Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Friday, April 22, 2016

The question we should be asking

David Gamberg is the superintendent of two small adjoining school districts on the North Fork of Long Island: Southold and Greenport. The citizens of these communities love their schools and support them.

Gamberg is a thoughtful and reflective educator. He cares deeply about the arts. His schools have gardens that the students plant and tend. The athletics teams are strong, and the robotics team at Southold High School just won a national competition.

He believes in a whole-child approach to education. He is one of the brave Long Island superintendents who have stood up to the state and protesting against the overuse and misuse of test scores. 

He knows children, he knows families, he knows communities, he knows schools. He knows that the state and federal policies of the past 15 years have not served the needs of students, families, or communities, and certainly not of schools.

In this essay, which was first published in Education Week, David Gamberg defines what makes a good school.

I can quote only a portion of what is most assuredly a brilliant essay. Please open the link and read it all.

He writes: 

The call to have children as young as 8 or 9 years old “college- and career-ready” does not create the same narrative as building a sound foundation in childhood filled with play and creativity. Among the many other more important ways to engage the hearts and minds of our youngest students, we must promote the childhood experience in all its wonder.

Schools have always existed as an expression of how a given community values its children, and how a society looks at the future—a covenant handed down from one generation to the next. 

The problems that beset our social, political, and economic well-being as a nation are, in fact, not born at the doorsteps of our schools. 

They are certainly not derived exclusively from the province of our public schools. The crumbling roads, bridges, and tunnels of the infrastructure that is the lifeblood of a thriving economy demand our attention, as does the scourge of substance abuse wreaking havoc on families of every demographic group.

Local neighborhood and even family issues that confront all generations, from toddlers to senior citizens, are ever-present in our daily lives. If schools do play a part in shaping our future—and I believe they do—how we articulate the issues matters as much as how we marshal the will and resources to meet these challenges.

The calls to shutter schools, to replace and dismantle them, are being offered by those with a variety of other interests. These are not the solutions we should accept. They create a hostile dialogue that reflects the worst in our democratic discourse. 

In the last 10 years, we have witnessed a rapid decline in civility, an unfettered belligerent approach to the questions central to the teaching and learning process.

“We must strive to retain the core values that define a school as a place that upholds the tenets of our democracy.”

Words matter in how we discuss our schools and the issues that confront all communities. How this conversation occurs has changed in recent decades across the entire country, from small rural towns to large suburban and urban communities. 

Technology affords us wonderful ways to gather data points that could promote change, but it may still fail to foster a deliberative and thoughtful dialogue regarding the seeds of our problems. 

The most basic elements of our humanity must not get lost in the pursuit of a faster, data-driven decisionmaking process. Such is a key element of our current fascination with a punitive, high-stakes testing environment designed to sort and select students and teachers.

So, what truly defines a school? For me, the exchange between child and adult is at the heart of it. 

That exchange may be subtle or vigorous—not rigorous. Rigor, which shares roots with the Latin rigor mortis, implies severity, rigidity, and stiffness—all connotations that restrict the learner and the learning process—while vigor implies energy and dynamism.

Yes, words matter. The best learning occurs when both teacher and student are in pursuit of a deeper understanding. It is a quest that is based on love, one that is filled with authentic, joyful, challenging, and impactful experiences. A school is a place of respect and wonder.