Monday, November 23, 2009


A few days ago Tom put his entire 2.25 hour first assembly onto 3x5 cards, each scene with a number. He color coded them, green for act 1: Introductions, yellow for act 2: Understanding the issues, and blue for act 3: Resolutions. Of course it is not as simple as that. You don't introduce everything right away, and some issues will not be resolved, but it is a helpful way to give form to what we want to accomplish.

He taped the cards in sequence onto the walls of our editing room, and then gave me a stack of white cards to begin my process of rethinking some of what he has created. I put parenthesis around scenes I think we could eliminate, take some cards off the wall all together, and add cards where I think another scene belongs. I change the order, and write question marks when I can't make up my mind if a scene is right or not. Not unexpectedly, I have added more than I have taken away, but at this point that's okay. Things are feeling less chunky, more intertwined. Eventually some scenes that we love will have to go, but I console myself in the knowledge that they may reappear in the shorts we will make once the major film is completed.

Now Tom starts to re-edit. His first goal is to shorten the introduction, which felt long and confusing. Initially we had imagined many places where we would present a montage of images, followed by a well developed episode. But as we work with the material, the montages of many children doing many things, seem to be falling away in favor of longer scenes. Unfortunately that means we will not be able to show as much of a range of the activities of the year, but it felt discombobulating to pack as much in as we were doing, and didn't give time to develop anything. I am playing with how we can use shorter, more focused montages--for example of the children's portraits, to introduce certain kinds of scenes, and to emphasize themes.

I find all this so exhilarating. Maybe this just shows my age and lack of computer savy, but staring at the wall of cards, I feel the wholeness of the project for the first time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Don't we all love praise? Alfie Kohn warns against the dangers of praising children--that it will actually keep them from putting effort into their work. I can see the danger, but I would make a difference in terms of the kinds of praise, and when and how it is given. It seems to me that when a person is acknowledged warmly for their effort, for reaching a goal, for overcoming an obstacle, they bask in the glow of recognition, and feel their work has meaning. I think that is appropriate praise. So now I will not only bask, but I will repeat the praise I just received!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I uploaded a new 3 minute teaser to Youtube last week. I'm getting a bit more savvy about how one goes about using social media. Of course everything is relative. I should probably be moving this blog to a better site, but I started to do it and got overwhelmed.

Back to the new teaser. I sent out announcements to everyone in my address book, and to my facebook friends, and announced it on August to June's Facebook page. The views are coming in much faster than with the 7 minute piece. I think that is because A) we have more fans on Facebook than we had when I posted the first piece, and B) those folks who have responded to the project now recognize it and are interested enough to check things out right away. We are not getting the kinds of hits that shots of dogs falling off diving boards get, but I'm happy.

So I then decided it was time to write to K'nex and ask them if they'd be interested in giving a donation. We show kids having such a good time with K'nex and learning so much along the way...but if the current trends aren't challenged, fewer and fewer teachers will find room for manipulative materials what with the emphasis on multiple choice tests! I wanted to direct them to our Youtube site, and since I was sending a snail mail letter, I thought the best thing would be to give them a name they could type into Google rather than the string of numbers and letters that identifies the site. So I tried typing the name we have given to this version: AUGUST TO JUNE bringing life to school.

Well, the first entry that comes up is our teaser. But underneath that is a listing for Why Call Yourself a Witch? A Youtube clip whose site somehow has a connection to our film (though I can't see what it is) and also to spiders on drugs. Hmmm Didn't seem like the best introduction for a sponsor to see. I found a way around it by suggesting to the K'nex person that she put the title into Youtube's search, which has nary a mention of witches or hallucinating spiders. Talley Ho! On to my next challenge!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


After months of spending the majority of my work time searching for funders (all right guys: "come out come out wherever you are!") and learning more about what other educators and film makers are contributing in this area, today I began participating more actively in the editing of our video. Ah! Yay!! Tom has pretty much completed the third step in this very complex project. First we narrowed 300 hours down to 100, next we made a stab at picking out some highlights for a 45 minute sampler and a 7 minute sampler, both of which we have used to get feedback. Now he has narrowed 100 down to about 12. He has created assemblies that define a range of activities and themes, and we started reviewing them alphabetically!

Today I saw sections on Afternoon meeting, Animals, Arrivals, Art, Assessment, Bird calls, Bonking, and Campus cleanup. It shakes up my thinking to see the footage as elements to play with, rather than chronologically, as we did with our first pass through. My mind is racing to the next stage, of course, where we create a basic structure for the film, but Tom is helping me learn patience and the importance of careful craft. The sections will not stay in their current forms but they are edited enough to be able to feel their essence, and I find myself picking out easily the parts that matter most to me: shots that show the character of the student, or catch for me that mysterious quantity called "authentic learning."

I can see that I will have my work cut out for me coming up with just the right amount of commentary to explain the contexts and purposes without making the film too wordy. Tom had just a few shots in the Assessment category, as he also has sections for Math assessment, Reading assessment and Writing assessment as well as Self assessment. He used this section for shots of the small group of students who took the STAR test that is mandated by NCLB and the State. Most of the parents in my class opt their students out of this test. I am not in favor of high stakes standardized tests, and find little value in standardized tests even when they aren't attached to rewards and punishment. How will I talk about that? How much importance should we give it? Guess I better make some written rough drafts of my own.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Tom was recently editing a scene where two girls confront a third about saying something mean. There are many levels present in the scene, including the social pecking order that tempted L to say the mean thing: wanting to ingratiate herself, but having the opposite result.

What I am pondering right now is the moment when L, crying and overcome by the way things have spiraled out of control, emotionally admits she made a mistake. All present then acknowledge that at one time or another they have also. I say: “I’ve made more mistakes that you can possibly imagine!” The girls all nod, with R adding something to the effect that at my age I have had many more years to make mistakes. So true!!!

Well, last week I really made a dumb mistake that I am still recovering from. I was left in charge of the school barnyard while everyone was away on a camping trip. Thumper, the new bunny is very hard to catch, and in the process of getting her to go into her hutch, I tried to corner her in the chicken cage. By the time I finally got her put away, I had forgotten that the chickens’ gate was still open. I didn’t remember until I returned to a scene of carnage the following morning. All 4 of our sweet pet chickens had been killed. It was an awful moment.

I dreaded the children returning. No matter how much I told myself that these things happen, that I needed to forgive myself, I was not getting there. But predictably when I came to be with them on the day they found out, while they mourned the loss tearfully, they forgave me easily. When a child, who has a much bigger loss in her own life, put her arms around me and just held me silently and kindly, I felt the guilt wash off.

I would not wish this on anyone, and yet now there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that I make mistakes, and that I can be forgiven, as can each of them. Whew.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I have been corresponding with Howard Katzoff, who has a website called He reprinted there an article that was published in Newsday in April of 2008, about the exciting middle school that he taught in in the 1970's, Why did Shoreham Wading River and many successful schools like it die while others, such as the one I taught in, remained?
Standford emeritus professor Larry Cuban views what happened as “yet another skirmish in the ideological wars that have split educators and the public since the first tax-supported schools opened their doors in the early 1800s.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. School Boards reflecting political agendas probably closed down many of the progressive experiments. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they did it in concert with the huge educational publishing business, which would not have been making nearly as much money if schools had stopped buying all those tedious textbooks. Perhaps the testing mania started as a new income source? One that would “prove” that we needed to go back to textbooks?? I hate to be so cynical, yet there can be no doubt that corporations have benefited from this particular skirmish!
In my internet perambulations I have located around 50 public schools whose websites describe programs that sound like our Open Classroom. I have developed a bit of communication with about a dozen of these public schools going against the current. A great majority started in the 70’s, although there is a mini resurgence, usually calling themselves ‘constructivist’.
In our case I think there are some clear reasons why we still exist. First of all, we are located in a very liberal area, and our school board continues to support us. From the beginning there was a decision to create school programs that reflected what parents wanted. So there was not just an open classroom, there was also a back to basics program. Conventional self- contained classrooms were also offered. As time went by, the back to basics model melded with the self contained classrooms, and called itself Academics and Enrichment. Then along came a group of parents who wanted Montessori. They drummed up support, paid for the first year of training a teacher, and convinced the board they had many parents who wanted that.
Eventually A&E dwindled, but the open program continued to draw nearly half of the new enrollees, with the rest going to the Montessori program. A few years after A& E disappeared, at a moment when total school enrollment was down and there were empty classrooms, along came a group of parents who wanted a Waldorf inspired approach. They also raised money, and lobbied hard…and now this tiny community with a total school population of a bit more than 300, has 3 elementary school programs, all of which are unconventional, plus a middle school that all three programs feed into.
Second of all, our staff had longevity, and continued to put in the energy needed to support this approach. The founding teachers stayed a very long time, did not all retire at once, and even after retirement have stayed involved in the school, mentoring and volunteering–even attending school board meetings.
Third of all, the community model, including an emphasis on parent participation, worked in our favor. I notice that is a part of several of the schools that have survived. The teachers did not get isolated once the founding parents moved on. The use of consensus for decision making may not always be pretty, but it keeps people invested.
It may also help that we are an elementary school. I notice it is harder to build community in middle school. There are too few years, the parents tend not to be as involved. The schools I’ve found that go further than 6th grade usually go all the way through high school, and that may be why the middle school has survived: the threat that somehow you have to toughen kids up with lots of tests in middle school to prepare them for high school is not there.
Interestingly, in the private school sector some version of progressive education has always had wide acceptance. Several versions are experiencing rapid growth right now, probably pushed by how regimented public schools have become. Alfie Kohn contends that there never was much of a progressive movement in the public schools. It was so small, given such a limited time to prove itself, that it never got off the ground. but I would add that many of the good ideas did drift into more conventional classrooms, and are only now being stamped out by the testing machine.
How do we turn the tide? Maybe the severity of what has happened via NCLB will do it for us. We’ll have to get more people speaking up if that is to be so!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Got another rejection letter in my effort to find funding yesterday. That makes three recently. Mostly they remind us that times are tough and there are lots of people hoping for money from shrinking pots. ITVS (the Independent Television Service, which "funds presents and promotes independently produced programs for public television") was a bit different, in that they offer a 15 minute feedback session along with their rejection. I had talked to several film makers before we submitted our proposal, and knew it was very likely we would be rejected the first time we applied. I applied specifically to hear what the feedback would be. Today was the day. So now we have to figure out what to do with what we heard.

At 10:00 we called Joy Marie Scott, an ITVS programmer, who was very upfront about why the project had been rejected. They didn't see enough of a narrative in our 7 minute sampler, and imagine the film is similar to To Be and To Have, which turns out to be a negative in their minds, for TV. We do see a relation between what we are attempting and To Be and To Have--but for us it has been a positive. Where is the film in the American context that captures a classroom the way that film did for French audiences?

Ms. Scott feels that To Be and To Have is a theatrical film, not a film for TV. Sounds like an important difference for us to ponder.

Developing a narrative is a no brainer. That has been our goal from the beginning. There are several students we follow where we can define a trajectory from point a to point b (awkward to confident, non reader to emergent reader, outsider to part of the group...) There is an academic narrative around the development of poetic voice through self discovery. There is a teacher reflecting on what she has learned, what she strives for, and how the human equation enters in. There is the unusualness of the relation parents have to the workings of the class. I'm less sure of how well we show that.

So the adrenalin is still flowing through my veins. Did we ask the right questions, listen well enough? What weight do we give to her words? I can only go so far outside my deep connection to the materials, and the investment of time and energy we have devoted. I know from many examples that time and energy don't necessarily equate to creative success.

Tom has now put together almost all the small sections he wanted to create before we attempted to organize the whole. Soon we start the next stage, filled with curiosity, and some anxiety to see what whole will come from these parts.

Friday, September 18, 2009


In a few minutes I'll leave the windowless workspace where Tom and I edit, and head down the road to the school I taught in for decades, to volunteer. Fridays are still Campus Care time, an outgrowth of cleaning out the animal hutches at the end of the week. It grew so nicely, and had so many benefits that it outlived my time at the school. Here is a time when the students make a very real contribution to their environment by doing everything that comes to mind to care for it. It may be picking up trash, or cleaning the chicken coop, alphabetizing the new additions to the library, or whacking back the blackberry vines that have covered a path. Much of what we do might be considered "Chores." I love that! Chores are the basis of being part of community. When Tom was filming he captured kids spontaneously singing as they worked. That gave me goose bumps.

Right now I am helping kids with the upkeep of our compost piles and worm bin. We call ourselves the Friends of Worms, and rightly so, as we have quite a breeding community. There is a good bit of science that happens along the way. Last week we took the temperature of the different piles, and got out magnifying glasses to look more closely at our worms. But that is the byproduct of doing something worth doing in its own right: composting leftover lunches and weeds from the garden, turning them into soil for future gardens. Life is good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Congressman Joe Baca has taken a principled stand on an issue dear to my heart, as you will have gathered if you have been following this blog. High stakes standardized testing threatens to at the least eviscerate the kind of teaching and learning our film demonstrates, and it certainly is in the process of eliminating it from inner city schools. Baca has introduced a bill called HR3384. It calls for a moratorium on high stakes testing. "Since it’s enactment in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act has been a complete and utter failure," said Rep. Baca. "Instead of ensuring all of America's children have access to a quality education, the legislation has tied the hands of teachers and school administrators, forced students to learn inane testing strategies instead of real-life skills, and made billions in profits for standardized testing companies. I am proud to introduce this long overdue legislation, which can finally put America's education policy back in the hands of local officials, teachers and parents, and remove the influence of big corporations and Washington bureaucrats."

The best way to move this legislation to the forefront of the many bills pending before the House Labor and Education Committee is through phone calls and faxes to committee members from their constituents.

Here are the phone and fax numbers of committee members. If you do not see one from your area, write to George Miller as committee chairperson.

Democrats Phone # Fax #
George Miller, Chairman (CA-07) 202-225-2095 202-225-5609
Dale E. Kildee (MI-05) 202-225-3611 202-225-6393
Donald M. Payne (NJ-10) 202-225-3436 202-225-4160
Robert E. Andrews (NJ-01) 202-225-6501
Robert C. Scott (VA-03) 202-225-8351 202-225-8354
Lynn C. Woolsey (CA-06) 202-225-5161 202-225-5163
Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) 202-225-2531 202-225-5688
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04) 202-225-5516 202-225-5758
John F. Tierney (MA-06) 202-225-8020 202-225-5915
Dennis J. Kucinich (OH-10) 202-225-5871 202-225-5745
David Wu (OR-01) 202-225-0855 202-225-9497
Rush D. Holt (NJ-12) 202-225-5801 202-225-6025
Susan A. Davis (CA-53) 202-225-2040 202-225-2948
Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07) 202-225-2435 202-225-1541
Timothy H. Bishop (NY-01) 202-225-3826 202-225-3143
Joe Sestak (PA-07) 202-225-2011 202-226-0280
Dave Loebsack (IA-02) 202-225-6576 202-226-0757
Mazie Hirono (HI-02) 202-225-4906 202-225-4987
Jason Altmire (PA-04) 202-225-2565 202-226-2274
Phil Hare (IL-17) 202-225-5905 202-225-5396
Yvette Clarke (NY-11) 202-225-6231 202-226-0112
Joe Courtney (CT-02) 202-225-2076 202-225-4977
Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) 202-225-5456 202-225-5822
Marcia Fudge (OH-11) 202-225-7032 202-225-1339
Jared Polis (CO-2) 202-225-2161 202-226-7840
Paul Tonko (NY-21) 202-225-5076 202-225-5077
Pedro Pierluisi (PR) 202-225-6215 202-225-2615
Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (NMI) 202-225-2646 202-226-4249
Dina Titus (NV-3) 202-225-3252 202-225-2185
Judy Chu (CA-32) 202-225-5464 202-225-5467

Republicans Phone Fax
John Kline, Ranking Member (MN-02) 202-225-2271 202-225-2595
Thomas E. Petri (WI-06) 202-225-2476 202-225-2356
Howard "Buck" McKeon (CA-25) 202-225-1956 202-226-0863
Peter Hoekstra (MI-02) 202-225-4401 202-226-0779
Michael N. Castle (DE-At Large) 202-225-4165 202-225-2291
Mark E. Souder (IN-03) 202-225-4436
Vernon J. Ehlers (MI-03) 202-225-3831 202-225-5144
Judy Biggert (IL-13) 202-225-3515 202-225-9420
Todd Russell Platts (PA-19) 202-225-5836 202-226-1000
Joe Wilson (SC-02) 202-225-2452 202-225-2455
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) 202-225-2006 202-225-3392
Tom Price (GA-06) 202-225-4501 202-225-4656
Rob Bishop (UT-01) 202-225-0453 202-225-5857
Brett Guthrie (KY-2) 202-225-3501 202-226-2019
Bill Cassidy (LA-6) 202-225-3901 202-225-7313
Tom McClintock (CA-4) 202-225-2511 202-225-2511
Duncan D. Hunter (CA-52) 202-225-5672 202-225-0235
Phil Roe (TN-1) 202-225-6356 202-225-5714
Glenn "GT" Thompson (PA-05) 202-225-5121 202-225-5796

Monday, September 7, 2009


It’s already more than a week since I drove down to Fresno with 3 dynamic women to join the Freedom in Education meeting the father and son team of Rog and Joe Lucido had put together. Rog is a retired high school physics teacher. Joe is a middle school science lead teacher. A few years ago they founded an organization called Educators and Parents Against Testing Abuse. That group started the Cesar Chavez Education Conference at Fresno State University that I have been to twice. This time they were bringing together a small but dedicated group drawn from the larger conference and contacts that has led to. The 22 people in the room included retired and active college professors, high school, middle school, elementary and special ed teachers, and even a retired principal, Lynn Stoddard, who had come all the way from Utah to join us. While we represented a range of approaches and philosophies, what united us was our opposition to high stakes testing, and a desire to find ways to enlarge the effectiveness of our individual efforts.

Going round the table, hearing what each person had done (and why they were ready to spend a beautiful summer Saturday inside a conference room) was inspiring. Several people had risked their livelihood to speak up against practices they felt were harmful to children. Several belonged to groups I had never heard of that were working for change. Seeing each other face to face was a real plus.

We talked about what direct action meant to each of us, about how to listen to and involve parents and community members. From Rosemary Lee I learned that there is a hemispheric education organization doing work in these areas, the Tri-national Coalition for the Defense of Public Education, and that both Mexican and Canadian educators have gotten the ear of their policy makers with ideas that we could learn from!

I think I was most touched by a middle school teacher from the Tahoe area who was just getting her feet wet in being involved outside of her school community. The action she was thinking about was to use the TGIF get together her staff has away from school, to bring up some of her concerns in a low key way. She personified making gradual change that has long lasting consequences. I was probably most energized by Stephen Krashen, whose letter writing campaign is starting to bear fruit, with op eds and letters to the editor not only getting published (mine never have) but responded to online. What I can’t tell is if we can reach beyond the circle of the already convinced. Will AUGUST TO JUNE be a way to do that? I hope many of the ways presented in Fresno will be.

For more about getting active to eliminate high stakes testing, go to

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


After several sometimes enjoyable, sometimes frustrating days of designing business cards for Tom and I to hand people after answering the question "What are you up to?", I just finished slicing them apart. The day is slowly approaching when I will really understand Photoshop, and remember the commands!

Both of our cards have a plush bunny as the central motif. In Tom's case, it is sitting on a shelf next to a container of writing implements and a pair of scissors: tools of the teacher's trade. In my case, the bunny is held by a pair of small hands. This bunny had an important role in the classroom, and will show up frequently in the film. He was our version of the talking stick, passed from person to person to indicate that person and only that person had the right to speak. But a soulful bunny, his big ears seeming to take in every word, was so much more appealing than a stick. In a classroom where students loved to name things--even naming the beanbags we tossed while taking roll (Mooroo, and Dumpy The Dumptruck), the bunny never was given a proper name, being referred to only as the Class Council Bunny.

Most Friday mornings started with Class Council. I borrowed the concept about 10 years before from my friend Jean Luc Bedat, a teacher at Ecole Aujourd'hui, a bilingual elementary school in Paris. Their many ways to empower children impressed me. Each week a different student picked up the class council book, checked for what anyone in the class may have written inside it as a topic needing discussion by the whole class, and led a 30-40 minute meeting. I sat next to the leader, and when needed would give them some support, but as the year went on, that was always less and less necessary,and I could participate as just another voice in the discussion. Topics ranged from the mundane ("people are not putting away their supplies...") to the complex (many issues around the concept of fairness) to the deeply moving ("if someone says 'so' after I say something, it feels like they don't care about me..."). There was the bunny, listening, nodding, looking out at the group, as the child who was speaking animated him by unconsciously squeezing his soft body.

In between meetings, the bunny sat on a shelf where he seemed to survey the action. What better symbol for this film that observes with sympathy the life of a class?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I had good initial conversations with 3 people from the world of education this week---well, two were email correspondences, and one was a real voice on the other end of the phone. Each is working on a different piece of this same puzzle---how to explain to the general public what we can do in the world of education so the next generation can have happy, productive lives. Vicki Abeles and I talked about the progress of her film, RACE TO NOWHERE. Her main focus is the unintended negative consequences of a system and culture based on competition. Her film is designed around interviews with students, teachers and parents. Our conversation was around what ways we can support each other's efforts, knowing that it will take a great deal of effort to overcome the current trends. We also sympathized about the difficulty of finding funding when there are so many societal needs going unmet. She may have use for a bit of our footage for some positive visual images.

Jodie Newdelman, a parent in our district's Montessori program, heard a radio interview with Richard Rothstein, and suggested he was right "up our alley", so I wrote to him. He teaches at Columbia, and has a book called Grading Education that sounds well worth reading, and I have added it to my list!! The book has an appendix of transcribed interviews with a dozen or so creative teachers in inner city schools, who have been forced by NCLB to abandon successful approaches.

Last, but not least, I chatted with Jerry MIntz. Jerry is the man behind AERO--the Alternative Education Resource Organization. They publish a newsletter called Education Revolution, have an online store full of resources for people looking for alternatives to status-quo education, and host a very successful conference every June in upstate New York. Jerry helped film maker Dorothy Fadiman find progressive public schools for her 1990 film WHY DO THESE CHILDREN LOVE SCHOOL?. The film is an overview of practices that make for a positive school environment, in contrast to AUGUST TO JUNE's intimate following of one class. In some ways our film is a logical extension of hers, which aired on PBS. As we talked, I realized that at this point I have at least made a dent in identifying many of the players in the world of education who are speaking and writing from perspectives similar to my own. There is still a lot for me to read!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Here are three quotations to think about:
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.” Albert Einstein
“Measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of education.” Linda McNeil, Rice University,
“...the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.” Nel Noddings, Stanford University

When we talk about assessing education, do we really know what are the important areas to measure? I'd like to see an assessment model that measures how much time each day the child is smiling. How much time does he or she spend looking alert and involved, eyes twinkling? What percentage of his or her interaction with teachers involves critical thinking skills and means of expressing oneself? When I review a day in my classroom those things are as much on my mind as what concepts I have attempted to teach, or what standards I am focusing on. Childhood is a time of lively engagement. If it doesn't look like that in the classroom, something is wrong.

Children are genetically programmed to LEARN. They really are sponges. No matter what situation you put them into they will learn. The question is not "will they learn?" but "what will they learn?" They will take in along with the math or reading everything associated with the environment they learn it in. Will they approach new situations with confidence in the future? Will they smile when they see a book or math equation? Will they be devastated by "setbacks" or see them as the natural way of things? Where will the word "school" move the dial on the emotion meter? And how will that manifest in their lifelong attraction to learning?

Alfie Kohn cites a national study of first, third, and fifth grade classrooms in more than 1,000 schools: “Children spent most of their time (91.2%) working in whole-group or individual-seatwork settings” and “the average fifth grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning; this ratio was 10:1 in first and third grades” (Robert C. Pianta et al., “Opportunities to Learn in America’s Elementary Classrooms,” Science, vol. 315, March 30, 2007, p. 1795) This is what concerns me, not how those classrooms scored on multiple choice tests or what standards those teachers thought they were teaching.

I frequently remind children who are frustrated because it is taking them longer to become fluent readers than some of their peers, that while some babies may have started to walk long before others, in the long run we can't tell which were the early walkers or the ones who got their teeth first from the ones who got them later. Comparison is the bugaboo of the classroom, even when you don't give marks, use standardized tests or expect everyone to be on the same page on the same day. It is a typical human reaction to look at your peer group and measure yourself by what you see reflected there. There are times when I accept competition as a positive motivator. Still, the concept of readiness must be remembered. Being "ready" means you have the tools to accomplish the next goal. While there may well be information and concepts we as a society want to see included in every child's education, I resent the assigning of grade levels to so called "educational standards". I see them as a continuum. Everyone will get to the important concepts and skills over time, just not in unison.

Take a look at this website:

Monday, August 10, 2009


The front page of the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle today had a big article about anorexia. It reminded me of a film I have been reading about, RACE TO NOWHERE-- and a conversation I had recently with a young parent describing the waiting lists for preschools, and the homework her child was getting in kindergarten. Why are we creating such stress in the lives of our kids and their parents? I don't have the answer, but I see causative agents all around me: from ads that glorify a certain body type, to test scores for schools published in newspapers. Our society seems to have confused happiness with a single model of success.

And while real problems of inequity in our public schools are not addressed, we impose this same level of stress on teachers and students in impoverished inner city schools. doubling the issues they face.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


You may have noticed that the catch phrase No Child Left Behind has fallen into disrepute. When Congress remakes the legislation I am sure that will not be the title. The packaging will definitely change, but will the contents be any less onerous? It seems like the new catch phrase is National Standards...innocuous, but deadly (or deadening, as the case may be). I read two good pieces today as part of the research arm of this endeavor. Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator from Utah whom I greatly admire wrote an open letter called Educating for Individuality, that reflects directly on the idea of national standards. You can read it at It makes me think how we are operating in a period where fear is being used to dictate much of the actions of our policy makers. Uniformity feels safe. Individuality is somehow threatening. We need to reverse not only the current policies, but the current psychology.

The other piece that impressed me came from The Forum for Education and Democracy's newsletter: Why Send My Son to Public School? by Forum National Director Sam Chaltain It includes some substantive other directions that do have national significance, but would bring back into focus a broader understanding of how to measure a good education.

Every day I read pieces by thoughtful people who are adding their voices to say "enough lockstep!" One of my jobs is to make sure the people I reach know that they are not alone.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Okay, I have spent a week carefully refining the words for the website description of August To June. Each time I write about the project I get both a new appreciation for the skills involved in saying something with clarity, and a new "aha!" about what we are doing. What was important to me this time was to both emphasize the specificity of this being about one class, and also to concisely give reasons why that might matter to the larger society. First I said it was "to raise" a discussion about our educational goals and values . But the discussion has already been raised by
people as diverse as William D. Green (of the Business Roundtable), Arne Duncan, and Alfie Kohn (The Schools Our Children Deserve) to name just a few who give a feel for the spectrum. So we don't need to raise it, we need to expand the number of people thinking and talking about what they really want for their children, and how we go about getting it. And it needs to be ordinary folks, not just policy makers. And they need examples to draw from. So we can be an example. Clearly everyone won't agree with everything about the model we show, but will some basic agreement about a wider definition of what it means to educate percolate up? Hope so.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


We started simply with the idea that we would show a year in the life of a class --my class, which is part of an open classroom program... but more specifically the life of the children in the class. Being that it was a documentary project, we figured the story would emerge. What we perhaps didn't realize was how many stories would arise, and how difficult it would be to follow any one of them in an environment where children move freely, and many activities are happening at the same time. So part of the process we have been engaging in since the filming period ended has been looking for what stories we can tell well. Tom always knew that we wouldn't be able to give equal weight to each child (harder for me, because I see each one as equally important!). While filming he attempted to identify a few students to follow more carefully. Interestingly, as the year went along, the ones he originally picked didn't always turn out to be the ones who he found himself following. At this point we have identified 7 students whose development we think we caught enough of. We'll see as we edit how many can be intertwined with the rest of the action of the film.

So what became clear by the time we finished the initial reviewing of the footage was that we have plenty of stories, but keeping track of them, and building to a climax that ties things together will be our challenge. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Every time I run into someone whom I haven't seen for a while, I'm asked "How's the film project coming?" I usually think to myself "the long answer or the short one?" and go for the short one: "Slowly but surely!"

And sure enough, I have slowly arrived at the point where I can start blogging a better answer. At almost 4 years since we began, I think we are getting a handle on what we are doing!!

I am at this moment sitting in Tom's entirely windowless editing studio. I sit next to him with my laptop, while he edits with at least four monitors showing images and data. I see my former students frozen eternally as 8-10 year olds, and relive over and over again my last year of teaching. So when I meet them on the street, and their voices have dropped, I am startled to find they are now 12 to 14!