In the Principal’s Office: The Art of the "Absolute Basics" of Schooling

Posted by Merryl Goldberg, Mar 18, 2011 0 comments

Merryl Goldberg

I was in the principal’s office this morning, but not because I was in trouble.

I am working with a wonderfully committed principal in Vista, CA, Mary Contreras, on developing ways to use the arts as a methodology to reach English language learners on her site.

However, while I was in the office, two boys were ushered in because they were in trouble. I sat and listened to each tell his version of a story which essentially amounted to miscommunication involving bullying and a near physical fight.

As one boy left, the other started crying quietly.

After a moment or two, when gently pushed by Mary to talk about his feelings, the boy said he was sad because he was losing his friend. It was a really poignant and heartbreaking moment, and I truly felt for this kid.   

This interaction brought me back to what I consider the absolute basics of schooling. Reading, writing, and arithmetic – basic?! Yes – no doubt about it.

But, first and foremost there is something else that is truly basic to being able to learn: a sense of belonging, of being cared for, of being in supportive relationships, and community. Without those basic elements, schools, at least in my opinion, are set up for constant mediocrity – if not failure.

Schools rich in arts and sports will always have a head start in the absolute basics, because the nature of the arts and sports are about creating, engaging, and community.

As I watched this pipsqueak of a third grader try to hold himself together, I was overwhelmed with how fundamentally important it is for school to be a place of safety and caring for all kids.

Where I live near San Diego nearly every school has a 50% or more free or reduced school population.

In fact, it is not unusual to find schools where over 90% of the kids are on free or reduced lunch, and where a significant percentage of the kids are classified as homeless because they are living in houses with multiple families.

English language learners abound, and children represent many cultures. I’m positive this represents many of the districts across the nation.

I've never ever met a kid without potential.

I have met a lot of kids who lack opportunities. This includes the kids who come to me at the college level. Structured days with little room for social interaction, is counterproductive to teaching real-life skills and setting up kids for success.

Relationships with our teachers, peers, and families are a remarkable and powerful force in our development, whether positive, negative or somewhere in between. Developing and creating a sense of a positive community is it is an essential ingredient for successful learning, not simply a feel-good attribute or bonus for schools.

Being in Mary’s office was a powerful reminder to me that being in a safe and supportive environment trumps any of the “other” basics.

Truth is – kids should always come first.

Bring back the arts – and integrate them throughout the curriculum so that kids have time to interact and reflect,  be creative and show off,  and feel what it is like to be supported in the educational arena.

Be bold for kids!  Reinvent the educational wheel with the absolute basics as the hub.

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