Visionary Schools Today

Visionary Schools Today
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, April 25, 2010

Judge Wendy Baxter has given a boost to the community opposition to the Bing-Bobb land grab, granting a preliminary injunction that halts Bobb’s scheme to save the public school system by destroying it. According to her order, Bobb has overstepped his authority and “will take no action on or before April 23, 2010 deciding on school closing or to take any steps to implement school closings.” She further ordered that Bobb consult with the school board and that he cannot implement the draconian quarterly testing plans, ban on social promotion or changing grade levels of schools.

This temporary halt provides the opportunity to recognize and spread the kind of visionary education that protects and nurtures our children and also develops our city. Education like this is no empty dream. It is already emerging in Detroit and other cities around the country where teachers, artists, activists, children and community members are taking responsibility for creating schools that are community resource centers.

Instead of closing schools based on location, Bobb should be looking at what is working in our system and nurture these strengths.

There are three key elements in this vision.

  • First, children learn best when they are engaged in restoring and rebuilding their communities. Math, science, history, art, reading and writing are all advanced when young minds and hearts are engaged in solving real problems and creating solutions for developing community life.
  • Second, the purpose of education is to develop fully conscious, socially responsible citizens, capable of self-governing. Democratic decision-making requires an emphasis on the uniquely human capacities for reflection, imagination and love.
  • Third, it really does take a village to raise our children. The conscious reconnecting of ties between generations is critical to the development of our children and to the health and vitality of our adults.

All across Detroit elements of this vision have come to life. In spite of the crushing burdens of poverty, insensitivity and outright hostility toward our schools, teachers, children, individuals, organizations and community groups have found ways to make a way out of no way, creating new forms of education.

Here are some examples, happening today in our schools. Many are in schools slated to be closed.

URBAN GARDENS. Across the city youngsters from K-12 are engaged in growing food, raising animals and learning about bringing life and productivity back into their community. Sometimes gardens begin with collecting oral histories in the neighborhood or testing for soil contamination. Sometimes they begin with collecting the stories of earlier immigrants and the plants they left behind. Sometimes by learning about photosynthesis, watching beans sprout in paper cups. However they begin, these gardens are creating new ways for children to understand the complexities of their world and their own capability to become producers of the essence of life. Nearly half the schools slated for closing cultivate these gardens.

CREATING COMMUNITY. Some schools are opening their doors to community groups, providing meeting spaces and creating ways for them to bring their expertise into the curriculum. Some community groups have adopted schools, providing support for studies, particularly in the creative arts, that have been eliminated.

BEYOND BASICS. Many schools have refused to allow our children to be reduced to test takers. Instead they have found ways to bring reading, art, and music into schools. Often connecting generations, engaging imaginations and encouraging critical thinking, these schools are expanding young people’s understanding of the fullness of the human experience.

Every one of these programs is happening somewhere in Detroit. Many were once sponsored by the very foundations that now support plans to destroy them. But people persist. The vision of educating our children by challenging them to create solutions for rebuilding Detroit is the only real hope of a future for all of us.



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