Terry Carpenter, a teacher with our favorite local pro-farming non-profit, Growing Hope, is considering the possibility of starting an open school in Ypsilanti. A few days ago, he posted the following on Facebook. With his approval, I’ve decided to post it here, to help get the word out. As of right now, no date has been set, but, given the positive feedback he’s received this far, I imagine a public meeting of some sort will be held in the near future. Stay tuned for details… Here’s his note:
Steeped in social justice literature and practice, we know in our marrow what is right. Our imaginations take flight at night, as we plan lessons that will truly teach. Sometimes, we take that leap of faith (in our students) and try those “crazy” place-based, and/or cooperative lessons. And the kids excel and we are amazed (although deep down we always believed). Then, the principal comes around and asks where you are in the standardized curriculum for the test. You ask for forgiveness, or lie, or creatively explain how you are teaching to the test, or try to argue that what you’re doing is right. You might go back to the textbook (if your school actually has them) and begin teaching the way you are supposed to. The kids do, as Deb Meier says, the thing they are able to do in traditional education . . . sabotage. Or, they may have done this during the really cool lesson. Either way, you find yourself frustrated. You think, “Don’t they know how important their education is?”
As a student of the Social Foundation of Education I continually have an internal battle. Is education the hope for tomorrow or a tool to perpetuate society’s ills? We listen to Joe tell of his travels and how multicultural democratic education heals war torn regions of the world. Then, we realize, reading Robbins, how schooling (for many) is just the first step towards the prison industrial complex. Rebecca twists our brains through Eco-Justice philosophy and shows us how social justice and ecology are connected and how Eco-Justice is happening at the ground level. We feel both overwhelmed and empowered.
In my brief (13 year) career in education I have visited schools that work and some that do not. The bulk of my career has been in what many might call Alternative Education. I have seen the victims of mainstream education. But, I have also seen the light go on for them. I have seen them hopeless and hopeful. At one point our small alternative high school was so successful that dropouts were recruiting dropouts and we were on the cusp of creating a dynamic multi-age hands-on garden and ecology center. Throughout the rest of the district, however, families were pulling their kids out and sending them elsewhere, causing me to be laid off, and our little school to be torn apart. While this saddens me, it also gives me hope in the possibilities for urban education.
Recently, I have been having discussions with some families in Ypsilanti. They want something different but, they want to stay in Ypsilanti. They are intrigued by Ann Arbor Open School and other schools using “Best Practices.” They want their children involved in: hands-on learning, democracy education, eco-justice, place-based and outdoor education. As one friend recently said “I want Henry and Juniper [our newborns] to grow up in school systems that honor individuality along with community.” It seems to me that Ypsilanti is the place to make it happen. It is (somewhat) economically and ethnically diverse. We have EMU, Ozone Drop-in, Growing Hope, Creative Change, High Scope and great people here. Yet, we have little educational alternatives, which is causing families to look elsewhere. In my work with Transition Town Ypsi, Growing Hope, and Bike Ypsi, I see a town ready to change and live sustainably. A just practice in education is an important step. With a new superintendent coming soon, I believe the time is now to make this happen.
As I know a number of Ypsi families who presently send their kids to charter schools like the Ann Arbor Learning Community, I have to imagine that there would be a market for something similar that’s closer to home. I know very little about how such things are done, but I have to think that there’s potential.