When I began teaching in the late sixties and early seventies, I heard about the new public school in Harlem, Central Park East, and its foundation of progressive education. At the same time, I was reading Charles Silberman’s magisterial anthology, The Open Classroom Reader. These possibilities for creating schools and classrooms that honored children’s innate intelligence, desire and need for play and exploration filled me with an excitement for teaching.
Then, as the years went on, the educational landscape changed. Testing and rigid standards that didn’t take into account all that we know about children, how they develop and what they need to become creative thinkers and future adult citizens, took over what was happening in classrooms across the country.
Some, however, stayed strong and true to their ideals. Deborah Meier and Anna Allanbrook are two of the shining examples of progressive leaders in education who did not give up and who keep fighting for what they know education should stand for.
I’m honored to have had a conversation with these two noted educators and inspired thinkers. I hope you enjoy this important dialogue.
During this frightening and sad time in our history something personally disturbing happened to me. While I stayed practically locked up in my house with my husband, I saw so many people busy at their important work. We live near a hospital and in addition to the painful sound of ambulance alarms, day and night, I was so aware of all the brave people who were working in the hospital, always facing personal danger of catching the virus themselves.
Teachers were quickly learning the technology that would allow them to reach out to their students, hoping that they could soothe, assure and instruct them at the same time. Parents were working from home while simultaneously becoming home-schoolers, teaching their children how to manage often-confusing technology and helping them to stay focused on this new mode of instruction.
In my own family, my husband, whose time had been taken up with some exhibitions of his work, was now back in his studio, totally immersed in an exciting new painting. My daughter saw her entire year of piano concerts get cancelled one by one. After a few months, she pulled herself out of an understandably depressed state and began recording CDs, teaching students, via Zoom, as far away as Asia, and performing concerts that are being streamed on the internet. My son-in-law took on a huge project, with the help of my grandson, and built a magical, screened-in summer room in their garden. Now he’s back at work, teaching 4th grade students at P.S. 321. My grandson, who has been studying acting in London, auditioned and was given an important role in a new Netflix film about a group of teenagers who attempt to start a heavy metal band. He’s now in Portland, Oregon filming Metal Lords!
That leaves me. I seemed to be faced with a personal, existential crisis. Where is my place during this unusual time? As an early childhood consultant, focusing on exploration, play, Choice Time and inquiry, my work disappeared for now and possibly in the future. I seemed to have no constructive purpose and I felt, to put it mildly, useless.
My daughter wondered why I wasn’t writing on my blog. How could I? I don’t have an authentic voice. I’m not working with teachers or children now. I’m not parenting a young child. Why would anyone have an interest in what I would have to say?
Simone, forever wise, suggested that I interview interesting people and post the interviews on my blog. I thought about her suggestion and came up with a twist to her idea. Instead of interviews, I am going to record conversations between people who have very interesting and provocative contributions that should inspire refreshing thinking about the education of young children.
Perhaps these ideas might guide us in taking hold of education and assuring that something positive will grow out of this challenging, distressing time.
Here is the list of the upcoming blog post conversations: