyond claiming to be “student-centered” but indeed walk the walk. I am looking for learning environments that honor the sanctity of childhood and their innate need to play, innovate, collaborate, and contribute to a democratic society.

 

I am looking for leaders and schools that are fervently seeking equity and equality of life and learning for all students. I am looking for school leaders who understand the need for constructive criticism, collective decision making, and who embrace conflict and dissent, to therefore emerge as more whole and complete in the end. And finally, I am looking for school leaders who are thinking outside the box to create and lead schools that meaningfully uplift the power of students and staff while creating dynamic, deep, innovative schools that provide opportunities to engage all students and staff in meaningful and authentic ways.

 

If you know someone that fits this description, then we need you! This is only the beginning. The possibilities of how big this could grow and spread are endless. I take joy in the unknown and uncertainty. Let’s build together!

 

Please complete this short survey and share it within your network.

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The Launch of “The Other PARCC” Unites Many

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Earlier today a group of parents, students, education advocates, organizers, and other members of the community gathered together in Montclair to launch the latest mini-documentary, “The Other PARCC: Parents Advocating Refusal on High-stakes Testing,” by filmmaker Michael Elliot. This mini-documentary is being released as teachers, students, parents, and public schools all over New Jersey are preparing to begin the first administration of Pearson’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)  performance based assessments (PBA).

Capturing the humanity and voice of the interviewees, Elliot weaves together a short, yet emotionally compelling piece to touch the hearts and minds of all. Their narratives give us a snapshot of why these individuals have either chosen to refuse the PARCC for their children, or why they are thinking about refusing. We hope you find our narrative moving and engage in this push back. This goes far beyond how our individual children feel stressed out, but rather how these individual stories are part of a larger pattern of reforms that are attacking what we know of childhood, child development, and learning. The stress our children are feeling and experiencing are just very human responses to being dehumanized through corporate reform and standardization.

Check out the video here:

It was almost three years ago when I first saw the sample test questions for the PARCC. The text complexity, confusion, and difficulty led me to conclude the test was a set up for our students, teachers, and public education. As a mother of two children, one of which who is school-age, and the other who is yet to begin, I knew there was something I should do to not only question these new assessments, but their origins, purpose, and potential implications on all children.

It was the summer of 2012 when I first met two of my warrior-sisters, Jean Schutt-McTavish, and Sue Schutt (the founding organizers of Opt Out of State Standardized Test NJ) at the Save Our Schools March Conference in D.C.. It was there that I connected with so many other edu-advocates and learned about the Opt-Out movement. Since that summer, I have been forever connected to Jean and Sue and many others I have grown to admire. Throughout this time, they have remained consistent in their pushback, and have inspired me to continue even when I’ve wanted to give up. What started out with just Jean and Sue has organically morphed into something no one could have created on their own.

And every time I contemplate giving up, because I feel little to no hope, the universe shows signs like this, this, and this, to renew that hope within me. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that these victories have come because of the efforts of parents, students, teachers, and many other concerned citizens who refuse to sit in silence.

Working together with a broad and diverse group of education activists, community organizers, parents, and other concerned citizens, the Opt-Out movement is on the move, growing beyond our imagination, and uniting people across race, class, gender, religion, and political parties. This unity we are witnessing is only the beginning.

As parents and students, we are taking a stand to push back against high-stakes standardized tests and corporate reform efforts in our public schools. In New Jersey, as we near closer to the PARCC we are seeing our test-refusal numbers increase tremendously. We can no longer sit back and allow the opposition to feed the public a false narrative, and at the same time, we can no longer sit back and say all is well with public education. As we continue to push back, we must demand that our schools become more democratic spaces and learning environments for our children and teachers. It is not just the responsibility of school boards to make this happen, but this is the responsibility of our students, parents, teachers and staff members, along with their unions, teacher training programs, and communities.

For many people in this country, the first institution they encounter is the public school. If our democracy is to thrive (I actually have questions about its actual existence), we much rethink our schools to reflect the true democracy we need and not the authoritarian dictatorial institutions they currently are. In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times “Make School a Democracy,” David Kirp highlights the success of Escuela Nueva, a cadre of democratic schools in Colombia that have been around since 1975. He states:

Another Nobel-winning economist, Amartya Sen, posits that political repression impedes economic growth — that prosperity requires that social and economic well-being be tethered to democratic values. Escuela Nueva turns the schoolhouse into a laboratory for democracy. Rather than being run as a mini-dictatorship, with the principal as its unquestioned leader, the school operates as a self-governing community, where teachers, parents and students have a real say in how it is run. When teachers unfamiliar with this approach are assigned to these schools, it’s often the students themselves who teach them how to apply the method. “In these schools, citizenship isn’t abstract theory,” Ms. Colbert told me. “It’s daily practice.”

It is about time that Americans ask ourselves how democratic are our schools. Our schools must reflect the democracy we intend to promote. We cannot stop at refusing standardized tests because they are a distraction from the larger issue under attack: our democracy.

So what’s next?

Our communities need to start asking questions. What can we do to rethink schooling, and learning environments? How can we design our schools to reflect the democratic values we claim to have in this country? And lastly, what are “we the people” going to do about rethinking and reimagining our schools? I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. And although I know these conversations are happening now across the country, I want to challenge the rest of Americans to have more of these conversations. If you aren’t already having this dialogue, make this happen now. It is not enough to wait for the bureaucrats or politicians to make this change for us; they can’t do that. It is not their role. Furthermore, the corporations cannot have this dialogue because their sole purpose is to increase profits no matter how damaging they may be on our children. Therefore, this needs to be a collaborative effort that involves the entire ecosystem of our communities. We can do better. We must do better. We will do better.

Also, please check out Michael’s video from last year which featured NY parents:

To learn more about the movement, connect with these FB groups and websites:

Opt-Out of State Standardized Tests-New Jersey

Save Our Schools New Jersey (SOSNJ)

Opt-Out of the State Test- The National Movement (FB Group)

Fairtest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing

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Parents’ Bill of Rights: Taking back our POWER

I started teaching at the genesis of the No Child Left Behind era long before I understood the impact it would have on our education system and schools. Prior to beginning my teaching career, I did a lot of substituting at Warren Street School in Newark, New Jersey and started teaching full-time in Jersey City at one of the high schools. Warren St. was my neighborhood school growing up, but my mom chose to send my siblings and me to nearby Catholic schools. I had neighbors who attended Warren St., but never got to step foot into the building until I was twenty years old. It was at this school that I was truly exposed to urban school reform.

I was introduced to the scripted curricula Success For All (SFA) and could not believe how much money went into these packaged programs for teachers. The program had a math and reading component that forced teachers to follow a strict pacing guide of skills all in the name of improving test scores for students. It required no real thinking from the teachers, no creativity, and there was no room for spontaneity from either student or teacher. It had no room for all those things that make us human. Nope, “it ain’t have time for that!”

Because I was a long term substitute at this SFA school, I became very familiar with the program and started seeing the negative impacts that State control had on school districts. I saw the impact that “failed” test scores had on students of color, particularly schools in districts where the State had significant control. These schools went through one reform model after another every three years, never dealing with the systemic issues that plague many of those schools.

The increase in efficiency models where everything must be measured and weighed were tested in our largely black and brown neighborhoods first, particularly ones that had large populations of people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. A friend of mine would often joke around and say that Newark was always the testing ground for what would happen in Jersey City, Paterson, and any of the other then Abbott districts.  Anytime Newark adopted some absurd efficiency model, like attaching standards to bulletin boards or using scripted curricula, we would jokingly wait in anticipation for it to reach Jersey City (my former district). And it always did.

My years in an Abbott district were full of test prep classes, upon classes and weekend test prep. Students were often rewarded with movie tickets for those who attended, or punished with detention for those who did not attend. When students failed to attend detention, they would be assigned suspension for missing the Saturday test prep classes. Punishment, upon punishment, became the modus operandi of schools, especially when it came to testing, and preparing students for the tests.

The test-drill and punish culture of schooling has suddenly come to an ugly head, and it took it seeping into the mostly white higher socio-economic districts before wide-spread resistance took form. While districts such as Newark have either had their schools closed, co-located by charter schools, or even straight up looted from the people in the community, many people in New Jersey saw those issues as a Newark-only problem. And for many, they could not personally be bothered with Newark’s issues. It is important to note that the issues that Newark has experienced comes from years of systemic oppression and inequity that manifest into years of systemic ills such as resource-deprived and low-performing schools. Any researcher would tell you that schools are reflections of their communities. If a community is struggling and experiencing a plethora of ills, it is to be expected that the school will reflect those very same ills. This does not mean that there aren’t things the school can do provide the necessary resources to better support the students and their families, but we would be negligent if we did not acknowledge the challenges.

It’s ridiculous to think that when humans–our students walk into a learning environment that they can be expected to shed everything they experience outside the school community. Here is the ugly truth that much of the United States wants to ignore: you can’t fix schools with more standardized testing. Anyone who looks at New Jersey’s Best School Districts can easy see the story it tells. It tells a story of de facto segregation, racism, and inequity. When I look at that list, I am quickly reminded that our country has a long way to go. I am quickly reminded that there are certain privileges that some are handed while purposely withheld from others, and those top 100 school districts are a reflection of the residuals of a system design to disadvantage brown and black folks in the United States.

Additionally, as the State anted up the consequences tied to low test performance, schools and districts began to invest significant sums of money in test-prep courses, materials, and consultants. Consequently, they increased the pressure on teachers while also punishing students. We also began to see students lose elective courses that were replaced with special classes geared toward improving the students’ performance on the State standardized tests. Sometimes these special classes were in the form of four-hour Saturday classes two months before the tests.

For most students in those test-prep courses, it became a stigma and a dreaded place for both students and teachers. It became a place of embarrassment for the students because it was clear to all the other students that they were not “proficient” on the tests. Most of those students would rarely ever see the inside of elective classes because, for many, the test prep class replaced the elective. It has gotten to the point where students think that the purpose of school is to pass standardized tests.

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And where does that leave us?

Well, quite frankly, New Jersey parents and taxpayers have had enough of the stress, and punishments their children, schools, teachers, and districts have had to endure. For some school districts, the results are dire and have resulted in school closures leaving many children without neighborhood schools.

Let’s look at the recent poll conducted by the Mellman Group, out of Washington, D.C. When the participants were asked how much emphasis was placed on standardized testing, 62 percent of voters and 71 percent of parents responded there was too much emphasis as well.

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When voters were asked if they were in favor of reducing standardized testing in NJ public schools, 71 percent of parents and 64 percent of voters stated they were in favor.

 

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The next graph is one that is not really shocking to many teachers, but may be an eye-opener for those who either don’t have children in the public schools or who have not been paying attention to the debate:

 

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So voters and parents are worried about the children. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this very unnatural tool being used to assess our students is having a negative impact on our them, and the schools they attend. If you think about it, public education is possibly the only place where parents are expected to give their children up with no questions asked, even when the schools impose such abusive policies around excessive testing. Parents are expected to “put-up or shut-up” even when we know something is terribly wrong with a system that is abusive to our children. Okay, lemme adjust my glasses because I’m having a moment that leaves me with only one question:

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Some may say, “How could you possibly liken excessive standardized testing to child abuse?” Well let’s take a look. Children were designed by nature to learn and explore the world through play and hands-on activities that allow for self-expression and exploration. I mean this is the foundation of Piaget, Montessori, Vygotsky, Freire, and more. We also know that learning is a social construct and needs to happen in environments that help develop the whole child. Life is not compartmentalized, so who make schools, learning, and the ways in which we assess student learning in unnatural and inorganic ways?

This brings me to my point: parents and voters saying their are fed up and are in favor of a Parents’ Bill of Rights. A Parents’ Bill of Rights will place the power back into the very people who care most about the children. Let’s be honest, testing companies care only about their bottom line. They have teams of people plotting and thinking up ways to increase profits without care for the human beings who may be affected by any of their decisions. Testing and publishing companies have figured out ways to make money off of our children, and the only people who can protect our children from them are the parents.

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And this is what parents would like:

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For the most part, I am very pleased with this potential Parents’ Bill of Rights. I would only slightly change the first one. It reads, “High-stakes consequences should not be attached to statewide standardized tests, and the 2015 PARCC should be utilized as a statewide pilot.” As I mentioned early, there are far reaching consequences of standardized tests. But what I did not mention was there are also rewards for some schools and districts that reach certain benchmarks on these standardized tests. Now, if we know these tests to be linked to wealth, then by providing rewards we are by default punishing schools and districts that do not meet those benchmarks on standardized tests. Besides that, I wholeheartedly stand behind this push for a parents’ bill of rights, and I hope you can see a need for it as well.

For the first time in a very long time, I am seeing parent take back the power they once had, and this my friends is what democracy looks like.

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NJSBA: Why the inhumane approach for parents and students who want to refuse?

Released earlier today was a statement from the New Jersey School Board Association expressing their position on refusing high-stakes testing and “sit-and-stare”. It’s inhumane, manipulative, and shows how little they think of parents and students. When I initially wrote this piece, it was to address the progressiveness of many of the members on the NJSBA and make a plea for their support but that’s somewhat changed.

During the winter break, as I was preparing my testimony for the New Jersey School Board of Education’s open testimony session, I decided to look into the backgrounds of the people who serve on the Board.

Melissa Katz has already written on this, and her post reminded me what I had discovered but edited out from my initial testimony. And what I found was a bit surprising to me. I’m not sure why it surprised me, but four of the people who sit on the State Board of Education are heavily involved in either democratic or elite progressive schools in New Jersey. These are the kinds of schools that give their students the kind of learning environments that respects the individual and helps to nurture their students into fully functioning members of a democratic society. I mean, see/read for yourself:

Our board president Mark Biedron is the co-founder of the beautiful progressive environmentalist school in Gladstone, NJ. The Willow School has a vision statement that tells us that Willow is a place where:

… children discover who they are, the joy of learning, and the wonder of the environment around them. Our purpose in doing so is to develop people who make meaningful contributions to others and to the world in which they live.

In fact, Biedron was the very one who expressed that there was no way we could force children to take the tests. You can read about that moment is these blogs here, here, and here. But between January 7, 2015 and now, the New Jersey State Board Association has remained silent through most of this. It didn’t take long for the NJSBA to release a statement with questions and answers about how local school boards should respond to parental refusals. But worry no, Michael Kaminski, president of the Delran Education Association comes back with this gem. Please read it.

Well, now, let’s take a look at Claire Chamberlain. Chamberlain sits on the Board of Trustees for The Peck School where Biedron’s wife Gretchen Johnson Biedron attended. The Peck School is also where NJ State Board of Education member, J. Peter Simon, was a former board of trustee member. The Peck School’s mission statement  tells us that:

We believe that, in life, knowledge must be guided by values. Through a commitment to character formation and a rigorous and academic program, The Peck School strives to build in each student the capacity for disciplined learning and consideration for others. With dedicated faculty and families, we prepare our students to succeed in secondary school and to lead healthy, productive, and principled lives.

I would like us to hone in on the “ …knowledge must be guided by values” part of that statement. Currently, what’s guiding the lives and education of the children in our nation’s public schools are the narrow set of standards connected to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This question goes to both NJ State BOE members and NJSBA-so because PARCC is guiding the knowledge and skills our students are taught, would you all say that it’s what you value for “other people’s children” but not for your progressive schools?

Anyway, there is Newark Academy where Andrew Mulvihill served as a member of their Board of Governors. This is a big deal considering all of the reforms we see in public school. Newark Academy clearly has a progressive approach where students are considered co-learners with their teachers. Donald Austin, the head of school states:

Our central goal is to provide all students with an education that not only challenges and prepares them for the future, but also inspires creativity, intellectual curiosity and contributions to their community.

In Austin’s piece about their mission, he even goes on to say:

…students find themselves with teachers who strive to awaken in them a genuine “passion for learning” that transcends skill acquisition, success on standardized tests, and college admission.

You should read the entire piece here. If you had a little over $30,000 a year, you would want your child in that school. I mean, who wouldn’t?

All of the schools mentioned are the height of educational learning environments (minus the lack of organic and authentic diversity of race and socio-economic status) in our state. These schools have tuitions ranging from ($25,000 to about $36,000 including lunch and fees) and pride themselves in their small classes and rich curricula. A quick search of their mission statements will show you how much these schools believe in real authentic learning experiences. Those board members must believe in the mission and vision of these schools, and I am okay with that. However, we need them to not only advocate and promote real learning in the schools they support, but we need them to advocate for all students in New Jersey. We need them to especially advocate for the ones who attend public schools and are affected by failed reforms driven by misplaced “values” like profits.

In addition, I could not help but see how drastically the mission statements of these schools differed from Paterson Public School’s mission and vision statements. Now, I chose Paterson because their superintendent presented to the board, and I couldn’t help but think it was odd, and so not centered on developing the whole child. The Paterson Public School’s mission is:

To prepare each student for success in the college/university of their choosing and in their chosen career.

And the vision does not address what they envision for the students, but rather what they envision for their institution. It’s almost as if the humans that they serve are invisible.

Vision: To be the leader in educating New Jersey’s urban youth.

Sigh.

By no means is this an attack on these individuals. They are serving our state in ways that I deeply respect. In fact, I love what these progressive schools offer (they could use a little a lot more people of color from different socioeconomic backgrounds but that’s none of my business). I love the mission and vision statements of these schools, and I love that they place the development, social, academic, and emotional growth of their students first. It seems like they did not digress away from the idea that the purpose of education is to prepare students to become fully functioning members of a fair and democratic society. Or maybe it is designed that way. Maybe these elite progressive schools maintain “a fair and democratic society” only belongs to a small group of people. On the other hand, our public schools and those who run them maintain that we continue to perpetuate an unjust, and undemocratic society.

With the mandates of increased high-stakes standardized testing, like PARCC, we are seeing an unprecedented shift in education and it is no longer business as usual. Let’s be very clear that standardized testing have always been high-stakes for Black and Latinx folks in our country. The consequences for us have had drastic implications for our schools, and access to resources we receive. And the teachers who served these communities experienced oppressive and controlled (often scripted) curriculum in the name of improving student learning. Unfortunately, more and more teachers are losing their autonomy across demographics and communities. It’s like these oppressive approaches were tested in communities of color first to see how much and how far with which they could get away. And it worked.

Given these NJ State Board members’ background in progressive education, which does not revolve around high-stakes standardized tests, it is imperative that they hear our cry and advocate for the same kind of humanistic education they provide for students who attend their institutions.  What’s holding them back?

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Hooray for Global School Play Day!!

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

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This weekend was an interesting one for me and my daughter Saige. I’d say it was especially exciting for her because she was so amazed by all the people who showed her so much love after having her testimony to the NJ State Board of Education published in the Washington Post. She was deeply moved and that was evident in the cabbage patch she would literally break out into after I read the different comments from many of my friends and family. What I loved about Saige’s testimony was her focus on play. That was HER choice. I mean if you ever ask Saige what her ideal school is, she would most likely tell you it would be a place where they play A LOT. At one point, she told me she wished school was like summer camp. And I sometimes wonder if school should look a lot like summer camp for our littlest ones even through middle school; an environment mostly driven by the interest of the child, but using those interests to address the necessary social-emotional learning, language, science/environmental, reading literacy, and math literacy skills needed.

A few years ago I took a course entitled, “Informal Learning Environments”. It was a core class I needed for my doctoral course-load in the Design of Learning Environments (DLE) concentration. I distinctly remember our instructor taking us through an exercise where we thought back to that place in time to our most memorable learning experience. For most of us, it was a place where freedom of choice was top on that list, along with mix-aged grouping, activities that were interest-driven and allowed us to move around a lot…or not. So my daughter was on to something. What if school looked more like summer camp?

When I walked into work a few days ago, I opened up my email with a message from one of my colleagues who teaches fifth-grade language arts (you can check her out here). The subject of the email read: “Global School Play Day.” If you knew anything about me, you would know I was immediately intrigued and opened my email curious about its content. Her email, like many of her emails to me, read something like, “I think you may find this interesting…” and I did. Global School Play Day, created by two teachers, The Bedley brothers (Tim and Scott), and supported by child psychologist and scholar, Peter Gray, is an event used to raise awareness about the need for play in the lives of children. Gray writes about it here in his recent post in Psychology Today. With the rise in standardized testing, common standards, and the push for “rigorous-anity” we are hearing, our children are missing out on a necessary component to their lives. Children need play, particularly free, unstructured play, but more and more, our schools are seeing play slowly fading out of the school day. Some teachers and administrators even think recess is a privilege and will punish students by keeping them in from recess. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against this very thing. Check it out for yourself:

Moreover, they say withholding recess should not be a form of punishment. Recess, they added, is an important part of child development and provides social interaction that children may not get during class time.

Sigh. I never understood that. In fact, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child cites play as a basic human right. So is it abusive when we withhold play from our children? In Olga S. Jarrett’s research they reference different countries that acknowledge the importance of play for their children, citing the amount of time they allocate to this activity.

Japanese children get 10-20 minute breaks between 45-minute lessons or five-minute breaks and a long lunch. Finnish and Turkish children have 15 minutes to play after each 45 minutes of work. Ugandan students have an eight-hour school day, but they have a half hour of play in the morning, one hour for lunch and play, and 1.5 hours of activity time (sports, music, art, free-choice playtime) in the afternoon.

Okay, so can someone PLEASE explain to me why we see such little value of play for students in the United States? Where did we possibly go wrong?

My students and I get into these extended discussions on education and play and learning, and what we are doing wrong and could do better. These brilliantly insightful humans even often tell me that they feel like they are working a full-time job. I mean think about it, they are in school for 6 ½ hours with only 50 minutes of lunch and recess. By the time they really get to sit down and eat, they have about 15 minutes for lunch and another 15 minutes for recess. That is not nearly enough time for either lunch or recess. My ideal school would give students about 30-40 minutes for lunch, and another 30-40 minutes for free, unstructured play. I know one principal whose teachers have activities set up for students to play with the oversight of teachers to ensure all are safe. I know it may be a little wishful thinking, but I can dream can’t I?

However, this brings us to what I have planned for my students on February 4, 2015. We will be participating in Dr. Gray’s initiative to re-introduce play into our learning environments and draw awareness to what the research tells us about its importance to child and human development. It is nature’s gift to us to help us learn, acquire skills and defenses. It is nature’s way of helping us develop socially, mentally, and physically. And we hope you will help us explore this natural tool for human development.

Below are the guidelines for participation in #GSPD:

How Does it Work?

First, please register your class/school to tell the world that you will be participating in GSPD 2015. If you do not teach students in grades PreK-6 and would like to register your vote of support, please use this form.

  1. EDUCATE Teach your students, parents, colleagues, and administration about the benefits and necessity of play. Perhaps you could share Peter Gray’s TEDx video with them on the decline of play in our culture.
  2. GET SOCIAL Invite your colleagues to participate in Global School Play Day 2015 (February 4.) Light the fire so others will catch the vision of returning the gift of play to this generation by talking about it on social media and in the teachers’ lounge. Write your own blog post encouraging your readers to join in on GSPD. Connect with the GSPD community by hashtagging your social media posts with #GSPD.
  3. CALL FOR TOYS Tell your class to bring anything they wish to play with to school on Wednesday, February 4th. The only restrictions: they must bring toys and these toys may NOT require batteries or electricity. No devices. Give them some ideas, since today’s kids rarely play and often own very few toys: board games, dolls, Legos, blocks, trucks, cars, racetracks, playing cards, empty cardboard boxes, markers, jigsaw puzzles, blankets (for forts), social games (charades, Pictionary, etc.) The only exception on the electronics rule would be a board game that has an electronic timer, an electronics play kit, or similar. How about taking your students out in the dirt or snow to dig, explore and get messy?
  4. PLAY! On February 4, do the following: Allow your students to spread their toys out around the room and just PLAY! Don’t organize anything for your students. Don’t tell them how to play with the toys/games. Don’t interfere with your students unless you see something that could get you fired or would physically hurt a child (this does not include something that may be physically uncomfortable for a child.) Other than taking a few pictures/videos, try to be invisible and let the kids play.
  5. SHARE After the event, be sure to share your pictures, ideas, and reactions on social media (with parent consent) and hashtag them #GSPD. Comment here on this blog post about how it went or add a post to your blog sharing about the experience. Ask your students to share about GSPD as well!

What If?

What if… you can’t run your Global School Play Day on February 4th? Do it on another day! The important thing is your kids and colleagues need to be freed from thinking that play is a waste of time and begin to see the value in it.

What if… you want your students to play outside? All the better! Mix it up and play both inside and out.

What if… you don’t want to play ALL day? That’s fine. Make it the hour of play. Again, the point of Global School Play Day is to raise awareness and start discussions.

What if… you want to do GSPD with your class and they’re older than 12? Go for it! Big kids need to play, too!

What if… you want to jump in and play with your kids? Can adults play, too? That’s up to you, but the concept of GSPD is to get kids playing freely without adult intervention or structure. If you get down on the floor with your kids, be sure to let them just play. Resist the temptation to organize, discipline, and teach.

Global School Play Day is for public schools, private schools, and homeschool families! Let’s spread the word about the benefits of play. If anyone asks why you’re doing this, just tell them, “…because kids have forgotten how to play!”

Global School Play Day committee: Tim Bedley, Scott Bedley, Oliver Schinkten, Misty Higgins, Brent Coley, and Eric Saibel.

Peter Gray’s message to educators

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I encourage you all to join us in this day, but in the meanwhile, check out Dr. Gray’s Ted Talk.

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Newark Parents Boycott Governor Christie’s Oppressive Edu-Policies

So I initially wrote this piece for a local news outlet as an op-ed, but the editor will not publish it unless I add someone else to the piece as a co-writer for added legitimacy. The problem is, I do not currently live in Newark, however it was decided that including a current Newarker would make it more legitimate. There is so much wrong with this here, that I am not sure where to start. It is beyond me why anyone would think it would be okay to volunteer my piece, my own intellectual property as a co-authored piece especially if the person was not involved in the writing of it. As a black woman I find myself having to assert my humanity in places and situations where I would not expect. It leads me to question how many folks are allowed to submit pieces about Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, Camden or any other urban district they have absolutely no personal connection to beyond speaking “for” these places. Therefore, I decided to just publish it here on my blog and just hope my personal friends read and share. Please enjoy!

If you have been paying any attention to the education news in New Jersey, then you know that unrest and resistance have been brewing and percolating between parent and student groups throughout the city of Newark. From parent boycotts, student shutdowns, federal Title VI complaints against the district, and legal injunctions filed with the State, they are all proof of the care and dedication that the people of Newark have for their city, their children, and their future. These actions, all planned separately, were choral acts of lamentations and cries to anyone who would listen and hear their grievances against Governor Christie’s and State-appointed Superintendent, Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan.

The violence of having the voices and concerns of the community dismissed, and even scorned is what pushed the parents and organizers from Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE) to organize NPS Boycott 4 Freedom, and the Newark Students Union to coordinate a two-day action during the second week of school. NPS Boycott 4 Freedom wanted to accomplish four things from its action: 1). local control of Newark Public Schools; 2). an immediate halt to the One Newark Plan; 3). the termination of Cami Anderson; and 4). the push for community driven neighborhood schools. Although none of those things happened, the audacity we had to make this happen helped us develop relationships with more parents, and local and national organizations.

It may be hard to see what the full impact of the One Newark Plan, and other corporate, educational interventions will have on the students and the community of Newark. However, one thing is certain, the One Newark Plan has disrupted the community. Several schools have been closed throughout the district, with the South Ward getting hit the hardest. The very idea of a neighborhood school no longer exists for most of the Newark students. Consequently, the plan forces many students and parents to travel long distances just to get an education. One parent reported the district would not provide transportation for her six year old child, however would provide the young child with a bus pass. The problem with this is the district does not provide the adult who will need to accompany these young children with a bus pass. How does that work? What if a parent does not have the financial means to pay the bus fare? Does the district expect my children to ride the bus alone? So, if compulsory schooling says I should potentially put my child in harms way by riding the bus alone to attend school, then that is a system to which we cannot even trust our children’s education. They are not only incompetent, but they have no regard or respect for our bodies or lives.

The narrative that organizers of this September’s boycotts or actions against Governor Christie’s education policies were defending the status quo shows how little opponents are listening and could not be furthest from the truth. It is important to be clear about where PULSE stands. PULSE wants to see change in the schools, and within the district. We are advocating restorative justice to help prevent student push-out. We want wrap-around services to fit the diverse needs of the student population. We want culturally responsive curricula, and democratically run schools that acknowledges, engages, and values the dignity of voice in each person in the school community. We want research-based curricula and instructional practices that will give students the freedom to become critical thinkers and self-regulated learners. There is one thing many on both sides of the issue can agree on: the schools and students in the city of Newark need educational change and intervention. However, One Newark and other corporate top-down interventions are not the answers.

One cannot support the efforts that push to strip Newark students of resources and funding for their schools and say they support educational equality and equity for all. We live in a country that tells us equality and democracy are our values. Nonetheless, our country’s actions show us that they do not value democracy when black and Latinx students and parents are the majority of the district. Why aren’t the parents in Newark allowed the same democratic voice that parents and students in districts like Millburn, Livingston, Mendham, and Florham Park would receive? Does their race afford them more dignity, more respect, more democracy? It should not, however our Governor shows us otherwise; predominantly white, wealthy communities get democracy while predominantly black and Latinx low-SES communities get autocracy. Just look at what is happening in Newark, and Camden and contrast it to any other suburban predominantly white district.

The educational interventions that are being pushed by Governor Chris Christie and executed by Cami Anderson are not “reforms”; they are community generational and educational dispossession with charter schools and school closures as a disguise and “remedy”. Educational dispossession also results in the disruption and chaos the community is experiencing right now. School closures, “no excuses” charters, and other top-down corporate intervention models are not designed to cultivate a school district rooted in democratic values. Nor are they meant to cultivate an environment that nurtures the whole-child, and values the parents and students. These “interventions” were designed to do exactly what they are doing: creating chaos, manufacturing a crisis, and disrupting the community. Schools are being stripped of their resources to the point of starvation. Classrooms are overcrowded, and resources are low or non-existent. Antiquated technology remains in many schools. There are inadequately staffed classrooms; teachers shuffled around from school to school each year, and some who are currently in a sort of edu-purgatory as they sit in limbo waiting for a school assignment. The long-term residual effects this will have on the students, and community of Newark is a form of violence that cannot be made up for if we do not stop it now.

The PULSE boycott organizers worked diligently to plan and provide an alternative learning environment for students and parents who chose to boycott. This alternative learning environment was rooted in the ideals of the Freedom School movement and a democratic collective. The Freedom schools of 1964 were designed as learning environments that functioned as agents of social change, where students must know their own history, curriculum was culturally responsive and linked to the students’ experiences, where questions were open-ended, and where academic skills were crucial. This environment is what was provided in the NPS Boycott 4 Freedom school. Not only were retired educators and other volunteers there to educate the students, but breakfast, lunch, and healthful snacks throughout the day were provided for the students. The NPS Boycott 4 Freedom school received generous donations from individuals, and organizations such as Rethinking Schools, Teaching for Change, and the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Task Force.

The parents who organized and participated in the boycott were protecting their children from harms way, from the harm that Governor Christie does not mind inflicting on the children of Newark through oppressive policies such as the One Newark plan, school closures, “no-excuses” charters, and disrupting neighborhood schools. More than ever, the children of Newark need stability, and not the sort of chaos that the One Newark Plan is meant to cause for the children and their community. How can a system that would expect a six year old to travel the NJ Transit bus alone be trusted to educate and care for our children. Not only does this show how disinterested the Governor is in the well being of little defenseless brown and black children, but it shows how callous he is towards the concerns and needs of the students and parents of Newark.

Additionally, PULSE is advocating community driven neighborhood schools that not only respect all members of the learning/school community, but also value their voices. We are advocating learning environments that are holistic and will emotionally, socially, academically cater to the whole-child. Even though the boycott only lasted five days, the people were able to create this environment at the NPS Boycott 4 Freedom school. This environment was something the Governor and NPS refuse to do because they have no respect for the residents of Newark and what they are advocating for.

The boycott was a public cry, an act of resistance against the racist, oppressive, and undemocratic corporate intervention policies that the students and parents of Newark have to accept without complaint or question. Most importantly, the boycott was a display of love for the dignity and humanity in the parents, students, community members, and histories of Newark. The parents and students of Newark cannot sit quietly while Governor Christie and Cami Anderson continues, and they will not. As we continue on this journey for democracy and dignity of respect, I cannot help but be reminded and encouraged by the words of Mildred D. Taylor:

Roll of thunder

Hear my cry

Over the water

Bye and bye

Ole man comin’

Down the line

Whip in hand to

Beat me down

But I ain’t

Gonna let him

Turn me ’round.

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