Saturday, June 21, 2008

Can DISD help us become a more progressive society?

Not too long ago, Dallas Independent School District (DISD) passed a bond package to build 15 new schools. I attended the DISD Bond Election Townhall meeting in my neighborhood to find out more about the bond package. I was always in favor of the bond simply because I think anything the schools can do to improve education for the students in DISD is a good thing. While at the meeting, however, I questioned the efficiency of the way they were planning to spend the money.

Just a year or so ago, they spent a huge amount of time and money on O.M. Roberts Elementary school (my neighborhood school) to install elevators in order to be ADA approved. I completely agree with that move...except that I think it should have been done long ago. What bothers me is not that they spent the money to meet ADA standards...nor is it that the new bond package will mean tearing down O.M. Roberts and rebuilding the school. What bothers me is that there doesn't seem to be foresight as we look to the future of our schools and our children. As a result, it seems to me that we are wasting money that could have been prevented had we looked ahead and spent the money rebuilding the school the first time.

This seems to be a problem in our broader society as well.

As the economy goes south and the United States struggles to catch up to the rest of the world (i.e. foreign cars who have long been smaller and more fuel efficient...foreign countries who are WAY ahead of us in cell phone technology), we react.

What if we, instead, worked toward becoming a proactive and progressive nation? (side contemplation: Are we reactive because we don't have the capability to think ahead?...Could this be due to our focus on lower level skills thinking related to standardized testing that doesn't encourage critical thinking skills and, thus, innovation???)

As an educator, a college professor, an inner-city resident, a few things are obvious to me.

1) Many (most???) of our schools (especially our urban schools) are working off an old, agrigarian society model that hasn't changed...despite the fact that our society, the way we learn, and the technologies available, have.

2) New teachers and college students are being educated by people who grew up without any of these new technologies and who still have a difficult time adjusting and adapting to the current culture...and many choose to remain in the dark and teach as they have always taught.

3) Teachers, community members, and even students, could probably offer us a wealth of suggestions in ways to improve the school's physical environment and ways of educating our children based on their experiences, knowledge of their community, and things they know or want to know.

Here's my thought as it relates to our DISD schools...

What if, as DISD began building these 15 new schools, they held community meetings in the community where the school will be built? What if they asked (and genuinely listened) to the students, teachers, and parents about what they want and need in their schools? What if they were willing to build a school that might be different architecturally (inside and/or outside)? What if they were willing to hear parents who talk about how badly they want their children prepared for college and structured programming around that? What if they took into account a economic efficiency and neighborhood concerns and made schools into community centers that were open late into the evenings (instead of having separately funded and run buildings and organizations for this same thing)?

I don't know what parents or students would say. I don't know what the teachers would say. But aren't they the experts? Don't you think someone who lives in a neighborhood might have better suggestions on how to make the school a bigger, more important, and more relevant part of the community than someone who only spends a 7:00-3:30 day there? Don't you think someone who teaches in a school day in and day out might have a suggestion or two of what could help him or her meet the needs of the children in that neighborhood--socially, academically, physically, and otherwise?

I can hear the naysayers now...It's too expensive...We're under time constraints...We build our schools based on good practices over the years.

I tend to think that if we actually went in to listen to what the community had to say (and followed through on their suggestions), we just might create an environment that would benefit the community in a way we can't comprehend.

Perhaps this could start the progressive, forward-thinking that the United States seems to need right now before we become like England in the 1900s.
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