Feb 19, 2010

Progressive Schools

Bear and his prep classmates had a culminating activity this morning to wrap up their theme investigation on Flowers. These events always remind me why I am so, so grateful that my kids go to a progressive school. I would have loved studying in a place like this.

Flowers & Flowers is the name they chose for their flower shop.

After paying for our orders, in tens and one peso coins
(as their math lesson is currently on Place Value),
the "shop owners" start making the flower arrangements.

I think they are having a wonderful school experience and are learning in the best possible way, BUT I have actually gotten some flak for not sending my children to a typical Manila "legacy" school, the kind where Pappy and I were once sent.... Which is why this post is about to take a defensive turn. RANT ALERT, folks.

Another lesson here: Boys can rock the cash
register... as well as the flower arranging.

Defensive because I am getting tired of people who think progressive schools are weird, fringe institutions where kids run around all day doing whatever they want, stopping every so often to sing Kumbaya. No structure or challenge. Kids coasting along Godless and Hapless.

I hear variations on this theme from lolas and titas and even from a few friends among our supposedly more enlightened generation. In fact, I had to set a few of them straight in a recent dinner. Of course I did this as nicely as I could, but with doubts if I really got through to them.... Because damn, it can be hard to talk to people about progressive schools if they haven't read the ideas of Howard Gardner, Alfie Kohn, Ken Robinson, Erik Erikson, John Dewey or Felix Adler.

Back story: Dinner-party-friends had visited a so-called progressive school I'm not familiar with, bashed it like crazy, then lumped ALL progressive schools as being the same -- for instance, "kids in progressive schools aren't taught how to READ!" In my mind: Whaaat? This prompted one of my most shameful-mom-moments when I defensively told them that, "my kids go to progressive schools and they were both reading at age 3." I know, yikes. I just couldn't help but shamelessly flaunt my kids' early reading prowess, because damn, I cannot speak for all schools that claim to be progressive, but in the progressive school my kids go to, kids learn how to read and more importantly they love books it's practically organic to them.

These people have probably not heard of the wonders of Readers and Writers Workshop, but I really didn't want to bore them with any more of my geekery, so I just kept quiet about it.

Flowers Theme Investigation integrated in Art Class...
check out their Vincent Van Gogh-inspired flower paintings.

Georgia O'Keefe-inspired flower paintings.

I'll also bet... these people still think the Little Genius theory is true -- that kids who ace reading and writing tests at age 4 will surely get into Harvard. Ask the education experts from Harvard, people. Also, Einstein didn't even speak until he was 5 and he gave us the Theory of 'Frikkin Relativity. I hope they would read The Junior Meritocracy, current cover story of New York Magazine. Especially that friend in the dinner party who said, "that progressive school we went to, they don't care if your kid isn't reading at age 7!"

At age 6, Bear is into the Tintin comic series and already holds the opinion that Herge makes "better drawings than Geronimo Stilton..." which to me is pretty wild and cool. But I'm not putting undue pressure on him to be the next Herge-league genius nor am I deluding myself that he's surely a wunderkind. At age 4 he was building Lego sets for 8 year olds. Although his freestyle Lego creations are more impressive to me, I'm not putting undue pressure on him to be a genius engineer either. He has the rest of his life to work on being genius-whatever-he-wants. For now, I just want him to be a nice, happy kid with a few crazy, inspired ideas.

Bear's O'Keefe-inspired flower shirt.

In the meantime, he and his little sister go to progressive schools so they can enjoy being kids while learning how to love learning math, literature, science and social studies; and to be appreciated for being creative as ALL children are naturally creative; and to be challenged to come up with their own original ideas. Not to be needlessly challenged to memorize static "facts" from textbooks -- some of which still say Pluto is a Planet, by the way.

Jeez, these kids learn fresh, relevant information; they learn through experience; they learn to collaborate and think deeds before creeds.... and that's supposed to be bad? At a young age they learn to think critically, to analyze information, to form opinions, to solve problems, to create, to integrate knowledge.... why would I not want these things for my kids?

Always with his own opinions, Bear prefers Van Gogh over O'Keefe.
His version of Van Gogh's Sunflowers on the right. Go baby!

As for the other parents I know who send their kids to Keys where Bear goes to school....

I guess they all haven't read Gardner, Kohn, Robinson, Erikson, Dewey or Adler. I am just a freak that way. But they do instinctively GET IT. IT being this idea so simply-put by the head of The Calhoun School, who was quoted a lot in that little-genius-myth-busting article from New York Magazine. His name is Steve Nelson and this is what he wants for his students:

"I want a school full of kids who daydream. I want kids who are occasionally impulsive. I want kids who are fun to be with. I want kids who don’t want to answer the questions on those tests in the way the adult wants them to be answered, because that kid is already seeing the world differently."

Nelson wants kids to question, question, question and have an adventure finding their answers. Calhoun, by the way, is PROGRESSIVE. Famously progressive. The kids who go there, lo and behold, they READ. They have been progressive since 1896. Nope, progressive schools are not just some recent fad.

And guess what? Their students make it to Ivy League colleges and they get jobs. Some of them become US senators and congressmen, media moguls, founders of the Blue Man Group, male lawyers who champion women's rights, internet pioneers, New York Times editors, doctors who create vaccines then win Nobel prizes, artists and scientists. J. Robert Oppenheimer went to the very progressive Ethical Culture Fieldston School (where Keys' Directress Teacher Didi used to teach, aside from Bank Street and Calhoun too). Al Gore went to Sidwell Friends, where Chelsea Clinton went and where the Obama girls now go. Oh, and as for businesses... kids in progressive schools do learn to COUNT. Peggy Guggenheim went to Calhoun and I love her, and I love her museum -- which she could not have run as well as she did, if she didn't learn to read or write or count in school.

Invoice on hand, ready to take my tens and ones in coins,
for an experiential math lesson in Place Value. See, they count!

I have a book about Peggy Guggenheim and will quote a snippet from the foreword written by her grandson. I quote it because it's an anecdote that, to me, shows the spirit of progressive education. It shows how experiential learning touched her life and the life of her grandson. Sandro Rumney writes of his famous grandmother:

"I was a child when I used to spend my vacations in Venice. My grandmother would often take me on long gondola rides to show me again and again, sublime works by Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Guardi. Lost in the cool shadows of a small church, sometimes she would be inspired. One day, ignoring all copyright warnings, she copied the remarkable sandals she had seen in a Carpaccio painting into a small notebook, and ordered them to be made in every color by her shoemaker. She was ahead of her time in discovering the rules of the most successful museum shops. Sometimes this perceptiveness was also aimed at me. Thus my grandmother thought it was more instructive for me, and more lucrative for her museum, to have me sell her catalogues to the visitors rather than to let me finish my vacation. It was always more fun; she was wary about affixing any information at all to the works of art, making it necessary for the visitors to pass by my little counter. She justified this to herself by offering free admission to the museum. At the end of the day, we would go over the business operations together; this was something she always enjoyed doing." (Italics mine.)

I love Peggy Guggenheim, I know I already said that, but she is a great example of someone who was educated in a progressive setting, who was allowed to daydream, who found her passion and who gave the world something wonderful in the process.

Peggy Guggenheim in her surrealist gallery.

So please, to those concerned, STOP PITYING MY KIDS for going to a progressive school. Thank you very much, but I think they'll be alright. AND before bashing progressive schools, try to learn more about about them. Hopefully, your spirit of inquiry has not been completely quashed by the drudgery of your own school experience. Judging in ignorance is SO not progressive. And isn't progress always good?


Barni said...

There's that fighting spirit I love. I HAAAATE it when people shoot their mouths off making sweeping conclusions based on scanty information or total ignorance. My own belief: Progressive is the NEW Traditional.

So can I ploink this on to the pages of WM?

Barni said...

There's that fighting spirit I love. I HAAAATE it when people shoot their mouths off making sweeping conclusions based on scanty information or total ignorance. My own belief: Progressive is the NEW Traditional.

So can I ploink this on to the pages of WM?

Nona said...

I was red-faced-annoyed writing parts of it. Haha! Feels good to let it out to someone else other than Packy. He's more chill about it than me. Ploink this drivel if the magazine will have it. I have a good editor anyway ; D

Also, that Q and A I had with Ange (about parents who send their kids to progressive schools) got me thinking hard about this stuff. She also got the wagging fingers when she opted not to send her son to a "legacy school"... ugh. Stop the ignorance please and respect our personal parenting philosophies!

Rone said...

When I did the Keys tour I thought the same thing. "I wish there were a school like this when I was going to school." We can't wait to graduate to Keys.

Nona said...

Rone, you will love it, your boys will love it.... from Readers Workshop to Singapore Math and the Math Olympics to Robotics to the Theme Investigations and the Art Classes and the Science Fair judged by Philippine Science teachers... galing. The after school programs are pretty good too. Also, high school is a possibility now! "secret" it along with a lot of other parents and it should happen!

Cely said...

I agree with you Nona. I love your (and Nana's) personal parenting philosophies. And I REALLY think people who criticize the Progressive Schools that bad are those who are jealous of you. These schools are great. And I love their concepts. If I could, I'd love to have a Progressive School for Emma. Unfortunately, things are differents here.

And I agree with your friend Barni, this post should be published!

Adele said...

neaks, calm down! you sounded really pissed off, he he! people should respect another person's choices and beliefs, and refrain from making general, sweeping statements! you go, gurl!!!

Nona said...

Hi Cely! I guess I'm mistaken then, I had thought Swiss schools were all progressive (??)... Or is that Sweden? In Finland (see one of the links) and Australia I hear public schools are across the board progressive. Which is one reason why, when Pappy and I are so frustrated with this country... we toy with the idea of moving down under. But regardless of school, you're a good, involved mom so Emma should be okay!

Tita Adel, I'm chilled out na. People can think what they want : P They can pity my kids in vain! haha!

Strategic Stiletto said...

Nona, I had a HUGE smile all over my face as I read this and imagined your fuming fingers flying through the keyboards as you rant-blogged!

In cattiness appropriate for a woman in stilettos, I will say this.
- I know many people who read but remain narrow minded and unable to understand or make room in their minds to explore new and different ways of seeing things
- I know many people who count well, but count the wrong things
- I know many people who did amazingly in school but miserably in the world after school

- I know many people who love learning well after they leave their schools
- I know many people who count the things that really do count
- I know many people who can't spell to save their lives but are eloquent, articulate and inspiring

Education is about so much more than where or what you study, and I think this is what the 'legacy' schools need to catch up with. They also need to respect that a child is a child, and not a 'small grown up.' If they remember that they are there FOR the kids, maybe they'll manage to wrap their minds around the idea that children are fun, inspiring, energetic and YES smart creatures that do things in the child way.

It's sad enough that so many of us lose that child-like sense of awe, wonder and fun when we grow older. Let us please keep this alive and burning bright in the children who brighten up our lives.

Cely said...

Sweden, I think.
In Switzerland, we do have good progressive schools, but they're private, so completely inaccessible to people like me - from middle class.
The public schools aren't progressive... at all. I remember my old teachers saying: "This year again, we won't be able to finish the syllabus in time." I honestly think the Philippines have a better education system than us. Ours needs a complete revolution.

Nona said...

EXACTLY Ms. Catty Woman in Stilettos! Calhoun's Mr. Nelson would love what you said. I quote the New Yorker Junior Meritocracy article I had linked:

"But one needn’t be particularly subversive to appreciate Nelson’s philosophy of educating 4-year-olds, or his frustration with current practice... "

“You have to play with blocks,” he says. “You have to make up stories. You have to muck around. Arithmetic and decoding language aren’t life—they’re symbolic representations of other things. AND EDUCATION IS BEING DIVERTED INTO FOCUSING ON THESE SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATIONS OF THE VERY EXPERIENCES KIDS ARE BEING DENIED."

Words by Steve Nelson, screaming all-caps mine. Thanks for sharing your eloquent words Tish!

Debbie said...

Niks, I was missing Keys as I was reading your rant. However, the boys' new school is also progressive, so it's an exciting and wonderfully different experience too. I could never, for the life of me, imagine sending my boys to a traditional school (legacy, schmegacy!) for the elementary grades. I think they were invented to drive parents crazy!

Told you you would love Keys ;-)

Teacher M said...

There should be a super-duper like button on this post. Kudos to all these kiddos! I can't believe that this school year's about to end..

Glad and proud to be part of this institution. These uninformed people have no idea what their kids (or even themselves) are missing. :)

Nona said...

Debbie! THE first parent I "interviewed" for feedback on Keys.... Yup, everything you told me... TRUE. Now that we're already there... I can agree based on experience : ) I've heard good things too about your boys' school. Good to know they're thriving there as well!

Teacher M! You, Joy and Timmy are doing a wonderful job with your rambunctious, creative, inspired prep kids. V Bear is having a great first year in Keys thanks to you. You know, when I asked him -- he can't even decide which was his favorite theme. He loved Family, Ancestral Homes AND Flowers. He tells me now you're moving on to your Rice Theme.

BTW, theirs was the BEST Starry Starry Night rendition. Ever. Haha!

Nana said...

Amen, Strategic Stiletto. You're not the family's designated "Lola Basyang" for nothing!

Barni said...

I hope the debate between TRADITIONAL vs. PROGRESSIVE one day becomes obsolete and people take time to really study a school's individual philosophy as well as you have.

There seem to be some traditional schools moving away from that kind of academic bulimia we felt forced to do and with curricula that are more about fostering understanding and individualized pacing. And then there are some progressive schools that are not as well-rounded as Keys whose kids I see enter the real world with the look of a bewildered starlet staring at klieg lights.

For all intents and purposes, it really is just about your child and knowing the kind of person s/he is and where s/he will thrive best.

Nona said...

Correct Barn. Progressive, child-centered philosophies can be interpreted and applied in different ways. So you have to intuit which specific approach will work for your child and which one matches your parenting philosophy best. There's Waldorf, there's MI, there's Bank Street, etc.

Yes, even some "legacy" schools (like Xavier and Ateneo I hear) are doing things like transitioning to Singapore Math. Good that they're embracing a little progress there.

AND going a bit off tangent here... BUT I should be grateful to have been educated in our own alma mater. We had some wonderful teachers there - Ms. Tantoco, Ms. Pison, Mr. Kennedy, etc. I look back fondly on reading and discussing The Merchant of Venice. Math projects with YOU. Haha! BUT it is also the place where I asked "What's our proof that God exists?" And trust me, naughty and snarky as I was as a kid... I was not trying to be subversive, I was not just trying to piss the nuns off... I just really wanted to know. But the reply I get from Sister (you know who): an angry, judgmental... "one day you'll be a COMMUNIST!" You know, I actually felt GUILTY for asking.

So guilty, when I went to my Days with the Lord retreat, I CONFESSED to that SIN of asking such a question. The wonderful Ateneo priest gave me the answer AND the re-assurance that God did not consider such questions a sin. Then he told me about St. Agustine... "whose faith was strengthened by asking such questions" I remember his words, but never even asked that priest's name! I think I had the longest "confession" that day.

I hope my kids don't have to go through so much self-loathing and inner turmoil just to answer some of the questions in their head. AND SO just one of the reasons why I decided they don't have to go to my legacy school. They make their own legacy.

tashie's mommy said...

I discovered your blog a few months ago, and 've been enjoying it a lot (my playlist is also so much cooler now, thanks to you). This was such a timely post as my husband and I are in the process of deciding, along with our 4 yr. old daughter's input, what school she should attend. I feel lucky that we have several choices of schools (to fit different philosophies, budgets, cultures and locations) that our parents surely did not have during our time. I wish there will come a time when we do not have to "defend" our choice of progressive schools for our children.

Vannie said...

it was really nice when i read your posts on explorations the first few times when i was checking out preschools for my daughter. i'm very serious about her education and of course want the best for her. i researched more about progressive schools and it all the more convinced me that this method of teaching is what suits my daughter best. there's still that nagging sense of me saying "why not just bring her to poveda" but the more i think about it the more i see her in a progressive school.

as early as now i worry about the high school part, and i'm glad that there may be a possibility of keys offering it one day. yes, i will "secret" that too.

there are still a couple of people who frown upon the progressive schooling, and my mom still couldn't understand why suddenly my Option B became the Option A. some people say that when in college they'd go to a college that is traditional too and they might have a hard time adjusting, but i've researched about it and this simply is not true (at least i believe it to be not true).

sometimes i do get passionate about it and talk about progressive schooling to other parents, that after i laugh at myself because i sound like their marketing arm hahaha. but that's just me, hahaha. some get interested, some don't but at least i share to them these things. like you, i even blog about these topics.

again thank you for your posts and keep them coming!

Nona said...

Hi Tashie's Mom! Glad to know you enjoy passing by here : )

Vannie Dear... was just interviewed by writer Ange Abad and here's something from our transcript I want to share with you. Because I have also been told that (GASP) my kids will not manage college well because they go to a progressive school! Funny though, this person -- dropped out of high school and did not go to college herself and yet she holds on so strongly to her totally unenlightened viewpoint on progressive schools. Anyhooo... Here's what I told Ange:

[* When Bill Gates was interviewed by Oprah about the Gates Foundation and their goals for education, he had this to say: "What good is it for kids to graduate in 2006 from a school system that was designed for 1946?" He believes strongly in school reforms that address needs and competencies relevant to the digital age. We're not in the industrial age anymore, yet most schools still teach kids for that time in our history. I think this applies to us also in the Philippines.

The Gates foundation supports education reforms in the US and they only give grants to small schools, that if you look at their criteria -- are qualities of progressive schools. Just one example, Rob Glaser one of his prized people at Microsoft came from a progressive grade school and high school (Ethical Culture School in New York, one of the city's oldest and most progressive of progressive schools). He eventually set up his own company, became an internet pioneer and set up RealNetworks of RealAudio, RealPlayer fame.

BTW, where did Glaser go to college? Yale -- and did pretty well. Another misconception about progressive schools here in our country (where they think this is some "new fad" or is strictly "experimental") is that "ay, how will they do in college? hindi sila sanay... " Sanay sa what? College is the bastion of experiential learning -- the kind of learning done in progressive schools. You do case studies, apply knowledge in projects, have internships, address real world problems to test theories, etc. In college -- which is your final step towards the real world -- you have to use high level thinking. Whether you're studying to be doctor, lawyer, businessman, or architect or artist you have to apply creativity, critical thinking -- and come up with new ideas. Again, tenets of a progressive school.]

Amina said...

Hi Nikka! Just saw this post.

Its really enlightening but now I'm all the more heartbroken that I'll have to pull out my kids from Explorations because were moving to the South :( I would have loved to send them to Keys..its my kind of education!

Any recommendations of progressive schools in the south for them?

Amina said...

Hi Nikka! Just saw this post.

Its really enlightening but now I'm all the more heartbroken that I'll have to pull out my kids from Explorations because were moving to the South :( I would have loved to send them to Keys..its my kind of education!

Any recommendations of progressive schools in the south for them?

Nona said...

I actually heard about the move from Barni : ) Maybe Brent or Southville are worth checking out? Didi can probably give you some good leads for schools in the south. Yup, Keys is so you... so hands-on and experiential!

BTW, keep those Sofa Kids seminars alive. I have a feeling Patris will love them.