What Is School For?: More Contemporary Issues (with questions from Guest Blogger Chaz Mortimer)

As you may have noticed in my last posting, one of the things I keep thinking about is the question that my winter term students asked in discussion: what is school for?  This seemingly simple question asks us to dig much deeper into the values and politics that are used to frame education in our country and in our communities.  Is school for creating global workers?  Is school for keeping students submissive and tracking them into pre-decided career paths?  Is school a sorting mechanism?  Is school for instilling values?  Is school for creating educated voters?  Is school for learning how to pass tests?  Is school for replicating the status quo?  Are schools for silencing voices?  Is school a place for creativity and exploration?  Is school a place for job training and narrowing focus on skills?

On a related note, I received a Facebook posting on the PDXEAN page from Chaz Mortimer, also featured in an earlier post on the idea of using “quiet time” techniques with students to promote learning and self-awareness (his words appear in teal):

Wanted to bounce this ‘dilemma’ off of you… as I work in the public schools using music technology, I am trying to find a balance between merely “exposing” students to new experiences vs. training students with practical industry standard career skills. I tend to error on the side of “exposing” kids to new experiences no matter what resources are available, however when I talk to professionals in the field of audio engineering (etc) they feel like that approach actually hinders the students that want to go on and study in college or go straight into the profession. They feel that if the students are not learning on the real industry standard equipment, they learn bad habits and are ill-prepared for, and have misconceptions about, serious college study and the professional world… Most of these professionals have not worked a lot in the schools, but I DO understand where they are coming from for sure. At the middle school level, it seems to me, it should be all about exposure… Many High Schools, however, are beginning to tout “Audio Production” programs or call themselves “Media Arts Specialty Schools” but most budgets leave the students training on tools that make my professional colleagues grimace. Beyond budget and equipment, though, I guess my main question across disciplines is, ‘at what point do we as HS teachers push kids to look seriously at career and professional expectations, and at what point do we hold back and let the students interact with the material in a more adolescent(?) exploratory manner?’

These are great questions, and I hope that some of you will pipe in with your opinions…come on, add your voice to the conversation!  This is the kind of question that should be discussed and that can make us all better teachers.

In terms of the question about how to get the equipment that teachers need to create innovative learning opportunities for their students, the larger school budget (and our tax system) is a bigger issue.  If you go to the Portland Public Schools website, you’ll see that the superintendent will be coming out with her 2012-2013 budget proposal in early April. Check back here for a discussion of the budget when her proposal comes out.

And in the meantime, do check out Donors Choose, a site where local teachers fundraise for school equipment, books, and the like — all not covered by the basic school budget.  The work that Chaz does in classrooms is greatly enhanced by some work he’s been doing with iPads, for example.  But not all students have access to this kind of technology…and as he points out in his post, there is a great need!

How to Make an Immediate Local Difference?: Donate $ for a Circle Rug, Cubbies, Fraction Manipulatives, and Books About Penguins

Challenge #7: Make a Specific Donation to a Local Classroom

In my last post, I mentioned the website Donorschoose.org.  This is a site where teachers can make small proposals to fundraise for their own classrooms and students.  Then, the public raises the money to support their work.  For all of you who feel like your actions don’t matter, this is a way to make an immediate difference.  Here are a few projects you might want to donate to:

Forgo your weekly coffee or scrape together your  change…or make a big donation because you have extra this month.  You will be helping individual teachers in their local classrooms now.  Share the love!

How to Donate Effectively: Valentine’s Challenge Day #6

Another short and sweet post.  Our Valentine’s Day Challenge for Day #6 is all about donations: the monetary kind & the stuff kind.  The lesson of the day is to give if you have extra; this includes time, talent, things, and (yes, if you have it), money.

But everyone wants to know where their money is going and to donate so that those who need it (whatever “it” may be) actually get it.  Here’s a recent article, following questionable charitable giving practices after the Haiti crisis, that outlines some very good things you should consider before making a monetary donation.  A few organizations on my radar for donations are the Children’s Relief Nursery  and teacher’s projects through DonorsChoose (you can search by location and donate to a teacher right in your neighborhood).


If you are like me and don’t happen to have a lot of extra cash but do happen to have piles of baby clothes and baby things that are ready

for a new home, you can donate these items, too.  My latest thing is to donate directly to mothers and children rather than donating through an organization like Goodwill.  So, how to get the items right to the people?  You can use the fabulous Donors Resource website, through which you can search by zip code for organizations in need of donated items.  It’s a beautiful thing and let me know exactly where I can drop off the baby thing

Question of the Day:
 When you have extra (things, time, money), where do you donate it?  Give us all a few more organizations to put on our lists!s so that they will go to moms and babes directly.

What Fits in Your Pocket & Makes You Smarter? Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection & Inspiration for a More Active 2012

Dear All:

I’ve been caught up in the hustle and bustle of prepping classes for winter term and making gifts for Christmas.  While I’ve been reading about education issues in between feeding my 8-month-old and playing blocks with my 2-year-old, I haven’t been posting, and it’s time to share this information with you:

  1. Oregon did not receive a federal Race to the Top grant but did come closer than with its first application.  This seems to be a sign that Oregon is doing more research and asking the community for more feedback, but we’re clearly still lacking in some areas that are required to receive this grant money.
  2. There are changes afoot in Oregon’s open enrollment law for schools.
  3. More and more children are slipping below the poverty line in Oregon, and many are going hungry.  Think about donating some time to an organization that fights hunger.
  4. Great News! Gustavo Alvarez gets a reprieve and is not deported — thank you to all of you who signed the petition, called in, and supported the ideas behind the DREAM Act.
  5. Superintendent Carol Smith released her recommendations for boundary changes for PPS.  What are your reactions?  How do you think the Alameda Neighborhood Association will respond?  Attend a hearing on January 9 to get more details and to provide feedback.  What do you think about Smith’s process to arrive at these recommendations?  Are you satisfied with the level of community involvement?

What’s really important to think about as we end this year and begin another?  How we can live and participate in our communities in ways that support kids and families.  Here are some ideas to get you thinking and acting in simple but important ways:

  • Oregon is seeking feedback on the state’s NCLB waiver application.  You can send in your feedback now and be part of the process of opting out of NCLB’s oppressive regulations.  If you are fed up with NCLB or just want to see more innovative ways of teaching and assessing, your feedback is needed!
  • If you’re interested in being part of conversations about the achievement gap and how to support policies and actions that help narrow the gap, join with Stand for Children, the Black Parent Initiative, REAP, and the Oregon Chamber of Commerce to get involved.  Send Emily Nazarov an email at enazarov@stand.or.
  • Join the Chalkboard Project’s Citizen Corp, join the upcoming virtual brown bag on the importance of educator assessment, or just subscribe to their informative blog on local education issues to stay informed.
  • Register for the MLK day of service here.
  • Find a more long-term or several short-term community-based projects to dedicate some time to in 2012 by visiting Hands on Portland.
  • Make an end-of-the-year donation to an organization like Donors Choose, which allows educators to fundraise for class projects and supplies.
  • Spend quality time with the children in your life!

I’ll be posting more after the Christmas holiday as we head toward the New Year and the opportunity to envision a 2012 of community involvement!

Happy Winter,


What Goes Well with Holiday Cookies? Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection

It’s that time of the week again — time to hunker down with some coffee, some peanut butter cookies (my current baked good of choice), and some updates on what’s going on in education this week.

The title for these Thursday posts (“Tiny Reading Collection”) is inspired by my daughter (pictured here) who is now two and in love with language.  One of her favorite words is “tiny,” and anything remotely small is labelled in this way.  Tiny crackers, tiny mermaid, tiny reindeer.  Her delight in learning and collecting new words motivates me every day as a teacher and writer.

On that note, instead of focusing on the grim and the grimmer, which is all too easy to do, I’m serving up some articles that will tap into your capacity to hope, to celebrate, and to give.  In the last few weeks, I’ve been in touch with a handful of former students who are choosing to continue on in their community-based learning placements (a kindergarten classroom, a community preschool, etc.) or who have sought out other kinds of community support activities after the Capstone class was over.  This always gives me great hope and inspiration. I hope that the following articles will inspire you, too.  Tis the season — enjoy!

  • Read about a classroom at Centennial High School where teachers connect pop culture to literary analysis.
  • Find out more about how Clackamas High School provides food and clothing for families who need support this winter.
  • Tune in to Helen Ladd’s paper on the connection between education and poverty, which has created a buzz and will hopefully help administrators and educators focus in on the fact that (a) those children who need support the most aren’t getting it and (b) schools alone cannot fix the problem of poverty that impacts so many young people.  While this paper outlines child poverty, it also provides a starting point for better, deeper work to support children and families.
  • Check out Elena Aguilar’s blog post about how to stay hopeful as an educator.

Finally, and I want to highlight this, I heard an inspiring story on NPR about micro-philanthropy efforts and was turned on to a website that educators use to fundraise for their classrooms: DonorsChoose.org.  This site allows you to search by city or by issue (I searched for projects in Portland) and includes things like teachers fundraising to put more dictionaries in their classrooms, educators seeking to buy art supplies for innovative projects, etc.  In a season where many are considering donations (as gifts or as part of their New Year’s Resolutions), please do check out this site and think about supporting a teacher and his/her classroom in your very own community.

As always, I’d love to hear from all of you who are reading!  Do you donate time or money to organizations or individuals of your choice throughout the year or at the year’s end?  What kind of donations do you feel most apt to make?  What do you hope to get back when you give your time or money?  And what do you offer to the community?  Please share your experiences to inspire others to join in…