I had a wonderful ten day trip to the west coast, and feel—cautiously—optimistic about "surviving" this dreadful period of history. Sort of. There were so many wonderful young educators and students at the annual Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum in San Francisco that we all left determined to keep the organization alive. Despite dismal sources of external funding. Instead we decided to raise the money person by person—from the ranks of friends and supporters within and around our work itself. We hope to raise $150,000 by spring—and half by the end of January.
So, first of all. Donate!!! https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=32995
Any amount will do, but… We would like a bunch of $1,000 pluses amongst the many lesser sums. Our hope is to create a new kind of reform movement based on the reformers closest to the action (and their friends), rather than on grants from Foundations for projects. We hope the latter will continue to provide interesting work for us to engage in, but that we will not have to count on such foundation funding to keep a national presence going and the have our annual Fall Forum. We even hope to do the latter on a less lavish basis so that more of our teachers, parents and students can join us.
Put aside November 11-12, 2011, in Providence, RI. We're going back to our roots for this event.
What has always been unique about the Coalition is that while it rests its work on ten common principles, its schools have tried to solve the problems principles pose in their own unique ways. There isn't ONE model. Thus schools that also belong to Expeditionary Learning, High Tech Hi and The MET (for example) fit under our umbrella, but not always vice-versa. These other organizations are largely "service" organizations, with a particular model while CES, from the start, hoped to be useful to its member schools through its regional centers, and otherwise to represent the heart of Ted Sizer's original work nationally.
We need, more than ever, to demonstrate through the work of these many networks and centers that the "ideas" behind our work represent an alternate paradigm to the "no excuses," zero tolerance, test-driven, boot-camp style of education that has lately taken the fancy of many "reformers"—especially for poor students of color.
Furthermore, while we all support public education, CES has always included among its ranks many independent schools, and later charters, as well as locally based public education. We have never taken a stand on issues of school size—although CES recommended that the odds were on the side of being small enough to personalize relationships between key participants. Ditto regarding choice. Many of our schools are geographically zoned, non-choice schools and some are schools of choice. We include rural, suburban and urban schools. While we are over-weighted in terms of demographics toward low-income students of color, some of our schools are well-to-do suburban schools. As John Dewey reminded us, what the wealthiest and wises want for their children we should demand for all children. (Obama/Duncan: take note)
We treasure this range, and also respect the reasons why many reform efforts have focused on particular disadvantaged communities whose situation is much direr than schools "in general." But Ted Sizer's work also pointed to the emptiness and poverty of intellectual life within most solidly White middle class schools. He was seeking a revolution in schooling that extended to all. In fact, some Coalition schools are not even in the USA! But they all try to get to the heart of what he believed were essential intellectual habits needed for a democratic society. Go to our site for more. http://www.essentialschools.org/
While out west I also promoted Playing for Keeps. If you haven't bought it, it's an easy and cheap read, so do it right now. Just click here. http://store.tcpress.com/0807750956.shtml
And then finally I visited friends in Portland. I saw my very dear old colleague from Bank Street and work in East Harlem—Happie Byers. She says to tell everyone "not to worry about what you should do, just do what is right there in front of you needing to be done." Neither her granddaughter, Jessie, nor I can quite get the words exactly right, but we agree that was the message—and we intend to pursue her advice.
I also saw Alan Dichter and Vivian Orlen and their two fast growing sons. Alan is full of optimism, as usual. He is not necessarily therefore to be believed. And Vivian has been the principal since September of a 1,600 student neighborhood high school—Grant High School. I spent a day there watching her work. I was envious. She is having fun and the staff and kids I met with seem intrigued and delighted!
So, I left for home on a high, and intend to try to stay up there for a little while each day. But it is not easy work. The news from New York City regarding the new Chancellor is so appalling that I have not yet gotten my hands around what it augurs. We are entering a time when The Oligarchy seems poised to take over everything. And be responsible for nothing.