The Things We All Are Working For

The closing of public schools is happening.  Our own school, Monte Vista may be closed. Our city, our state, and our country have pressing education issues.   Many are related.  I have some ideas.  Maybe you have some ideas, and maybe we can help fix things.  I am hopeful.  The education of children is the business of the hopeful.  Leith, the principal at my school, asked me to write an article for our school newsletter, the Caring Connection.  I will trim this to better suite that school paper, but for anyone who cares to meander with me, here is the “director’s cut”.  Editors send me your notes so I can improve this.

vinoThis guy is one of my new favorite people, in one of my favorite times, in a most dream-like situation. We went to Italy this summer and drove to a community wine cellar.  He poured (and poured) the wines of the region for us, in moments that will live on in legend in my family, forever.

We were traveling with another family, and my good friend Sam asked this fellow if they add anything to the wine.  His response was, “In France, you can add sugar, you can do things to the wine.  Here, you can be mafioso, you can do many things.  But If you add one kilogram of sugar to the wine, you go to prison for one year.”

In this place, methods of quickening production, or selling to a broader market, or other means to the end of making more money are utterly unimportant, and even shunned.  The value is in the traditions, and the pace at which the traditions are carried out.  The pleasure of life as it rolls out among the terraced hills rippling across the land, the savoring of time; this is what wine is there.  Watching this guy impart to us this joy was beautiful.  This is what we are all working for, and to pass it on, the joie de vivre, even if using the French presents its ironies here.

Lean efficiencies of assembly line production may be good for widgets and some systems, but what adds to environment must be counted as richness in the world of things that grow, and must not be cut away.  Short sighted efficiencies can damage future potentials.

The current issues that are cropping up locally and nationally in education come from data driven, rather than values driven priorities.  The passing on of our values occurs explicitly with what we tell our children we value, and implicitly with how we conduct ourselves while we are talking.  The stronger message is always the action rather than the words.  We fail to pass on our values with the stubborn adherence to reform policies that produce results which contradict our values.  [1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…].

We must have weighted consideration for practices that demonstrate our values.

  •  Free marketplace of ideas  Standardized test companies, backed by states, require teachers to sign agreements that they will not disparage the tests.  Firing for insubordination looms for teachers who talk about the poor products of private interests that siphon tax dollars away from the true interest of the public.
  • Individual thought:  Teachers as Authors   Teaching positions are being filled with temporary replacements, and teacher shortages are nationwide.  Fifty percent of new teachers will quit within five years.  The reform definition of an educator is someone with a pulse who reads and executes the methods and content of the textbooks with “fidelity”.   In this vein, teachers will soon be hourly workers who will move on to careers with more meaning.  Instead, teachers should be the authors of open-source texts and tests.  Criteria could still level expectations for these freely available texts and tests, that would join the already vast amount of free resources that should replace these texts.  Teachers are then developing expertise instead of having to begin again from one textbook adoption cycle to the next.  This would restore the model of teachers as commodities rather than replaceable parts, which would be a value to replicate with students: the idea that they have something to offer.
  • Development of Individuals  Multi-million dollar privatized evaluation systems with trainings on drop-down menus should be replaced with free, existing infrastructure, like email templates or Google Docs (which have more functionality and broader usability).  Evaluations should be by qualified peers with knowledge in content, so that betterment could be done in person as well as online.  Professional development should be best practices and curriculum development, rather than the latest product demonstration.  Conversation, teacher to teacher, and teacher to student, develops more understanding than demonstration.

Our school is on a list of schools that need major repairs or closure, but we are in no imminent danger, to our knowledge.  Our school turns 85 this year, and is on both the state and national registries of historic places.  Education and history correlate.  The ability to act on history is the fruit of education.  Learning depends entirely upon previous experience, and the valuing of that.  The potential closing of a historic school because its old presents a particular irony.  We have the ability to influence the potential outcome of our school if our community acts.  For Monte Vista’s 85th birthday, I am proposing a preservation society.  Maybe it would be better called a restoration society.  The function is the important thing, and the need is clear.  This year, when the wooden doors of Monte Vista were going to be replaced, APS proposed putting on the standard metal doors that are on most, if not all, the other school in town.  The reason we ended up with the amazingly beautiful wooden doors, was Leith.  She conversed with the historic society and negotiated with APS, and together they funded the replacement of the front doors of Monte Vista with something much better than metal doors.

This illustrates the need to gather a group of champions for Monte Vista, and make that group a constant entity.  If Leith wasn’t there this year, if APS would have replaced the doors with the lower costing metal doors, then Monte Vista could have fallen out of being identified as historic.  This identity allows access to funds specific to preservation.  Once Monte Vista loses that identity, the cost for APS increases, and the practicality of keeping Monte Vista open diminishes.  So we need to ensure that this type of conscientiousness is maintained with the population of Monte Vista through the years, if we want Monte Vista to last.

School is the cradle of our values and ideals.  The model of what we want the world to be can be created in this microcosm, and the students who venture away carry with them the pollen of those possibilities.  Imagine a building then, that is both historic and progressive.   Renewable energy replacing old expensive systems with low cost systems, or even systems that return surplus back to the grid, and these things should be visible to the students, so they can learn from them, like solar panel awnings for the playground, and water catchment for gardens.

Paula and I years ago imagined an “active laboratory” playground, where magnets anchored to short chains could be used to gather iron, low voltage experiments could be connected to generating exercise bikes, and Stella and I talked about a low ropes course to build confidence out on the playground.

We need the community to gather and change the deterioration into a restoration, a powerful re-direction toward a positive vision of the future for our students.  We want Monte Vista to be the example of all the ideals and values that we have: the preservation of history, and the vision of a sustainable, or even regenerative future.  This would be a nice gift for Monte Vista’s 85th.


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6 responses to “The Things We All Are Working For

  1. Quint Seckler

    Wow Jeff! What a great piece you wrote here…beautiful! Not surprising coming from such a fabulous teacher!

    • Jeff

      Quint- thanks. I should recognize your work for the peer evaluation ideas. Those of us who remain in these storms- I suppose we should be called barnacles. Glad to know you’re on the boat out there with me!

  2. Paula

    YES! YES! YES! A “restoration” ….. a “rejuvenation ” ….. an “innovation” ….. a “preservation” village. Not to “save” Monte Vista – but to share and grow and learn from our history and with our future. To be present right now in the moments that are our teachers. The moments are teaching us, are we being present enough to learn all we can? Being present requires listening. Let’s listen to what our school is telling us.
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

  3. Jon

    I am sorry to say that some of this comes as news to me–for instance, that teachers have been issued gag orders. The retention problem, alas, is endemic. North Carolina has a huge turnover rate, thanks to its Republican legislature and governor and a tea party-inspired slash and burn fiscal policy. Whole degree programs have been lost at the university level. South Carolina’s faring a little better, though not much. This is very strong stuff, Jeff, because it still advocates hope. Lesser educators would have shrugged it off and walked away years ago. To sum up: Quint (above) is right.

  4. David

    What an amazing article! The formulation, direction, identification of problems, and, most especially, the offering of concrete actions is superb. As I was a 1st grader at Monte Vista many years ago and currently reside in Lisbon, Portugal, you had me right from the start with the description of deeply held Italian traditions and how they are (or should be) analogous to contemporary education…an apt and prescient observation. What I observe from afar in terms of quick, budget oriented (aka educational testing companies), and politically generated, “solutions,” is very troubling not just for today, but for the inevitable repercussions in the future. It is good to know there are experienced and motivated people like you in the trenches, fighting the good fight. It would be nice if Monte Vista, with its historical (traditional) significance could become a bellwether, both for its own facilities and perhaps for the larger educational issues that are plaguing the State and country. Education has always been the one investment that never fails to pay short and long term dividends…a fact that politicians dismiss while focusing on their own election cycles.

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