Tuesday, February 7, 2017

#SOL17: Geography, DeVos, Apple Tree Climbing, and the Bronx

I.

One summer we were traveling home via the Blue Ridge Parkway and found ourselves stopping every few miles in order for Devon to climb a tree. Gnarly apple trees lined this stretch of the Parkway and they were just perfect for an 8-year-old who was new to climbing trees.  Such freedom that must have been to leave below the earth and climb skyward and to do so without any assistance from parents. We traveled about 30 miles that day before finding a place to stay. Rob and I were each teachers at the time and his school year and my fall semester felt like years away.  Looking back, a year now after Rob's death, and I realize how time was such a luxury and one we surely indulged. But, mostly what I recall is the immense joy Dev felt as he climbed and how Rob and I looked on thinking this might be a memory that will stay with him as he grows up. Children need to excel without feeling the handprint of their parents. That day as Devon climbed tree after tree he knew that he did so on his own.
A road sign (2.6.17)

I was reminded of all of this--of the small wins we accumulate as we mature, as I made my way home from a client in upstate New York yesterday. It was the orchard of apple trees standing like road sentries that sparked the memory of Devon and his tree climbing phase. Nearby the orchard, I saw a road sign for the town, Middlehope, and I wondered about the ways that landscape and geography shape learning, shape self, shape opportunity, shape how we name and (un)name what matters to us. I wondered about the the nature of hope and of the hope we might compose as we live more and more in what feels like the chaotic middle of things. It has been less than three weeks since Donald Trump became president and the sense of sure footing I have known is becoming a memory.

The trip North yesterday had me admitting how rare it is for me to find myself in land the sprawls and falls away further than one might easily walk. I do not spend much time in landscapes that know both old growth forests and apple trees, river valleys and mountains. My work tends to find me in poor urban centers where the only time a billionaire shows up is for a photo op.

II.
The Grand Concourse (2.7.17)

This morning and again this afternoon I felt the rumble of the subway beneath me as I made my way to and from the South Bronx where I worked with teachers and administrators at a public school. As I walked the blocks from the train to the school, I wondered what the Grand Concourse might have looked like years ago before the press of city dwarfed it and before the street was left buckled and pot holed. Were there sturdy trees a young child could climb?

I thought about all of this as I waited to learn if the United States Senate would confirm or reject Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. I learned of Ms. DeVos's confirmation as I was headed into a work session with teachers, school administrators, and colleagues. We are learning how to best insure that these primary grade children learn to read, write and reason well. These are not small matters and without gimmicks, this work is underway. Active problem solving, relating, knowledge, and diligence are necessary to transform learner achievement outcomes here and I am pleased that this work is so doable.

Leah is in first grade.
But will it continue to be doable? Will we care about whether poor kids in public schools actually excel at reading and writing? What kind of partner will Ms. DeVos be? This is not an academic question. Given Ms. DeVos's inability to answer rather simple questions by senators, her absence of experience, and her commitment to vouchers--I must admit I am worried. What kind of advocate could she possibly be to children in one of America's poorest economic regions?  What kind of advocate will she be for the children growing up in more rural regions? What does this woman who has inherited such wealth and donated so widely to politicians actually know about leading education in our country?  Yes, we know she can write a check, but can she discern the merits and pitfalls of a national education plan?  Will we be subject to ignorance at the USDOE again? Is it simply the privilege that billions buy that allows her to think she is qualified? Are the children I see each day, here in the city or in the farmland north of here, on Betsy's mind this evening? Or does the geography of place and privilege shelter Ms. DeVos in ways that will allow her to shuffle these kids to the background as she enacts a plan for choice? None of the children I work with are wealthy. None know the ease of living that comes with having more dollars than one could count.

If so many lives (yes lives) weren't at stake, it might be amusing to consider how GOP leaders have conflated hiring a new face with actually being qualified. Experience always matters and Ms. DeVos's inexperience is a liability. The kids in the Bronx and up north needed better than what Vice President Pence and the 50 GOP senators have dished up today. The children needed a bipartisan vote that would have denied the position to Ms. DeVos and allowed for the possibility of a public school champion to be nominated who could lift the children, teachers, professors, and administrators skyward with kindness, experience and knowledge. It's such arrogance to think wealth alone is an answer to the complex questions of educating the next generation. Each day children count on us to help occasion the situations where they can craft small wins. Today we gave them a big loss.









10 comments:

  1. Mary Ann, I really got engrossed in your writing style today and then you hit the jackpot with thoughts on education in the future. I, too, reflected on the state of education after the 12 pm vote. My thoughts are part of poetry writing project at #10FoundWords on FaceBook. What will happen to education in America is anyone's guess at this time. I know the GOP think they won a victory today but that remains to be seen. It is hard to harness the forces of forward moves in education when you aren't fluent in the issues. You are right about rural America and education. I worry about the plight of public school education.

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    1. I read some of the found poems(if that is a correct term for what you are doing). loved the variety. The rattlesnake one was amazing. I'd encourage you to seek publication for that poem. Super.

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  2. You've stated facts so eloquently today, when all I could do was vent feelings on my own post. Thank you for your image of the joy of boy meets nature, reminding me that, at least for now, some beauty is immutable.

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    1. you should read my twitter feed. vent. vent. and vent some more. hard o hold my tongue.

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  3. "Will we care about whether poor kids in public schools actually excel at reading and writing?" Will these kids have a chance? To think. To contribute. Thank you for your beautiful writing. It is a salve for my aching heart.

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    1. Glad to know it helps. Such difficult times.

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  4. ah the south bronx! miss it.
    and yes-- they should probably know about what is going on

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  5. Your voice is one that never disappoints- you are such a deep thinker and your posts always leave a powerful impression. The idea of a child accomplishing something without his parents handprint really got me thinking. As far as DeVos, I think so many people and politicians don't respect the knowledge of teachers. They think anyone can do our job so why not confirm a billionaire with zero experience? It's not like being a teacher requires knowledge or experience since we are all lazy workers, right? I would love for a politician to take on teaching responsibilities for a semester. I bet that would wake some up to the real work we do each day as educators.

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    1. Ms. DeVos wouldn't make it longer than a day where I work. I think the plan is to shut down the federal department of education which also means shutting down the office of civil rights.

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