Technology in Schools

Prospective parents often ask how ICS exposes kids to technology. We offer a counter-intuitive answer:  “Not much.” Our experience is that the impact of most educational technology is oversold.

This weekend I read a provocative essay by a local mom, who notes there is little evidence that technology in the classroom aids poor kids, who are often used to justify large spending plans.

Talk of a ‘digital divide’, she says, is misleading:

The real digital divide in this country is not between children who have access to the internet and those who don’t. It’s between children whose parents know that they have to restrict screen time and those whose parents have been sold a bill of goods by schools and politicians that more screens are a key to success. 

At school, both for ICS kids and my own, I see time and attention spans sliced into ever smaller bits; kids who struggle to find the deeper meaning in written words and conversation. In 1984 George Orwell predicted the government would use constant noise to prevent citizens from thinking. The irony is we have done it to ourselves.

We are not Luddites. Our partners at Amplify are looking at a range of ways in which we can use technology to better assess kids’ comprehension. But as you see the picture to the left, the adult is talking to the child, not simply hooking him up to a screen. As we see impact we are willing to invest more. But poorly conceived school-wide or district-wide programs rarely succeed.

Another area of interest for technology is in programming and engineering-like activitioues. The Family Organization is partnering with the League of Young Inventors on one such program.

Additional screen time leads to increased attention deficit disorder and other academic issues, according to the essay I cited above.

In general, families can best support their kids by putting down the computers and phones, and talking. Or reading a book together. Set limits (for yourself too!) and stick to them. It is not easy, but the impact is high and the investment will pay dividends for both your child and our society.

 

How Long?

Psalnyc elementary schoolm 13 begins by asking “How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?”

The question seems apposite in light of the latest study from the New School, publishers of the popular InsideSchools website that helps many parents to pick schools. The Times covered it today, noting:

the poorer students were, the lower they tended to score on the test, even when they went to the same school as wealthier children.

Take P.S. 8, …  in Brooklyn Heights, which the Center for American Progress identified last year as having one of the richest Parent Teacher Associations in the country, and which has a relatively diverse student body. While 64 percent of its students passed the state math test in 2016, compared with 36 percent of students citywide, black students at the school were nearly a full proficiency level behind their white peers. (emphasis added)

I raised this same concern three years ago, observing that average Black-White achievement gap in seven desirable Brooklyn elementary schools was 37 percentage points in English and 43 in math.

At the time I wrote to one Brooklyn mom that until we wake up every morning asking, “why is this?” we’re fooling ourselves that we’re solving the problem.

It seems we are still asleep.

A co-author of the New School’s study told the Times her study “shows diversity, and whether a school does or does not have diversity. But there’s a big leap between having diversity and having integration.”

Amen.

ICS kids have yet to take state tests. We’ve made our overall view of the role of state testing data very clear. That is not the same as asserting that ICS will not face a gap. We know where the challenges lie.

But we’re not hiding from them.

A ray of hope in the New School report is a diverse-by-design charter school in Cobble Hill, where the economic gap does not predict the academic gap. Many of you will know this school is part of the Success Academy network. There’s an interactive site here where you can look up individual schools and districts.

Meanwhile, we continue to invest in our children and their families. With high quality instruction, emotional support, and harassing messages to please get your kids to school by 8:00.  Because we believe all kids can succeed, and income must not be allowed to predict outcome.

Know Your Ancient Civilizations

Veterans of 1st grade will recall we invest several weeks learning about ancient civilizations. Like the King in Alice in Wonderland we think history makes more sense when you “begin at the beginning and go on ’til you come to the end.”

As parents know far-too-well, time is quite abstract for young children. Many educators believe kids can’t learn history at this age as it is not concrete enough. We know they can, they just need support.

After a class presentation on monotheism, I recently explained to a 1st grader that David, the famous King of Israel, lived a long time ago.

“You mean like the 80’s?,” she asked?

Even longer, I explained.

Her classmate chimed in, suggesting, “Like the 2500’s?” That’s more like it, I nodded.

The stories of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Aztecs, and Israelites might seem to offer little more than the answers to Trivial Pursuit questions. But their cultures form the foundations on which ours rests, whether in art, literature, technology, math or philosophy. The fact that you can read this blog post is a sign of our debt to our ancient ancestors’ systems of writing. (Something many ancient American civilizations lacked.)

Ancient cultures frequently borrowed from each other – Our third graders understand how the Romans recycled the Greek gods. But these civilizations also had distinct features, as one of our 1st graders recently explained.

This week his mom recounted seeing a paper on which her son’s name was written, and underneath an unusual script. “What’s this,” she asked?

In the tradition of families everywhere, the older sibling, who does not attend ICS, blurted out: “It’s hieroglyphics. He spelled his name.”

The ICS student responded promptly, “No, it’s not, it’s cuniform.”

“Same thing,” interjected the older child.

“No it’s not,” replied the younger one. “Cuneiform is Mesopotamian and hieroglyphics are Egyptian.”

If you’re struggling to tell the difference in the pictures in this post, ask one of our first graders. They may not know (yet) exactly when the Sumerians and the Israelites lived. But there’s a lot that they do know. And bit by bit, maybe even without you realizing it, they are building insight and understanding that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

 

On Gratitude

Future ICS student ready for his 1st Christmas

As I look back on the year, I am continually grateful for the opportunity I was given to start ICS. The support and faith of our families, the staff and outside stakeholders has helped us overcome so many challenges.

This is very comforting as the world outside our doors remains unsettling. We live in a world increasingly incapable of agreeing on the simplest of things. I believe this arises, in no small part, from the anemic state of public education. Our failure to build a foundation upon which our children can make sense of the world around them is disheartening.

Of course, ours is not the first society to confront this threat. As in the past, I recall Ebenezer Scrooge’s night journey on Dec 24th, guided by ghosts of the past, present and future. In the present, Scrooge spies two small figures, hidden among the Spirit’s feet:

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds.

Scrooge asks the Ghost “Whose children are these?”

They are Man’s, said the Spirit, looking down upon them. And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

I think I found the answer

Our community continues to demonstrate many ways to erase ignorance. Just three examples from the last week:

  • Reading about the Roman empire one of our third graders noticed the map in his book was mis-labeled and called it out. “That’s why close reading is important,” he told Ellen. (We closed December with a full Roman holiday, aided by support from many of our 3rd grade families, for which I am grateful.)
  • A kindergartener, inspired by our 12 Days of Kindness program, made a card for his letter carrier, and also wanted to ‘re-gift’ a scarf from his grandmother. The mail carrier told mom this was the first time she’d received a thank you from a child.
  • A teacher whose grandparents always make a gift to a child in need at this time, donated her check to support our afterschool scholarship program.

Academically and emotionally ICS continues to light candles rather than curse the darkness. And for that I am indebted to Ellen, our teachers, our Trustees, and our families.

May the coming days be joyful and restorative. See you on the 3rd!

What To Make Of State Tests

In April our third graders will take tests in math and English. They are required by federal law, and administered to public school students across the state.

Ellen and I will host at talk on Tuesday January 16th at 8:30 am at 55 Willoughby to review the details of how the tests work. We encourage all third-grade families to attend.

Below, I have laid out our philosophy. I have written about these tests since 2012. My thoughts have not changed:

  • State tests are imperfect, if well-intended,
  • State tests are one of several ways to assess progress,
  • State tests are only as stressful as we adults chose to make them.

Great Idea, Poor Execution

For decades, we rarely asked how well schools worked, especially for kids with disabilities, in poverty or of color. Every year we spent more money on schools. SAT scores showed it was having little impact.

From this arose more demanding learning standards (the Common Core) and annual tests, with results broken out along key demographic lines. The idea was to confirm that kids learned what the standards said they should know.

But New York’s English standards alone run to 30 pages. The 45-50 questions a test maker can ask won’t cover all the standards. There are better ways to test, but they are costly.

Thus, the first thing to understand is these tests check only a sample of the things the state says kids should know. We will never compromise our teaching by focusing on the few standards the state checks.

The second thing to understand is that annual tests are proficiency exams, designed to measure students in the middle. Each year experts pick a passing score which is nothing more than an informed guess. The tests also can’t detect small, but important, changes among the highest and lowest performers.

Ultimately there are very few things we – and you – learn from these state tests that we did not already know.

Imperfect as they are, the test results offer a basic level of insight about how the school system (as a whole) is performing. They help our authorizer at SUNY to judge the relative performance of the 170 schools in their portfolio. For individual parents (and teachers), however, they provide little additional insight above what work brought home, report cards, and conversations already tell you.

And despite myriad flaws, annual testing has shone some light on students who were ignored in the past. Anna Allenbrook, Principal of the Brooklyn New School, at the heart of the opt out movement, concedes that “parents and schools want to know how their children are doing and standardized exams are one way of measuring that.”

They just don’t provide great insight to school leaders or parents regarding individual students.

Multiple Measures

Given these imperfections we judge student progress in many different ways. Exit tickets, spelling tests, group projects, unit tests and our internal standardized assessments are but a few of them. We start checking in September and continue until June. The report cards you get reflect these multiple measures, as do the conversations you have with your child and his or her teacher over the course of the year.

Where the data show us that a child is struggling, we design interventions and monitor progress more closely. Where they show us that a child is accelerating, we design greater challenges and push the child to do more. Long before April of their 3rd grade year.

Reading is the area where you can have the greatest influence; better comprehension even improves their math results. Turn off the TV, confiscate the smart phone, and ensure your child always has a few good books to read. Ask your local librarian for ideas.

Another way to help is to praise your child for her effort, not for being ‘smart.’ Cognitive psychologists say that kids who are told that results come from hard work, not lucky genes, overcome setbacks more easily and achieve better grades.

Lastly, get them to bed early. Sleep is critical to children’s health and growth. Research shows it’s also when their brain consolidates and organizes all the information we expect them to master.

It’s All about the Adults

Given the flaws in state tests, and the wide range of data available to us already, it is a wonder that school leaders chose to get so worked up about them.

Ellen is in classrooms every day, observing teachers and providing feedback. She’s not waiting for state test results to decide if a teacher needs extra support.

Your child’s teacher is also in class every day. She has a ton of data and experience that helps her to see where your child is making progress and where he or she is struggling. She’s not waiting for state test results to decide if a child needs extra support.

For a few days this April our third graders will spend a few hours on reading and math tests. It will be a bit different than a typical day, but we’ll keep is as normal as we can.

And then we’ll get back to what we know works best: A coherent, content-rich curriculum that builds background knowledge and cultural literacy. A socio-emotional curriculum that fosters intrinsic motivation and self-respect. Physical education and movement. Art, Music and Spanish. And love for one another.

What We Believe

As we move into our fourth admissions season it is appropriate to reflect on our successes, and consider where we can improve. Because society has many conflicting expectations of schools, having a guiding belief is critical. ICS believes that education must provide children the background knowledge and cultural literacy they need to make sense of the world. We have ancillary goals, but if we do not enable children to escape “the morass of propaganda,” as Martin Luther King wrote, what will we really achieve?

King expressed this concern in 1947: 70 years later, the worry is even greater. Facebook, fake news, a nation where half of us are sincerely convinced that half of us are misguided or crazy. It begs Lincoln’s question about how long a house divided against itself can stand.

Three years cannot offer sufficient evidence that we’ve succeeded, but the trend is promising. About 80% of ICS students are reading at or above grade level expectations; for children with special needs the corresponding figure is 65%. These results are not directly comparable to the state tests our third graders will take this Spring, but they reflect our staff’s extraordinary work to lay a foundation of phonics – the building blocks of literacy – upon which the children and their teachers can then build knowledge and its handmaiden, comprehension.

But it is not simply skills that we teach, for every day our work also includes listening and learning lessons where the children hear about, discuss and respond to study units about plants, the human body, religion, history, literature and more. Our kindergarteners cannot spell ‘deciduous’ or ‘coniferous’, but teaching them why some trees lose their leaves in the Fall and others remain green gives them the skill to describe their world and understand how it works.

Parents take great delight when their six-year-old first sounds out a word like ‘esophagus.’ Knowing where that body part is and what it does comes with time and repeated exposure but decoding and comprehension are like a horse and cart; you need both to move forward at a reasonable pace. We like what the data are telling us about our English work thus far. And our parents do too.

We started math instruction with high hopes for a curriculum called Jump. It was praised by many and had some very strong results in several Canadian districts. But it did not work well for us, and in the middle of our first year we switched to Eureka Math. Our staff are confident with the new program, but we have not seen the same results yet. The data from our end-of-unit tests is in conflict with the results of the standardized tests we use, raising further questions.

This is confusing for two reasons: children typically score higher on math proficiency exams than on English, so it is unusual to find ourselves in the opposite boat. And since the same teacher delivers both lessons, it’s hard to fathom how a person has such an impact in English but struggles in math. So we continue to unpack the data and look to improve.

Another source of great pride is the evolution of our Family Organization. From scratch they have found areas of common interest and produced community events celebrating the great diversity of our school. This helps weave a strong web of support for our teachers and administration. From harvest festivals to school tours to advocacy meetings and social media marketing, our families have something to contribute.

Brooklyn is incredibly heterogeneous, and our school community reflects this. Our families speak languages from Albanian and Arabic to Russian and Swedish. (No Welsh or Xhosa, yet). They work as senior government lawyers and marketing execs, retail clerks, actors and subway conductors. They hail from Brighton Beach, the Bronx, Brooklyn Heights and Bay Ridge. At a time when so many forces seek to divide us, our shared commitment to building knowledge in common unites families.

No school is perfect. As part of the charter movement ICS favors a system where you are offered meaningful choices and are free to select the school that best fits your goals for your child. As we prepare to explain ourselves to the next group of prospective parents, we hope our clear commitment to building background knowledge and cultural literacy stands out.

The Randomness of Life – Hug Your kids

Stanford University announced the very sad news that Professor Maryam Mirzakhani passed away on Friday, due to breast cancer. She was 40. She leaves a husband and a daughter.

Young Maryam Mirzakhani

Three years ago she won the Fields Medal, the Nobel prize of math. I wrote about this on the ICS blog. Princeton’s Peter Sarnak told the Times her groundbreaking work created tools that are now the ‘bread and butter’ of working mathematicians.

As the first woman to win this award, I dreamed she would serve as an inspiration to girls at ICS and everywhere. Especially those suffering from the false belief that they are “not good” at math. Mirzakhani once thought that too, but her teacher saw past this and encouraged her anyway.

Her obit notes that unlike the Nobels, the Fields are bestowed only on people aged 40 or younger, not just to honor their accomplishments but also to predict future mathematical triumphs. So in a sense her her untimely death is a loss for all of us.

My mom did not win a Fields but she died young too, of cancer, And so today also reminds me that life can be fleeting; that we need to make the most of every day. And hug each other a lot.

May her memory be for blessing.

Doing the Right Thing

On the 2nd floor at ICS you’re greeted by a quote from Maya Angelou. Speaking at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008 she said History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

ICS is strongly committed to preparing children for an active life of civic engagement.That includes giving them the tools to read and understand history. We have not discussed this in class, but the recent protests over the removal of monuments to Confederate leaders in New Orleans has been on my mind.

Teaching children that morality is timeless while simultaneously asking them to be sensitive to imposing a modern view on people from long ago is tricky. Our school is a short walk from the church where Henry Ward Beecher preached abolition at a time when many New Yorkers were, at best, indifferent to the plight of enslaved Africans. It is easy to imagine that, inserted into the 1850s, we’d all be heroes. But speaking in Harlem in 1964, Malcolm X observed that “you don’t need to go to Mississippi to find a segregated school system”

Children develop a moral sense in large part by hearing the stories we tell them, of how we and our ancestors approached these challenges.  Which is why I am sharing the speech that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave. (Warning: It may take 15 mins to read) That said, I hope you will discuss his words, in the way you feel appropriate, in your family.

Before it was transformed into the start of summer, Memorial Day honored the Civil War dead. Mayor Landrieu quotes from Lincoln’s second inaugural address in his remarks, but this weekend should also remind us of Gettysburg. Where Lincoln said:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom

Mayor Landrieu’s Speech:

Thank you for coming.

The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way – for both good and for ill.

It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans: the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Color, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.

You see: New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.

The American sprinters Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Australian Peter Norman during the award ceremony of the 200 m race at the Mexican Olympic games. Mexico City, Mexico, 1968

There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one.

But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other.

So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy.

He said in his now famous ‘Cornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior racharter school in brooklynce — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago so we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and more perfect union.

Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all of our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it.

President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history … on a stone where day after day for years, men and women … bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”

A piece of stone – one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored.

As clear as it is for me today … for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought.

So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race. I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes.

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

We all know the answer to these very simple questions.

When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once.

This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and, most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.

Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division, and yes, with violence.

To literally put the confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.

History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.

Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.

Here is the essential truth: we are better together than we are apart. Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world?

We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz; the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures.

Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think. All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity.

We are proof that out of many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it!

And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say “wait, not so fast.”

But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant never.”

We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now. No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.

While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts, not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side.

Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.

He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.”

Yes, Terence, it is, and it is long overdue.

Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.

A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond; let us not miss this opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.

We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves — at this point in our history, after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces … would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?

We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations.

And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people.

In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals.

We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America.

Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in, all of the way.

It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes.

Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.

After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed.

So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.

Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved  Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it  is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.”

So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.

As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history. Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause.

Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish: a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Thank you.

Fall 2017 Waitlist Status

We have made seat offers based on the anticipated number of open slots for fall 2017. Over 95% of current ICS families will return this fall. About 15 current students have younger siblings who will start kindergarten with us this Fall. (State law requires that we offer them a preference). Thus we have fewer seats to offer than in prior years

The initial deadline to accept offers is April 30th. As families accept and decline these offers we will make offers to families on our waitlist

The table below allows you to judge your relative position on the list. Refer to your April email from us if you have forgotten your number.

Kinder-garten 1st Grade 2nd Grade 3rd Grade
Top of Waitlist 66 26 59 31

as of May 17th

The Words We Choose

In 1971 Robert Plant wrote a poem about a lady who was reading a sign on a wall. She was careful about her understanding ’cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.    

About 2,600 years earlier Confucius wrote:

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.

Some might say that by the time we got to Led Zeppelin, “morals and art” had deteriorated fully. But the English rocker and the Chinese philosopher both understood that without agreement on meaning, we’re all just dazed and confused.

At ICS we attend closely to imparting a coherent, content-rich vocabulary to our young students for exactly this reason. Long ago we permitted our public schools to retreat from an obligation to impart a common understanding of language and culture. Whatever our motives, the result is clear in our children’s lack of academic progress. And the decline of civil discourse.

Many readers of this blog have benefited from an education that included grammar, writing, and literature instruction that laid a foundation for our intellectual progress. Whatever the changing philosophy of education, we made out pretty well. We take our knowledge for granted. Like these guys:

These two young fish are swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

My friend Robert says knowledge and language proficiency is the water the fish swims in.

In our work every day we help kids to​ navigate ​the ​water​​. Someday they may build ​new ​canals, or dykes, or dams or bridges. ​Send the river in a new directions. ​Dive in from 10 meters while flipping three times, or swim 50 meters in 20 seconds.

But they start by understanding the water as it is. If public schools have anything to contribute to the amelioration of the disaster that Confucius foretold, it will begin by our attending to the meaning of words.