A virtual meeting of the Christa McAuliffe Charter School Governance Committee will take place via Zoom on Friday, August 20, 2021 at 9am.
On this Patriots’ Day, no one is watching the Boston Marathon and we are still acting cautiously due to the pandemic. For want of other distractions, my mind turns its attention to the original purpose of Patriots’ Day — to honor the first skirmishes of the American Revolution in Lexington and Concord, just a few miles away from McAuliffe.
As a history teacher, I have always been fascinated by the colonial era, a time that has been revived in popular culture thanks to Hamilton, the musical. Hamilton optimistically demonstrates that Enlightenment principles like liberty and freedom can be translated into modern music and vocabulary; they should, in other words, be highly relevant to all of us.
Yet there is a trainload of historical baggage that brings us from then to now. Historically speaking, middle and upper class white colonists were doing much of the fighting of the War of Independence, and they were fighting for opportunities that accrued primarily to them. In fact, the economic prosperity of the fledgling United States of America depended on denying freedoms and liberties to many, especially Black slaves. Just as Enlightenment principles have had staying power, so have racist ideas, not just in overt discrimination but also in the denial of economic and cultural capital to many, mostly non-white Americans. Changes in law are important but insufficient to erase that legacy.
We will soon learn the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. Reliving the death of George Floyd has been a difficult experience for many, amplified so terribly by other shocking deaths of Black people in recent weeks.
So too are we reckoning with discrimination and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, yet another legacy of racism. We have not sufficiently told that story in schools, with the consequence that we have marginalized the proud heritage of AAPI folks for too many years.
During times like these, I understand why pain and doubt might replace any optimism we have about the republic. Yet I’m an educator, and therefore an optimist. I feel blessed by the rich diversity of our school; I want to lift up the mere existence of our community as hope for the future. We are stronger together. We know that our thoughtful choices and actions will positively affect the world around us. Change is happening and will happen.
I humbly offer three suggestions on this Monday, April 19:
Take care of yourselves. Give yourself the space to breathe during this difficult time. Here are two educational websites, from Amazeworks and Minneapolis Public Schools, that offer plenty of resources for us as we traverse this week.
Celebrate and commemorate. To honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we will be hanging a poster exhibition from the Smithsonian and learning about AAPI history in Crew throughout May. We will also celebrate Juneteenth at the end of the school year.
Believe in the aspirations of this country and believe in yourselves. Our nation’s history is challenging but also one of activists making positive change. Our founding principles have served reformers for nearly 250 years, and they can continue to do so. But first and foremost, find strength within you. Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar, who wrote to Oberlin students last week, says it all as far as I’m concerned:
I don’t know how the upturn in violence against the AAPI community will abate. I don’t know how the trial of Derek Chauvin is going to end. On too many similar occasions, the criminal justice outcomes have been confounding and crushing.
So I will tell you what I have faith in. I have faith in the moral arc of the universe. I have faith in our abilities to persevere. I have faith in the goodness of people.
And I have faith in you. I believe in your generation. All of you. Regardless of the color of your skin. You all have the desire to pull together, to support one another through anything, to see the world and be the change it needs in ways I cannot imagine. You are among my greatest sources of hope, and one of the reasons my spark burns brightly.
Be well, Team McAuliffe. You are amazing.
Yesterday, we witnessed an act of domestic terrorism. Let us stand together to condemn this violence and assure our community that our democracy is stronger than this threat.
As events unfolded, we saw disturbing images of violence, racism, and antisemitism. We experienced the chaos of the Capitol under siege. These events and images can be confusing and distressing, and our youth are foremost on our minds.
As always, our staff is prepared to support scholars today and assure them that our democracy is stable and we will see the peaceful transition of power. In moments like these, children respond in dramatically different ways. Some may exhibit a great deal of anxiety, while others may appear unaffected or would prefer not to discuss the matter, at least in the short-term. A range of responses is perfectly normal. If your child/ren are in need, please reach out to your child’s Crew leader or the appropriate grade-level counselor. Please call McAuliffe if you are unsure how to contact someone.
Moments like these call upon untapped strengths of all of us as parents, guardians, and caregivers. We might ourselves be shaken, but we also know that when our children see violence and instability, they need calm and confidence from us. For those at home contemplating conversations with children, here are some tips from child therapist Alice Barber:
Tell them that yesterday was a sad day for our country.
Tell them that they are okay.
Tell them that you are okay.
Give them some of the facts.
Tell them that the people who entered the Capitol building are no longer there.
Tell them that the people who entered the building were not protesters.
Tell them that protesting is something that people do to move our country forward when there are injustices.
Tell them that these rioters were wrong to do this.
Tell them that they picked yesterday to enter this building because yesterday was the day when the next president of the United States (Joe Biden) and the Vice President (Kamala Harris) were going to be affirmed by the workers in the building.
Tell them that the people who wrongly entered the building did so because they wanted to stop this process.
Tell them that they didn’t succeed in stopping the process, that the process was delayed for a few hours but the workers went back to work and affirmed the new President and Vice President before the night was over.
Tell then they can ask questions, that you may not have all the answers, but you will try to figure them out.
Tell them about how racism is the underpinning of much of the actions of these rioters.
Tell them about how some leaders can be dangerous. When they are ready, give specific examples.
Tell them that, when they are older, voting will be a very, very important job for them to do.
Tell them to always work hard to make sure all votes count.
As I wrote just before Election Day, McAuliffe believes that an intense commitment to self and community will foster a more just and equitable future. We extol civil rights, the precious value of free and fair elections, and the power of an educated populace taking action. We believe that our motto — “We Are Crew, Not Passengers” — should be the rallying cry of everyone across this land.
We also stand with the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association: it is not lost upon us that the manner in which these acts of violence have been addressed by law enforcement stands in direct contrast to the way that peaceful Black Lives Matter protests were treated not too long ago. These acts and the response to these acts are not just an assault on the fabric of our democracy, but they also continue to illuminate and lay bare the double-standard that is applied in our country based on race.
Let us move forward together, with confidence, in support of each other during this difficult time.
Late this summer, my family and I moved to a new town. Soon thereafter, I was excited to go on my first real bike ride around our new neighborhood. I glanced at an online map. I left my phone at home. It started out well, and the ride as a whole was lovely, but I got lost. So I turned around, retraced my route, came home and studied the map a little bit more closely.
Aha! — I knew the error in my ways! All I had to do is keep with my intuition and I would be fine. And so, on the next Sunday, I again got on my bike. I rode down my country lane past the farm next door; I biked past the chicken coops, noticed a garter snake or two peeking up at me from the side of the road, and watched the birds swoop by. Then I turned off my lane, letting my larger intuition take over, heading out for a larger adventure. Take two. I felt confident.
I got lost again.
As I retraced my steps, gradually making my way back, I recounted in my head all the ways that I had been led astray. Street signage in Massachusetts would never win any awards! Roads intersected in strange ways. And houses were oddly similar. Clearly the faults and foibles of the landscape were all around me. But at the end of the day, I recognized that I had no one but myself to blame. I presumed that my gut instincts, when freed of the clutter of minutia, would be my best guide. I was wrong.
Social psychologists have spent a lot of research time identifying all the ways that we are biased in our thinking. Here’s a list of them! Perhaps the greatest bias is that, at the end of the day, we think we can trust our gut instinct, that our view is always “right-headed.” And yet, here we are, wrapping up a year that has invited us to question so much that we once took for granted. Might we acknowledge that some of what we think of as deep, “right” instincts are often actually learned traits based on outdated information?
In order to check our biases at the door, we must engage in new routines and find new sources of meaning. These sources might be new authors. Perhaps they might be colleagues, teammates, wise friends. Better yet, we might seek out those from whom we have never learned before. Regardless, our new reference points should come from minds other than our own. Otherwise, we won’t know how to get out of our own way.
Dare we ask others to help us make meaning? This reliance on others, on community(ies), can be a fearful place for some of us to tread. But it can also be powerful and emboldening. And it’s an essential part of expeditionary learning! As an EL school, McAuliffe encourages us to challenge these sorts of assumptions.
2021 beckons. Let’s reset our assumptions in the New Year. Let’s seek new perspectives.
Videostreaming makes this pandemic much more bearable than it might otherwise be, but sometimes we might overstate its benefits. Recently, for example, I heard from another school leader about how difficult it was to run a school for the deaf in a remote learning model. I was surprised! In my naivete, I thought that videostreaming was an essential breakthrough for those who use American Sign Language. But while the visual aspects of Zoom or Google Meets are of undeniable benefit, I learned that ASL is a three dimensional language that does not translate so well into two dimensions. The beauty of shapes, gestures, and touch becomes compromised on a flat screen. That insight was new to me.
In our Zoom world, we can struggle with depth perception both literally and metaphorically. Consider our human interconnections. Metaphorically, we all know how “flattening” videostreaming can be in terms of building personal and professional relationships. In this pandemic, we may be losing some depth of mutual understanding.
Fortunately, neurologists are quick to share how well our brains compensate for a lack of binocular vision. For example, when we move, other objects move at varying speeds depending on their proximity to us. When objects overlap, we understand where they are in relation to each other. We can also use color and contrast clues to grasp where we stand in relation to others. Finally, we might use other senses to gauge object proximity. McAuliffe’s math, science, and related arts teachers can explain these phenomena much better than I can!
This Thanksgiving, I’m going to practice some of these workarounds. When I connect with friends and family via pictures or video, I’m going to place myself in visual context with my immediate family. I’m going to try to connect with them when I am walking outdoors instead of positioning myself against a blank wall. I have the privilege of hearing, and so I am sometimes going to close my eyes and just listen — truly listen — to those who bring deep meaning to my life. Taking these steps might overcome my difficulty perceiving how close or far apart I am from others; I hope it does the same for them.
What are the workarounds you will use to deepen your connection with others during this holiday season?
A virtual meeting of the Christa McAuliffe Charter School Education Committee will take place on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 4:00pm.
This has been a tumultuous year, disruptive for all. It’s been particularly difficult for people of color, immigrant communities, and those who financially struggle. Unfortunately, it seems that we may face even greater instability in the days and weeks ahead. Post-election strife and amplified political rhetoric may seek to divide rather than bring us together.
Whatever may happen in the coming days, it’s critical that we remember what will not change: our school, our mission, and our values.
We are a diverse Crew of scholars and educators. We celebrate and draw strength from our breadth of identity and background.
We believe that an intense commitment to self and community will foster a more just and equitable future. We stand against systemic racism and inequality. We acknowledge that indigenous peoples were the original stewards of this land. We affirm that Black Lives Matter.
We uphold the norms of a civil and engaged community. We extol civil rights, the precious value of free and fair elections, and the power of an educated populace taking action. We believe that our motto — “We Are Crew, Not Passengers” — should be the rallying cry of everyone across this land.
We are a school, and therefore a place of hope.
Almost three decades ago, a play called “Angels in America” opened in New York. In that play, characters faced a public health crisis disproportionately affecting some more than others. They saw little support from leaders in Washington. Yet they discovered that their voices, attitudes, and actions still made a difference. Today the final moment of that play seems particularly resonant — that moment when the lead character suddenly turns to the audience, looks people in the eye, and says
The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
Team McAuliffe, stay strong. Be well.
What was the best class you ever attended?
I had some great teachers growing up. I fondly remember my 5th grade teacher, an amazing ELA middle school instructor, and a compelling history professor in college. But the best class I ever had took place well into adulthood — a three-hour introduction to fly fishing.
I was on vacation with my family. I never had any previous interest in the sport, and yet I was spellbound. But what made it so special? Reasons included:
An enthusiastic teacher. In my case, we had a park ranger who was also a science teacher at the local school. He was genuine, generous, and passionate, an instructor whom we trusted.
The sense of camaraderie among the students.
His presentation — informal lecture, careful demonstration of equipment, and plenty of time set aside for Q & A. He was completely kind and responsive to our rambling questions. He gave us confidence and cued our positive mindset.
Our performance — fly casting on the river. We made a lot of mistakes, but we trusted and respected each other. We worked through moments of failure together. We took the time we needed to generate a beautiful, lengthy, geometrically fluid cast into the water.
The sport itself — an unexpected combination of high focus and low stress. We worked with nature, not against it. It was mindfulness at the riverbank.
Our teamwork — students helped each other out and learned together, not independently.
The novelty– I had no preconceptions of the event, no idea what to expect. Hello, dopamine release!
The bargain cost — a benefit of our weekly national park pass, as were the other half-dozen programs we enjoyed and the countless unstructured hours we spent in the park.
Seeing my child so enthralled — priceless.
Somehow these elements came together to create a perfect morning. None of these pieces were “once-in-a-lifetime”; all were, and are, reproducible. And as my eighth grader would say, in a loud voice: “GUESS WHAT!!!” We are replicating them right here at McAuliffe. We offer creative and innovative experiences for our scholars, including #WeAreCrew mindset; expeditions inviting scholars to take the time they need to tackle large questions in an interdisciplinary environment,; hands-on fieldwork; and culminating events allowing the community to celebrate high quality work.
When we say “remote learning” in 2020, we might not think of a remote wilderness. But the founders of EL Education were rooted in outdoor education and certainly thought so! At McAuliffe, we harken back to that original vision of what learning should be. It’s what drew me to this delightful school, and I imagine it will excite those who learn more about all that we do. Welcome!