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These Schools Belong To You And Me: Why We Can't Afford To Abandon Our Public Schools 

Notes on a talk by Emily Gasoi and Deborah Meier

Por María Cecilia Deferrari
June 2018
I have a story. In Mount Vernon, NY, circa 1992, my Mother age 51, felt compelled to speak, as a not-yet-US citizen. The very dangerous, even subversive thing my Mother was going to do was to be in the public eye. She signed up, ended up being filmed in a community forum and said that small classroom sizes and local schools were essential to good education.
Let me give you some context. My Mother graduated from High School with a teaching certificate in Buenos Aires from an "escuela normal", a specialized High School with a Montessori bent. The child of poor immigrants, my Mother became an attorney, met my Father in public Law School and when my Father was awarded a contract to work for the UN as a translator, she emigrated with him. My parents thought they were coming to NY for a year in 1974 but there was a military coup and people were being thrown out of airplanes into the ocean with their guts cut open for having different ideas, the "wrong friends", or for being in someone's address book. My Father's contract was extended and, well, they stayed.

As a 9-year old, I did not really understand why my Mother was bawling in front of the TV at the filming of democratic elections in Argentina.
This is why democracy is important to me.
This is why Woody Guthrie's song makes me cry.

This is why Emily Gasoi and MacArthur Award-winner Deborah Meier's newest publication, These Schools Belong To You And Me, Why We Can't Afford to Abandon our Public Schools, is important to me.

I have the language skills that made me an educator, a linguist and an artist because my Mother and I sat there with the "Wordly Wise" education series and went over vocabulary together. She learned English pronunciation from me, I learned the words in English and in Spanish, with the unabridged Webster's English Dictionary next to us, and my parents' collection of over a hundred dictionaries in the background. I grew up in a home culture of learning as one of the most sacred things. Preparation for weekly spelling tests had the gravitas of a dissertation defense. Public school provided me with the possibility to fully partake in the glory that is the English language.

I have many of my skills because of the transformational teachers I had in those early years, at Pennington-Grimes School. 

There certainly were also the mediocre, burnt out, dangerously negative teachers who I won't mention but to whom I will allude. I was not “tracked” into the lower reading group in first grade because my parents advocated for me. 

Public school in the US has provided the information which catalyzes transformation for generations of people. That mysterious, ineffable thing called intelligence and abstract thinking is not measured by multiple choice testing and circling in the dots. It is not a linear process.

Gasoi and Meier speak of the current addiction to the instrument of standardized tests and the capturing of data. Instead of teaching to the standardized test, they propose student portfolios and attention to the whole. 

They propose a public school in which teachers who are teachers by vocation and avocation can teach and have an environment which supports collegiality and their responsibility to each other is to teach their students, excellently. They propose teaching as a democracy, "of, for, and by the people", where everyone's voice matters, and ask, "what would that school look like?"

Gasoi and Meier also examine the privatization of public schools, the dissolution of union protections for teachers, the high burn-out of new teachers without those protections and of current teacher strikes in the Midwestern United States.

In The Power of Their Ideas Meier wrote: "No matter how bad things seem today or what bad news may come tomorrow, what makes me hopeful is our infinite capacity for inventing the future, imagining things otherwise".
Let us go to this new story.
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