As an instructor in teacher education and supervisor of student-teachers, I spend a lot of time in schools, reflecting on school practices and pushing for reform. I’ve lost some of my youthful zeal about the potential for schools to change the world– I see a whole lot of reproducing going on vs. innovating, transforming and creating.
I could go on and on about the contradictory purposes of schools– to train mindless workers vs. enlightening, transforming, freeing minds– and, sadly, I observe most schools as serving only one purpose.
[Now please don't misinterpret my critique as teacher-bashing. I, by no means, place the blame solely on teachers. This is more of the we-are-all-responsible type of problem. Teachers are under-paid, not supported, discouraged from collaborating and given the task of solving just about every problem there is... ]
In getting my student-teachers to think outside the box, to innovate and to stray from the traditional teacher-centered model, we come upon a contradiction over and over again. It is difficult to teach differently than the way you’ve been taught. How are future teachers supposed to radically shift their thinking when most have been indoctrinated with this model for 16+ years?
Now, the privilege I have as an educated woman (in both senses of the word– I have formal training and I’d like to think I’m a free thinker) is that I get to critique the system and, at the same time, decide that my children won’t be indoctrinated in the same way. I can be outraged and incensed by the injustice of the traditional education system, but I get t0 send my kids someplace else, and I sure do.
[Ironically, this is the same thing that I judged my UC Berkeley professors for-- in their classes we learned about the reproduction of inequality in US institutions while their kids went to private schools. Now that I'm way past my early twenties, I g e t it.]
So where does this armchair revolutionary send her kids? The Playhouse in West Orange, NJ. My children and I have been in love with the Playhouse since we set foot through their doors about two years ago– the openness and warmth was palpable. Today, we trust that our children are safe, happy, and thriving in this environment. And the more time I spend in mainstream public schools, the more I realize how revolutionary this place is. Self-determination, equality, acceptance, community, collaboration, and all this while kids p l a y all day!
As a new mother I had dreams of homeschooling my kids– ensuring they not be exposed to the perils of public education. I fear that traditional schooling experiences will result in dulling their curiosity. I’m afraid my brown babies will get the wrong messages about who they are and their potential. I’m afraid my little son and daughter will get the wrong messages about what it means to be male or female.
I am outraged that much hasn’t changed in public education in the 15 + years since I started teaching. Sure there are more charter schools, more money has been allocated, spent, and invested in schools. But I see some of the same ol’ uninspired, teacher-centered lessons happening in the classrooms I visit. Way more than should be acceptable…
However, my cynicism has been challenged by my experiences at the Playhouse.
Playhouse has made me hopeful. It has also allowed me to dedicate some time to try to fix what is wrong with public education. I learned quickly I might not be suited to work at home full time– it is important to me to have the intellectual stimulation and income that my career provides. [Happy Mommy = Happy Kids.] In addition, the Playhouse has created opportunities for my children to have experiences that I would have a hard time replicating on my own– unique opportunities for social interaction, play, and exposure to new ideas.
I am grateful to the Playhouse for creating a safe place for my children. Grateful to have a community of families who share similar values. Grateful to teachers who are experts at what they do– designing and facilitating enriching (and loving) environments for our children. And, finally, grateful for the hope they’ve given me that we humans are certainly capable of creating nurturing, caring, stimulating environments where children can thrive.
Here is some more evidence why the Playhouse is revolutionary:
- My daughter can be her spunky, independent self without being accused of being “bad” or “too much”.
- My son can wear a (Muslim) kufi one day and a bright pink snowsuit the next without fear of ridicule.
- Children learn through play (although this is proven and just common sense- it is not easy to find pre-schools that are not testing and drilling kids these days).
- The children plant and watch a pumpkin grow in their garden in the spring and carve it and make pumpkin bread in the fall. Then they’ll take the seeds from that same pumpkin to grow another one…
- They learn to articulate their own needs and are learning to respect others’ needs as well. My kids come home talking about, “Please mami, I need some space” or “I need a body break”.
- As our family embarks on a major transition, the school directors and my children’s teachers have lovingly embraced our entire family. They take special time out to check on us and do what they can in the classroom to emotionally support the kids through a difficult time.
Sound compelling? Go check them out! Contact them to schedule a tour.
* Sliding scale tuition fees make it accessible to most families.