If you're an educator of elementary school students, I recommend you ignore the rest of this blog until you click here and read the contents of My Public Education. It's just...wow.
Okay, if you took the time to read the site, you'll understand what transfixed me. I have so many thoughts and questions. I hope Sabine won't mind if I post them here. First, I must compliment the writing style, which is elegant, clear, and self-effacing. Sabine does not stint in her criticisms of herself or others around her, but she does so in such matter-of-fact prose that the reader just has to sit back and say, "Okay, I guess that's just how it is."
But at the same time, being a spoiled, suburban middle-aged white guy, places like the Calliope Projects anger and disturb me. We don't like to admit or think about the fact that such places exist in America, but they do. These are American kids and adults struggling with an environment of poverty, crime, and violence. They're not "somebody else's problem." I've got customers, neighbors, and peers who are worried about trying to get kids to study STEM subjects when we have teachers and students elsewhere struggling for basic literacy. And so the question becomes, "How does an educator, however, dedicated, teach in such an environment?" Sabine has provided some tantalizing glimpses into her style, as well as others', and I expect she'll share more.
The video hosted by Ice-T (a personal favorite of mine for his acting, not his rapping) was particularly compelling because two of the people shown in it were killed by the time it aired. So again one must wonder what it's like to be a student or a teacher in the midst of this:
While I did have firm rules and consequences which I enforced, to be quite honest, my students weren't phased by them at all. They had lived through much harsher situations out in the world like witnessing drug deals and shootings, so by giving them my textbook punishment, I was really instead rewarding them with the one-on-one attention which they craved.
Where does education factor into all that? Self-discipline? Love? Or, in my self-interested world, space exploration? A lot of folks in white America like to comfort ourselves with movies like Lean on Me or Stand and Deliver--tales of heroic teachers turning minority kids in tough neighborhoods into mathematicians or Harvard-level orators--but the reality is more like what Sabine experienced: teachers of varying skill sets making do with substandard equipment, textbooks, and sometimes educations. Never mind space exploration...or STEM...what the hell do you do to fix school systems where a lot of the graduates end up dead from street violence in a few years? Would bringing space-related materials to these places help? They couldn't hurt. Calliope is more or less within the area Marshall Space Flight Center serves for education purposes...or Johnson Space Center. Is it being served? Are we so rich a society that we can afford luxuries like space exploration and "at risk" schools and students? For how long?
Again: how do we fix this? I want a society that can produce rocket scientists wherever, whenever. But also doctors, teachers, and the other skills. One thing I'd like to hear from Sabine are student outcomes--good and bad. She's no doubt been scrupulous about changing names to protect the innocent and the guilty, and I'd like to know the results of her teaching time in "CP3." At the rate some of our suburban schools are declining, the lessons she learned there might (alas) become very relevant to the rest of the country.