Christine Ortiz, who’s leading the design team for this cohort, dared me to facilitate a class on the history and philosophy of education, citing a personal desire to know more about the basic underpinnings of how we look at education in the US.
I fell for it. And after spending the last few weeks pinging my better-read friends and colleagues about the effort, I’ve accepted that I know far less about this vast topic than I should. Many wise people precede us in the pursuit of better, fuller experiences in schooling for children.
We should listen to them.
Speaking of wise people, since I met him about ten years ago, I’ve periodically asked Howard Fuller, the founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, for reading recommendations. Every time I ask, James Anderson’s The Education of Blacks in the South tops the list.
In that book, which the original 4.0 Launch cohort read together in the summer of 2011, I first read about the New Orleans-based Pioneer School of Freedom, started by African-Americans. In 1860. Two years before northern benevolent societies started working their way through the South and three years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
As a white man from the North (Atlanta is the North to New Orleans natives--just ask) working to make schools better in 2014, I need to know that story. That story makes me swallow hard about the profound nature of the work I and other educators do every day. I should pay closer attention to the soil beneath me, and the courage shown by those who flattened it out--courage to overcome fears and threats I’ll never face.
That story illuminates modern attempts to improve schools in New Orleans in many ways, on many levels. Reading and discussing is one of many ways to start understanding why many African-Americans who grew up in New Orleans justifiably feel condescended to, and often left out of, current efforts to fix the schools that serve their children.
We owe it to the kids we teach, the families we serve, and the educators who’ve gone before to understand the context in which we are working.
And if understanding the Pioneer School of Freedom legacy can help us do our work better in New Orleans, maybe Socrates’ take on friendship and wisdom can improve the rigor of debate on Common Core. Maybe Dewey and Rousseau can make us smarter about personalization and ed-tech.
When the emails finally poured in from friends and colleagues, the list of books was so long, and so awesome, that I just gave up on narrowing it down to the three or four. I split up the books based on combinations that I thought would yield interesting dinner conversation.
Here’s an excerpt from my introductory note to the group on what everyone has to do with the books between now and July:
Your job is to get us all as smart as we can about the books you read. In our first July session, you’ll be given 3 minutes to present the key takeaways and concepts from each of your books. You’ll also prepare a one-page cheat sheet on each book from which we’ll create a 30 page doc summarizing the collection. I’m psyched about having that in my back pocket over the next few years…
I can’t wait to hear what Monique Wilson says about Dan Willingham, Aristotle and Douglass Rushkoff. Or what Luk Hendrik tells us about Jawanza Kunjufu’s book, An African Centered Response to Ruby Payne’s Poverty Theory and Jonathan Zimmerman’s The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.
I’m as excited about this as anything we’ve done so far at 4.0, not because I know what will happen, but because I’ve got no idea. All I know is that I’ll be spending time exploring important questions with passionate, capable people committed to learning from one another.
As a wise friend (he’s my brother, too) said about Aristotle’s view on wisdom: “If you’re going to become wise you need to have good friends who are either wise or trying to learn how to be.”
I hope that’s what Launch feels like.