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?