Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mostly Cloudy and the Forecast Doesn't Look Good

It's awfully cloudy in public education right now and the forecast doesn't look good, but last night, I found reason to hope.

I've been losing my faith in public schools. My daughters used to love school, but increasingly dislike it. So do their teachers. However, last night both girls enjoyed themselves while learning at school. All because of a little red-haired girl named Annie.

The first production of a three-show run of Annie Junior bowed last night. My older daughter is on the crew and my younger is an avid theater goer. I watched with my youngest while my oldest was busy at work on the play. (I love combining work and play in discussing learning.)

My older daughter trained for weeks to be a spotlight operator for the first act and a stagehand for the second. On spotlight, she moved with the play, found actors as they moved, and did her job so that no one noticed her. Spotlight operators don't get a lot of glory, but if they fall down on the job, everyone notices.

In the second act, she was part of the team moving scenery and keeping things right on stage. At one point another girl couldn't get the Christmas tree plugged in. My girl calmly took the cord and lit the tree without fuss. Later, she laughed when I mentioned it. "Dad, you're the only one who notices those things."

True. I noticed that she had poise, confidence, skills, knowledge of the play and the players, and the ability to work with others. I observed and assessed her throughout the show. I wasn't thinking of growth, not standards and I wasn't comparing her to the other kids. Imagine a school in which we looked at individual kids the way we watch our own. Imagine a school based on family instead of business.

My daughter learned because she was doing. She learned without grades, rewards, or punishments. She was invested and the whole thing, though a tremendous amount of work, was fun and playful to her.

It's no wonder she grew.

Then there's my younger daughter who sat with two friends and discussed the play prior to the performance. Would Sandy get much stage time and how were they going to transform that boy into a dog? Would Annie look right? We should do the play when we're old enough.

Throughout the performance, she sat rapt and amazed. At the end of each song the girls clapped wildly and whispered about what they had seen and heard. At intermission, they discussed Sandy, the set, and the songs. They went through the program over and over.

She was so happy to be in school watching the show. She couldn't wait to see it again. She's ready now to do theater camp, to sing in chorus, and to be in the show when her time comes. Beyond that, she knows the story, the idea of characters, the themes, the settings, and how plays work. I don't have to test her.

David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, mocked ELA and the arts by saying, "people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think."

I'm a father, a teacher, and a learner myself. And I give a shit.

My kids learned more from this little school production than they have in eight weeks of homework and the last ten tests they've taken. Education reform doesn't much give a shit about Annie Junior, but parents know better.

I know that the two music teachers (one of whom is shared between several other schools) worked overtime to create this play. I know that they were not paid adequately for all that work. I know too that their jobs are the first to go in budget cutting even as we pay more for increased testing.

I'm considering opting my kids out of state testing in order to send a message about the Common Core and current education reform and because it teaches them to dislike learning. I'll never opt them out of Annie Junior because they have too much to learn from it. Besides, it gives me hope that, even in public schools, the sun just might come out tomorrow.

Write on.