Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Democracy and K-12 Schools

I was amazed to see a letter to the editor published in yesterday's Washington Post ("'Democracy' schools don't live up to their name"), challenging the relatively authoritarian practices of a so-called "Democracy School" set to open in the District, a school that the Post lauded in a previous editorial, because the author of the letter, unidentified other than her name, was Mary Beth Tinker.

Mary Beth Tinker, as a child, was one of the plaintiffs in an important student rights case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, when she and her siblings wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.

It happens that the Post ran an article on her a number of years ago ("Wearing the Right to Free Speech on Her Sleeve") and apparently she lives in the Forest Hills area of DC according to the local newsletter there ("Meet Your Neighbors: Free-Speech Champion Mary Beth Tinker").

Her letter mentions visiting schools where the students are involved in and lead decision-making.

My basic "line" about citizen participation has been the same for more than 30 years...

"Upon graduation, after having gone to relatively authoritarian schools where you're lectured at for 13 to 17 years of your life, how can you expect people, upon graduation, to become active, free-thinking, participating members of [civil] society."

cf. "Schooling in Capitalist America Revisted,"by Bowles and Gintis. From the article:

[in the book] We advanced the position that schools prepare people for adult work rules, by socializing people to function well (and without complaint) in the hierarchical structure of the modern corporation. Schools accomplish this by what we called the correspondence principle, namely by structuring social interactions and individual rewards to replicate the environment of the workplace. We thus focused attention not on the explicit curriculum but on the socialization implied by the structure of schooling.

For what it's worth, most of the "reform" agenda in the K-12 public education field is shaped by an authoritarian approach to learning, where the development of independent, creative thought and self-expression is not a priority. See "Countering the Authoritarian Reform Agenda."

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At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

our experiences on Capitol Hill WRT the charter school kids has been in many ways negative. I saw a group of about 10 of these kids come into our residential alley- and they gathered around as if by agreement- and two of the boys started throwing punches at one another- real punches and blood. I went to try to alert someone but nobody would call it in. Our alley is one and a half blocks from a police station yet we seldom get police attention or response- and usually if something like this happens the perpetrators are long gone by the time it gets thru the "process" and down to the responding patrol officers. Something more needs to be done to contain this mess- and it is an unwelcome problem. These kids are NOT from the neighborhood and they are not only disrespectful- they can be dangerous- especially with many retired people living around here who are vulnerable or hard of hearing, etc. I am generally against the charter schools as they seem to make no effort to control or to keep these kids busy after school gets out. They basically wander the area and cause disruption and crime. They are main crime generators remaining in this part of the city.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

complicated issues. Not so much about "charter schools" but about the economic situations and socialization levels of the children they are educating.

e.g., your point about charter schools can be extended to rec. centers, and it is true that they do "bring people into" places where some people try to take advantage.


At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is unfair when people move here with the expectation they can raise their kids and take advantage of nearby institutions such as schools- and when disruptive kids from other areas come in and beat up and terrorize other kids trying to learn it gets out of hand and things must be done to change the situation. People are now paying huge mortgagaes and they are going to be expecting better schools as they cannot afford to send their kids to private schools as in the past. It is only fair - and the city government needs to change and wake up to these needs and not just to the needs of impoverished families but new middle class families footing the bills and paying their fair share. If not- these people will bail to Arlington or worse.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

in all honestly, the problem is that we aren't giving those kids a chance to participate in the capitalist system.

In the last 10 years, have there been more black DCPS college grads -- or prison alumi? If you look at males only the answer is clear.

The ugly reality is you dealing with a population with a mean IQ of around 85. 20 to 40 percent of that population has an IQ of under 80, which is pretty limited.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

umm, pretty disturbing. I am not sure it's true, although it certainly seems so when you deal with clerks at local retailers.

But leaving things the way they are means structural multi-generational failure will only get worse.

Of course, the issue isn't having kids run the schools (although like in Japan, I do think schoolchildren should be responsible for basic cleaning in the schools, to teach responsibility about litter, etc.).

It's to provide the extra-normal resources necessary to break the cycle of poverty.

In this month's Governing Mag. there is a story on school improvement initiatives in Memphis, based on a program from Houston. It sounds like it has promise.

But interestingly, that program and other successful programs featured do exactly what I've said we aren't doing in the DC "urban education reform" effort, and that is providing additional resources and program supports. (DC is doing a bit of this.)

But Michelle Rhee, whenever you said "the kids are impoverished" before you got the chance to say "and the schools and teachers and families need more resources to deal with it" she would jump in and "change the conversation' by saying "you're saying these kids can't learn."

Of course that wasn't what was being said. And instead of providing more resources, the urban reform agenda is test-focused and reduces a lot of true learning time in favor of test preparation.

Yes, by the time kids get to high school, they have little chance if they aren't already reasonably prepared to move forward into society.

2. and most of us middle class people in the city don't have to deal with this very much, unless you ride the bus, etc.

e.g., the 9 year old shot in the head in Mayfair Mansions... it turns out that he is the cousin of the husband of one of Suzanne's colleagues. Most of us don't have these kinds of relationships with the other city, where violence of this kind is an every day occurence.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

also, the article in the paper about the kid who was "brazenly" burglarizing homes, including his grandma/aunt?

There is a kind of sociopathy where there is no sense of trust, connection, even with blood relatives. They're just people to take things from.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The gap is asking the state to take on the role of parent/caregiver. And the state is pretty bad at that.

But when you are dealing with a society that is that atomized I'm not sure there is another choice. Hence pre-K.

But if we can't think clearly about the goals, we get muddled ends. Charter schools can be effective for teaching you be to be little worker bees. That would suggest that DCPS be turned into truant schools which are more triage than education.

(I'm leaving aside the real issue, which is private schools)

In terms of keeping democracy alive, yes, absolutely. As I said that isn't something you want to trust the state with.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The current Governing Mag. also has an article about a long term Nebraska program, since shut down, that attempted to provide caseworkers focused on a small number of families, really focused on assisting them in "breaking the cycle."

But it was expensive and didn't show positive ROI.

I think you need to do it anyway.

2. with regard to keeping democracy alive, there is a lot that "the state" and political institutions can do. Schools too.

a. I haven't written about it yet, but saw the Current article about a hearing on legislation requiring ANCs to post agendas, etc., to a master ANC website.

Sure that should be done, but a lot more capacity building resources need to be provided to ANCs to improve them, what they do.

And resources should be provided to make accounting, and information posting, web presence, etc., simple.

Some ANCs have people doing this stuff for them (not accounting, but the web). At least three ANCs really stick out for me on these dimensions:

ANC6A; ANC1;A and ANC4B. I am sure there are others, and the sites aren't always perfect, but frankly they are as good or better as the averaged DC govt. webpage.

The idea is to build from excellence...

b. things you do can with "the state" include having capacity building institutions like the Urban Information Library at Dallas Public Library or the Massachusetts Citizen Planning Commissions institute.

many cities/counties have citizen 101 type programs. And agencies here and there offer training programs. Not so much in DC.

... but I am the first to admit that someone like me being produced by planning involvement is very unusual.

c. in schools, there are lots of things to do, to give students experience working with others and civic engagement.

school cleaning is one. In DC, I would structure summer programs, once students get to a certain age, that a combination of involvement-summer work experience.

there is a very small scale program in MoCo that I thought seemed interesting:


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