Our Schools Need a Little More Mockingbird, Not Less 

Recently, a school district sought to remove the novel To Kill a Mockingbird from its curriculum because educators feared the subject matter of the Harper Lee book might make students a little too uncomfortable. 

But with the realities our communities, schools, and kids are facing these days, perhaps we need more Atticus and Scout, not less. We explore this important topic on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Be sure to give it a listen. 

Gender Lines on the … Alphabet?

Most parents have been warned of the dangers of “gender-specific” toys and what that means nowadays. It’s perfectly acceptable for little girls to play with soldiers or guns (as long as parents aren’t anti-violence, etc.) and it is equally acceptable for little boys to play with dolls and tea sets.

Just the other day, a friend of Eduflack shared a photo on Facebook of her five-year old son receiving an American Boy doll for his birthday. The child just couldn’t have been grinning any bigger than he was from scoring his dream present.

We say that there are no gender-specific colors either. It is perfectly fine for girls to prefer drab colors, just as it is for boys to own pinks and purples. (And I can proudly say that Eduflack has a significant number of pink, purple, and pastel articles of clothing, but owns almost nothing black, except for my kickboxing gear.)

One would hope we’ve gotten past the whole gender appropriate discussion when it comes to equipping our children with the attire, toys, and such one needs these days. But then Amazon has to go and ruin everything. For you see, in 2017, there is one set of ABCs for boys, and another set for girls.

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Seriously? We are more than halfway through 2017 and we still think boys learn the ABCs from airplanes and dump trucks while girls only garner it through lessons of butterflies and castles?

Setting aside, for a second, that folks are paying $10 a piece for an ABC book. Setting aside, for a moment, that twice as many people saw the need to review the boys’ ABCs than the girls’. Setting aside, for a bit, that it took two additional years to finally wrap up the ABCs that were appropriate for the “fairer” gender. Was all of this really necessary? Is there now a demand for a gender-fluid ABCs?

I miss the good ol’ days when it was all about making sure a child could read at grade level by the end of the third grade. It didn’t matter if they were reading words from a Babysitters Club book or the Hardy Boys.

Sigh. Double sigh. Sigh in both pink and camo.

 

“Compete Against Yourself”

Over the weekend, the edu-wife and I had the good fortune of seeing Kristen Chenoweth perform with the Philadelphia Symphony. If you don’t know who Chenoweth is, you might as well stop reading now … or start listening to the original Broadway cast recording of Wicked. Your choice.

At any rate, Chenoweth paused from her incredible performance to talk about her experiences, both as an artist and as a pageant performer. She spoke of how competing for both the Miss Oklahoma and Miss Pennsylvania crowns helped her develop her life motto.

When the four-foot-11-inch vocalist and actress realized was that she couldn’t compete — at least on the pageant circuit — against the six-foot statues she was standing next to. So she decided there was only one solution. She needed to focus on competing against herself.

Chenoweth offered that life lesson to a number of young women in the audience in Philadelphia that night, women who aspired to be like Chenoweth and wanted to pursue their passions in singing and performance. But it is a lesson that can and should apply to all students. And it is a lesson that isn’t all that foreign in our education debates.

For all the criticism of HOW it was measured, at the heart of adequate yearly progress (or AYP) was schools competing against themselves. Could they do better this year than they did in the previous? Could they build on previous years’ gains and continue to show improvement?

In the coming months, we will again hear a great deal about state tests and opting out and the proper role of state benchmarks in the learning process. Maybe we can take Kristen Chenoweth’s life motto and apply it to student assessment. Maybe, just maybe, we can use annual state assessments to help young learners see the progress over the course of the last year. Maybe we can use tests as the benchmarks they are supposed to be, helping students see all that time and hard work has paid off, and there is quantitative proof they know more this year than they did the previous.

Yes, the adults in the room often put too much weight into the “competitive” aspects of education. Let there be no mistake. Competition is OK. It’s not the end all/be all of life. But it is good to set a goal and achieve it. It is good to show growth and accomplishment. And is certainly is good to compete against yourself. It’s true for artists and performers, and it is certainly true for most children.

Growth is a good thing. Progress is a good thing. And competition, in the right frame, is a good thing. We should all be competing against ourselves,  whether as children or as adults.

Thank you, Kristen Chenoweth, for reminding me this. And it doesn’t matter if such competition makes one Popular or not.

Celebrate Music … But Do It Right

Readers of this blog know that Eduflack is a strong advocate of arts education. I myself was an (award-winning) drama kid in high school. And while I have no musical ability whatsoever–despite years of piano lessons and attempts to learn other instruments–I passionately believe in the role of the arts in our schools. 

So I was saddened when I saw a promotional photo from the Texas Classroom Teachers Association this week, promoting Music In Our Schools Month. No doubt, we should be celebrating music in our schools. But let’s do it right, in a way that honors the art. 

A quick look at the photo below, and you’ll see a few things.  A sax player with no mouthpiece, no reed, and hands in no place that would actually help her play the instrument. We could go on. 

My sister is a professional musician, a jazz singer in Chicago. She is a poster child for the arts in school and all it can do for a learner. When I shared the photo with her, all she could do was tell me that it has been making the rounds in the music circles, as a punchline, I assume. 

Judge for yourself. Does this help or hurt the cause of arts and music education? 

  

And a big HT to Matthew Tabor for putting this on my radar. 

“Take Me or Leave Me”

It looks like we won’t “Light My Candle” in Trumbull, Connecticut.  Last week, the principal at Trumbull High School canceled the school’s Thespian Society’s plans to perform the musical Rent.  Principal Marc Guarino has the final say in such decisions, so spiked the students’ decision to put on the award-winning musical.

The reason was content.  Guess some see the topics of AIDS and drug use as being controversial.  And it is, if this were the 1990s.  Let’s not forget that the students were performing the “school edition” of the musical, one that has been done at high schools across the country.
Trumbull High’s students put together a peaceful resistance to the decision.  They organized.  They collected a petition with more than 1,500 signatures on it.  They took it to the board of education.  Ultimately, the board backed the principal’s decision, saying it was on him.
It made its way to Trumbull’s “first selectman,” the Connecticut equivalent of a mayor.  The selectmen punted as well.  But they offered that this kids could look to do it as part of a youth community theater effort in the summer.  Since the schools had no control over such productions, it seemed like a “safe” option in the face of growing community concern for the censorship.  Unfortunately, no one checked with the youth group, who now says it won’t quite work for them either (and would have excluded a number of the intended castmates).
Why is all this important?  First, we should all see the importance of the arts in high school, particularly if it engenders the interest and support that this intended production has generated.  Second, we should applaud these kids for looking to take on such a challenging musical, and for recognizing the significance of such a performance.  Third, we should be proud that these kids refused to roll over and fought for what they believed in and what was important to them.  And finally, we should again be disappointed in the reaction of the adults in the process.
As someone who did high school theater many moons ago, I can say it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my K-12 career.  I thoroughly enjoyed being on stage, being part of a cast that was really a family, and putting all the hard work into the process.
As a school board member, one of my proudest moments was seeing our high school put on a performance of Les Miserables.  It was a terrific show, a favorite of mine, and the quality rivaled a professional production.
We should be doing more to encourage students to pursue their interests and get involved.  Again, this was the school version of Rent.  And this was Connecticut, hardly an area that lacks some progressive thinking.
Kudos to the kids for sticking to their objectives and having their voices heard.  But sorry that we have to face this sort of censorship and objections at the end of 2013.