When we talk about education and school improvement, we can often forget there are real schools involved in the equation. In our quest for reform, we can slip into thinking in abstraction, thinking about public education as if it were a laboratory and our changes have little, if any, impact on the educators and students who spend the majority of their time in those very buildings.
While some of my reformer friends may say this is an unfair or downright untrue statement, it is rooted in fact. The reform movement, of late, is largely about changing systems and processes. It is about administrative changes and oversights and accountability. The rest can come later, after we change how these schools “operate.”
It is because of this that we need to be reminded of the human factor in our schools, both those that excel and those that struggle. That we highlight that there are no educators or students who seek to fail or not make the grade. That we all want to see success, even if we define it differently or can’t determine how to chart the best path to get there.
That’s why we need to refocus on our schools as a community. Good or bad. Success or no. We are a community, and we are in this together.
This spring, author Sam Chaltain
reminds us of this important point in his new book, Our School
. Published through Teachers College Press, Our School
chronicles the search “for community in the era of choice,” as Chaltain weaves a powerful narrative that looks at the experiences in real schools. He reminds us why so many of us do what we do, and why this work can be much harder than so many people seem to think.
How? The impact of this book is best captured in the words of Sir Ken Robinson, a guy who knows a thing or two about school reform and improvement and who pens Our School‘s foreword.
Our School is an important book. It brings to life, in the most vivid way, many of the issues about American education that in political debates are too often treated as abstractions. In place of the conventional rhetoric about what’s right or wrong in the nation’s schools, Sam Chaltain offers a close-up, beautifully observed account of a year in the life of just two of them. In many respects, these schools couldn’t be more different. Both are in Washington, D.C., physically close to the epicenter of American power, though in most other respects a world away from it. One is a startup charter in new premises, still working to define its identity and to catch its beat. The other is a long-established neighborhood school, filled with the memories of generations, a school where many former pupils now send their own children or grandchildren.
On these pages, Eduflack has often written about the importance of conversing, engaging, and collaborating with those that offer a differing perspective. For many years now, Sam has been one of those folks in my life. Sam and I agree on much, and strongly disagree on some. And while I may not agree with all of the conclusions he offers up in his latest book, I’m damned glad to have taken the time to read it. We all must be reminded that community, far more than policy or oversight, is what is responsible for a school’s ultimate success or failure.