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I taught in Hunter's Point for a year in a small school with tons of extra services, counselors, nurses, three assistant principals, free food, and an after-school program that few kids attended. The school closed after five years as a result of low test scores. Just because you are willing to admit that teaching to the test is not making the grade doesn't mean you are going to be able to enrich an already dubious curriculum. Listen to Betty Olson-Jones of the Oakland Education Association, who supports the plan to open campuses up to parents and families before, during, and after school so that they might access the new medical clinics, childcare, and employment and housing assistance you plan to provide alongside state standardized classrooms, standards way off the mark for our kids. The OEA would like you to free up teachers so they can be part of the healing. There is not even time in the classroom to have a discussion about the shooting that happened in a child's neighborhood the night before. The Open Court (Oakland's adopted reading program) police want you on paragraph nine, line three at 10:10 or you'll be chastised.
And now that you've — to be fair, I'll say "we've" — fired most of our school counselors and have one for every 700 kids, we're going to call on local businesses and churches to take up the slack, as if they are not strapped and as if they have not been asked already. After-school programs are already run by nonprofit organizations that are often able to do a better job than teachers because they have more adults to students and are free to invent their own curriculum. We're going to put in some extra play structures in the playgrounds, you say, rather than re-establish sports programs. Can you get your local businessperson to clear out the used condoms from under the slides before the kids get to school in the morning? Maybe you'll offer dinners like many schools already do to attract parents to PTA meetings. I think this teaches dependence. Parents are tired and I think fear being condescended to. Maybe a handful will show.
Look at the little kindergartners coming to school in the first half of their journey. They come in bright and cheery, they go out depressed. Kindergarten is all day now with little room for play. Those in the field of child development do not approve but have no say. There is no singing or circle games, and art usually means coloring photocopies of letters with dried-up markers. Scientist and child advocate Joseph Chilton Pierce says, "When the soul is not nourished it destroys itself." Kids need art, music, theater, dance, sports, and projects to involve their hands, hearts, and souls, but no corporation can profit from these activities. Art heals. Kids need decent things to read, and books that don't weigh five pounds and are as aesthetic as a Sears catalog. Worried about stressed students whose overstimulated amygdalas make learning hard and acting out easy? Please get rid of the bells. Studies in Germany are showing the dangers of noise on our already shocked systems and private schools have gotten rid of bells. They are demeaning, aside from being unhealthy.
I can't believe I'm being so cynical but I've been through and around many a school here and feel privileged and enriched to have done so, but the work is more about gaining trust and healing before fractions. The curriculum moves way too fast, and like you said, kids who are transient miss too much and kids in shock have difficulty learning and catching up.
Susan Angst, Oakland
"Sobering Graphic," Visual Art, 10/5
The Exhibition Needs to Be Seen
In the past several years, a number of exhibitions of Palestinian art have had to seek new venues after similar pressure was applied by the self-appointed leaders of the Bay Area Jewish community — but it seems the times are finally changing. Not only was the Middle East Children's Alliance able to find a better place for the exhibition, but MOCHA's cancellation of the show at the behest of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League became not only a local story but one that quickly traveled worldwide, thanks to the Internet. I suspect JCRC director Rabbi Kahn and those supporters of Israel in the Jewish community who think like him will have second thoughts before trying to flex their muscles so publicly again.
The notion that the subject of this art is too "heavy" for our children is a flimsy excuse — not only because, as the article points out, children are exposed to images of violence on their computers and cell phones, but because previous exhibitions of children's art from war zones have never been blocked for that reason. This is an exhibition that needs to be seen. The weapons that appear in the children's drawings were paid for by US taxpayers.
Jeff Blankfort, Ukiah
Art During Wartime
These drawings are quite similar to the drawings of the children of El Salvador who were traumatized by the US-backed military and death squads of the dictatorship. I remember seeing the drawings showing Salvadoran soldiers shooting, planes bombing, etc. Unfortunately, there was no Internet back in the 1970s and 1980s, so many of these drawings only remain in the memory of those of us who were active working against US policies in Central America.
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