I got an email today from a friend who’s launching an after-school program to help young people dealing with racism and socioeconomic disadvantage. School isn’t set up for folks in that situation, and my friend wants to do something about it.
The program involves getting together once a week to work on mathematics and literacy, using service learning in the community, mentors from the community, family involvement, and peer tutoring. The goal of the program is summed up like this: “We will utilize the Academic Night as an organizing platform to build healthy community among our youth, their families, and their larger communities.”
Community. Community. Community.
In school, we operate under the conceit that if we focus on content delivery—that is, if our lesson plans and unit plans are elegantly prepared—then human relationships won’t matter.
And after-school programs are left to pick up the pieces.
Of course, classroom teachers know that relationships matter. But school is not set up in a way to enable true community to develop. Six classes a day, five minutes between classes and 30 minutes for lunch. Get ‘em in, get ‘em out. One teacher typically sees 150 kids every day, for 55 minutes at a time. In that structure, there’s a limit to what classroom teachers can do to build the authentic, caring human relationships that provide the foundation for academic and social growth.
The failings of our schools are not a result of the failings of individuals. It’s a failing of the institution.
We need to redesign the institution.
Steve Miranda is the director of Puget Sound Community School in Seattle. He blogs daily at http://stevemiranda.wordpress.com.