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.

Lottery Overview

In August 2017 ICS plans to offer about 120 seats in kindergarten (100) and first, second, and third grade (20).

What follows is a detailed explanation of the lottery process. This may not address every issue, but comment below if you are confused, and we’ll follow up.

Attar

Attar the poet

Background

Ellen and I have been through kindergarten admissions as parents ourselves. It is stressful and fraught. We wish it were not so. But as the medieval Persian poet Attar of Nishapur once wrote, “this too shall pass.”

Remember that you are fine parents, with wonderful, unique and beautiful children who will grow up to amaze you. Cure cancer; make art; solve global warming; take care of you in your old age.

Whether they attend ICS or not.

The Details

As of April 2nd we received the following applications:

1st, 2nd, 3rd Grade Kindergarten Total
CSD 13 42 257 299
Non-CSD 13 158 235 437
Total 200 492 692

Our lottery will be held on April 4th, at 10:30 am at our school.

State law families requires that we give preference to families residing in CSD 13. Their names will be drawn randomly, but before the names of families who do not live in the district.

If a child with a sibling is offered a seat, we must offer a seat to his or her brother/sister, even if they have a lower number in the lottery.

After generating and assigning the random numbers, we will check for errors. As a result it will be a few days after April 4th before we email parents with the news of their number and status.

The email you receive will contain specific instructions about next steps, including our enrollment process and information sessions. We will host information sessions in late-April and Early May so that families can see our building, ask specific questions and meet other potential ICS families prior to committing on April 29th.

Waitlist Policy

Children to whom we cannot offer a seat will go onto our wait list in the order of their lottery number. When seats become available we will call once and email you twice; you will have 24 hours to reply. If you do not respond, your name will be removed from the waitlist.

Families can join the waitlist at any time.

We remain grateful for your incredible support and enthusiasm.

 

The End of Time

Some look at current politics and see portents of the end of time.

We’re officially apolitical here at ICS, but our first graders are learning about the solar system.

One very excited child stopped on his way into school today to tell me that our sun will someday grow “very hot and expand way out.”

“Then it will shrink really small, into like two twin dwarves, and explode and we’ll all be turned back into stars”

“Did you talk about that in class?” I asked. (Our teachers aim very high, but I was not clear if Red Dwarfs, Black Holes and End Time, were in our lessons)

“No,” he replied. “But I read a book with my mom last night.”

“You’re going to share that with your class?” I asked.

“Yup.”

Next week the kids are off to the Natural History museum to see the Planetarium and learn more.

I spoke later to Ellen about our kids’ growing knowledge of astronomy. I said that if they learn all this AND the names of just two Supreme Court Justices they’ll be better informed than most adults. (Click the CSPAN poll results to the right, which show the Notorious RBG is the most well-known, but still not by many)

As readers of this blog now, ICS has great faith in kids’ ability to engage with important topics at an early age. And to bring their parents along for the ride.

As adults we often disagree about complex issues like freedom, liberty, opportunity and compassion. But if future generations are going to address these weighty concerns more successfully than we have, they’ll need a foundation of facts on which they can form their opinions. And that’s a job we gladly take on, every day, even in 1st grade.

Herstory in History

Liz Harris has a story in the Times this week about the opening of a Women’s History center inside the New York Historical Society. Having dispensed with Black History in February, we’re on to Women’s History in March. My friend Mark asks, archly, “how about if we just teach history? Period.”

He’s got a point, but as Liz, herself the mother of a little girl, points out we’ve got museums for all kinds of other folks, including Bigfoot! Isn’t it long-past time women got their due?

US Representative Carolyn Maloney is a pioneering female politician. Like Shirley Chisholm, and Geraldine Ferraro, she came of age in a transition time. Starting work as a teacher, she became the first city council member to have a baby in office, and has a long list of legislative accomplishments. No surprise that she told Harris:

We often hear of Paul Revere’s historic ride, but somehow, our children are not taught about Sybil Ludington. Ludington, the daughter of a colonel in the Continental Army, was just 16 years old when she rode through the night an even greater distance than Revere to warn her father’s troops about the approaching British forces. When stories like these are lost, it is a loss to all of us.

Ride, Sybil, Ride

ICS parents need little reminder of how important history is to our approach. Their kids bring home pictures and stories from history every week.  While facts and figures are important to us, these lessons lay a foundation for critical thinking. The knowledge that allows them (eventually) to sift and weigh evidence based on what they know and what they can look up.

 

So what about Sybil? Well, when historians examined her story, they concluded the famous ride may have been little more than wishful thinking. At the time of her death in 1838 there was no mention of her exploits, and even her claim for a war widow’s pension was denied for lack of proof. As with Paul Revere, it seems there was hardly a man  (or woman) alive who remembered.

But that’s not the point.

History can be written to reinforce social expectations and support national narratives. It can be written to oppose them. Children who are exposed to a coherent, content-rich curriculum are capable of grasping these larger truths, debating them, perhaps even writing and researching them on their own.

The journey of this young woman from Duchess Country from obscurity to archetype parallels the journey of women more generally. In 1975, one of Representative Maloney’s predecessors said “during the past 198 years . . . we have continually attempted to throw off the yoke of discrimination against sex and age. Perhaps we can learn a valuable lesson from Sybil.”

As with Miriam, Helen of Troy, or Joan of Arc, Sybil’s exploits need not have happened to inspire us towards American ideals of justice and equity, and to remind us where we have fallen short. The need remains as urgent today as it was in April of 1777, when British troops attacked the Continental Army’s arms depot in Danbury.

 

Equity and Truth

Last June the paper of record highlighted the City’s plans to address the long-standing, yawning, gap between the number of students of color in public schools (68%) and the number attending Specialized High schools (10%).

Brooklyn Tech, The Pride of Fort Greene

In 2015 the Mayor suggested making the test easier; the angry cries of Specialized High School alums quickly (and rightly) punctured that trial balloon. So they went with free test prep.

Like far too many of of the City’s efforts this was doomed from the start. Trying to fix, in the summer of 7th or 8th grade, the deficits of background knowledge and writing skill that have accumulated over eight years of educational neglect is a fool’s errand.

I know: I spent thousands on my kid, to have him earn the same score on the practice SHSAT as he did on the real one. He did well enough to get an offer, but it wasn’t because of the test prep. He was lucky enough to live in the right zip code.

Today’s paper has a story that one might call chronicle of a failure foretold. But unlike in a Marquez novel, there is no chance of a magical ending. Once again the students offered seats at our most prestigious schools don’t reflect the population we serve. 154 black middle schoolers got offers. 660 Hispanic students. Out of 55,000 students.

Once again we hear the administration has a plan. Once again we are told this is important. Once again we will wait to fix the issue.

Changing our long-standing misbeliefs about what little kids can learn and do is hard; our municipal leadership struggles to face that fact. As ICS parents know, a coherent, content rich curriculum that builds children’s background knowledge and cultural literacy is available. Children who are educated in this way can grapple with big ideas, and succeed on difficult exams. It takes committed educators, it takes hard work. But it is not magic.

Ellen remarked to me this morning as we ran to get breakfast for the kids: “What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Being American

We celebrated the Lunar New Year in school on Friday. A first grade parent came in to read to her son’s class and told us afterwards:

My son was born in China and moved to New York City when he turned one year old. We went back China a couple of times to visit my family in the past five years, but I noticed that he doesn’t like Mandarin and Chinese traditions. He always told me: mom no Mandarin. I felt hurt but I understand that he lacks the setting to value his background culture. But it’s very important for him to learn and know his roots as he grows up.

Such cultural celebrations will make him proud of his Chinese heritage and help him learn the culture. I appreciate you provided the opportunity for my family to make the improvement for his culture learning.

Embracing one’s origin while ‘becoming’ American is a challenge many ICS children share. Just this morning a new student began school with us; until he was four, he spoke his mother’s language, Bahasa. Now that he’s in kindergarten, he too tells her he only speaks English. But we know that, in time, our students will come to appreciate their unique stories and traditions.

The order the President issued on Friday regarding refugees from seven Middle Eastern and African nations was, in some sense, not surprising. As many other elected officials have noted the language he used seems, at best, ill-advised. And the implementation was handled very poorly.

Since 2001 the United States has admitted about 450,000 refugees from the Middle East and South Asia, the vast majority from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. In some cases they worked for our government as translators, and are now threatened by terrorists themselves.

According to a study by the Cato Institute,

Of the 3,252,493 refugees admitted from 1975 to the end of 2015, 20 were terrorists, which amounted to 0.00062 percent of the total. In other words, one terrorist entered as a refugee for every 162,625 refugees who were not terrorists. Refugees were not very successful at killing Americans in terrorist attacks. Of the 20, only three were successful in their attacks, killing a total of three people and imposing a total human cost of $45 million, or $13.84 per refugee visa issued. The three refugee terrorists were Cubans who committed their attacks in the 1970s and were admitted before the Refugee Act of 1980 created the modern rigorous refugee-screening procedures currently in place.

ICS cares deeply about a coherent, content rich curriculum that provides students with the background knowledge they need to think critically about their society. Balancing our traditions with the inevitable need to adapt as the world changes. Not reacting before thinking.

We invest every day in this long term goal. School staff and parents alike. But kids as young as ours struggle to process news like this with sophistication (we wish all) adults (could) do. Discussing or teaching about the new president and his proposed policies is not appropriate for our classrooms. Yet.

At this age and in these times, we talk about our values; kindness, respect and love. We found this 1946 poster and thought it was apposite. It is hanging next to our water fountains. Where we hope our children, and parents, will read it.