If I wanted my faculty to talk about how our school ought to be, I'd start with this videotape. I'd share its images of many schools, each different from the others, all showing children as active learners, teachers and principals as decision makers, and schools as supportive communities.
I'd follow up during the year, inviting dialogue about what these visions mean, whether we could put these ideas into practice at our school, and what would happen if we did. No doubt we'd have to look at the video more than once, because it contains so much and opens the door to hot topics like report cards and trusting teachers to teach.
Why Do These Kids Love School? opens with a brief overview of several schools before it settles into an in-depth exploration of Peninsula School in Menlo Park, California. The viewer is treated to classroom scenes where, for example, the teacher and the child, whose body the teacher is tracing onto a large paper, exchange glances of deep affiliation. We see students in class meetings confronting the problems of choosing teams ("I always get picked last"). We hear a mother say the school is an "ideal place for the family to be" [italics mine]. There is hands-on, turned-on learning in mathematics, social studies, language arts, science, and the arts. Always there is attention to developing children's confidence, children's abilities, teachers' autonomy, and teachers' imaginations.
Just as the viewer is about to sigh that Peninsula School is, after all, an exception, the video begins a long itinerary of schools characterized by optimism, inventiveness, determination, and success. From Central Park East in Harlem to City Magnet in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Clara Barton in Minneapolis to Davis Alternative in Jackson, Mississippi, there are schools pursuing independent and innovative visions. They don't promise all things to all people, but they serve their students, teachers, and communities, no matter what the color of the students or the amount of funding from the state.
What's important about this video is that it can lift our images of the possible into the realm of shared experience and common vocabulary and thereby help us to transform what's happening in our own backyards.
Available from Pyramid Film & Video, Box 1048, Santa Monica, CA 90406-1048 (1-800-421-2304), for $95. (57 minutes.) A Study Guide is also available, containing suggestions for use and names and addresses of the schools.
-Reviewed by Anne Meek, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Virginia Beach, Va.http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept92/vol50/num01/Reviews.aspx