From out of the dust, dreams #invisiblechildren

In preparation for our next Parent University at Anastasis Academy, I’m re-reading Seth Godin’s education manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams.”  In the manifesto, Seth proposes the following question:

 

“Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?”

For the first time in my 9 year education career, I can say, “yes!”  Of course I have to preface that with, we don’t really teach a “curriculum” in the traditional sense of the word.  Instead, we have inquiry topics that give us a rough guide for learning and the Common Core standards that ensure the basics are covered.  (And I do mean basics. Have you read through them all?  They are underwhelming to say the least.)

 

I found the following to be all too true in curriculum:  “There’s no room for someone who wants to go faster, or someone who wants to do something else, or someone who cares about a particular issue. Move on. Write it in your notes; there will be a test later. A multiple choice test.”

 

When I was dreaming of a new kind of school, I knew that it couldn’t be tied to a one-size-fits-all boxed curriculum.  I have yet to meet two children who are identical.  We are all unique, we all have interests and passions. We all have our own set of gifts and weaknesses.  To measure every student against a predetermined “completely educated student” model isn’t going to work. Why is it that we keep pushing this idea that every child should look the same upon exiting their formalized schooling?  My guess is that we do it because we are lazy, because it is easy to take something that is measurable and create a system around it.  Only, humans aren’t easily measured are they?  I feel like every standardized test score should come with an asterisk next to it that explains the intricacies of the score.  “This score is misleading because….” Followed by the multitude of reasons that the score doesn’t really offer an accurate picture at all.

 

At Anastasis, we aren’t in the business of measuring kids against some antiquated idea of educational perfection.  Instead, we are in the business of dreams.  We work to teach kids to be brave and connected.  We help kids realize their passions and go out into the world with empathy.  I’m considering adding the following quote from Seth’s manifesto in our staff handbook:

 

“We do not need you to cause memorization. We need students who can learn how to learn, who can discover how to push themselves and are generous enough and honest enough to engage in the outside world to make those dreams happen.” -Stop Stealing Dreams

 

It’s one thing to believe these ideals and it is another completely to live them every day.  To be brave enough as a school to stop the madness even as we are asked about standardized testing, curriculum, and grades.  I’m proud of our little community for their bravery.  I’m proud of the way they support and help each other through those times when they aren’t feeling so brave.  I’m proud of them for sticking with us when they can’t point to endless standardized data to back up their claim that their child is learning.

 

Every 5 weeks, we get together as a school community for Anastasis Serves.  This looks a little bit different each block based on what we are working in our inquiry unit, what needs the community has and what opportunities are available to us.  One of our incredible parents organizes Anastasis Serves.  She works hard to take into consideration what the kids are learning, and what they could do as a school community that would grow us as global citizens.  This block seemed to have some major divine intervention.  One of our teachers, Lance, has a ministry called Impact Edventures. Through the ministry, he had been in contact with the Watoto Children’s choir and worked to get them to join us at Anastasis.  Words cannot express the tremendous blessing this was for our community.  The Watoto Children’s choir is a program whose mission is to rescue an individual, raise each one to be a leader, and ultimately rebuild a nation.  The group from Uganda began as a result of an enormous population of orphaned and vulnerable children and women in Africa.  Many of the children that make up the choir have lost one or both parents to war and HIV AIDS.  Watoto provides a home and stability for these children and tours around the world to spread awareness of the conditions and hopes in their country through song. This is an incredible group of children and adults.  Each child in Watoto has the opportunity to travel the world and sing in the choir only once.  Upon returning home, the children train the next choir who will travel.  You can’t help but fall in love with these children and have your heart-broken over the stories they share.  They have seen tragedy, but what our students noticed more than anything was the unmistakable joy that these children have.  They are thankful, loving and happy.

Denver Post 2012

View the video of Watoto with our students here.
@Michellek107 prepared our students for the Watoto’s arrival by teaching them a welcome song in Swahili.  Our students sang to the traveling choir to welcome them to our school and community.  I do believe they were impressed with our attempt!  They helped us pronounce and enunciate some of the words and taught our students to dance.  It was an incredible morning of cultures colliding and an opportunity for our students to realize that children are children no matter where they are from.  All of the children ate lunch together and played together.  Anastasis families volunteered as host families for the Watoto children.  The Watoto choir put on another performance in the evening and many of our families made a special trip back to school so that they could spend more time with the incredible group.  It is hard to put into words the blessing that this day was for our community.  (To see more pictures of our day, check out this article in the Denver Post.)

This is learning.  This is what education is about.  Connections.  Collisions of human stories.

 

One of the things that the Watoto children taught us was about what their lives would look like without Watoto.  Some of the children shared their pasts as child laborers.  This is where that divine intervention I mentioned earlier came full swing.  The parent who organizes the Anastasis Serves days does so months in advance.  This Anastasis Serves day was to happen the day that Watoto left us.  The topic: Child Laborers.  This was an unusual Anastasis Serves because our students weren’t necessarily “serving” others.  Instead, the goal was to help students understand what child labor is and to help build empathy.  We used Red Card Kids Lesson 5 on Child Laborers as a guide for our day.  All of our students, 1st-8th grade, gathered together for the day.  We began by talking about the “work” that our students do at home, or a job that they have had.  We briefly discussed laws in the United states that permit children who are 15 and older to work as long as the jobs do not risk their health, safety, or moral development and don’t interfere with their attending school.  We asked students why they thought these laws existed.  Currently, more than 200 million children between the ages of 5 and 15 work up to 14 hours a day instead of attending school.  It is easy to talk about child labor, watch a video, listen to some statistics and promptly walk away unchanged.  We didn’t want this for our students.  We wanted them to really understand the hopelessness, anger, and resignation that these children feel.  We planned out a simulation of what it means to be a child laborer.

 

Each student was given a situation card.  The card described the new identity the students had for the day.  They learned what their home life was like, what struggles their family was currently facing and what their job was to be for the day.  Each student was given a hammer, protective eye wear and a brick.  For the next 30 minutes, students used the hammers to break the bricks into sand for our imaginary road.  There was absolutely no talking, no breaks, no water, no mercy.  If a teacher saw a student slow down, they would yell at them to pick up the pace and threaten to lower wages.  You could see the frustration and anger in the students eyes at the unfairness of the situation.  We didn’t let them stop if they started to get a blister or their arms got tired.  We were mean. When we were finished, the students had to collect all of the sand and gravel into buckets and haul it to the dumpster and then were marched silently back to their classroom.  Teachers decided what the wage would be for the work.  It wasn’t always a fair  wage based on the work done (fair being $0.35 total). Some hard-working students only received a dime.  Students were asked to go back to their situation cards and decide how they were going to spend their money.  They could use the money to pay rent, to pay for rice to feed their family, or a small toy at our makeshift store.

 

The empathy for those children they had played with the day before was enormous.  Anastasis students of all ages talked about the injustice of child labor.  Asked questions like “why don’t they just rebel?”  Got teary eyed as they realized many of their favorite brands employ child laborers.  Vowed to change the world.

 

I was amazed and proud of our students. They took the simulation seriously and honestly considered what life would be like if they couldn’t go to school. If they broke bricks 14 hours a day for $0.35.  What would happen to them physically if this was their life. Asked hard questions about what happened if a child became disfigured as a result of their job.  They jumped to each others aid when a bucket got accidentally dumped and needed to be gathered again.  This day was culture building.

 

This look into child labor happened on a half day leading into our spring break.  Incredibly, the kids didn’t just leave the hard day behind them. Instead they worked together to start a movement.  @leadingwlove’s class created this site and are working to make LSGW a 501c3 foundation.  Here is the note they added as a result of the child labor day:

 

To Anyone with a Willing Heart & a Compassionate Spirit:
Here at LSGW, we are starting a Revolution, a movement to make a change in the world, to respond to the needs of people with compassion and justice! We challenge you to join us in the fight to end the injustice that plagues the people of this world. We hope you will be moved to make a difference.
Welcome to the official site of LSGW**, Let’s Save God’s World Foundation. Our purpose is to reel in the next generation of changemakers. God has blessed us with many resources and materials to begin this new and exciting project. We hope to work along side all of you in our exciting journey to make God’s creation a better place. Please check out the advertising campaign that the students in Mrs. Lauer’s class have put together to promote our cause, and spread the word!
**LSGW is an educational non-profit foundation and an official middle school learning process at Anastasis Academy in Lone Tree, CO. 100% of donations and fundraising go to the cause!
Enjoy and Make a Difference!
– Written by Lexxi, Jake, and Mrs. Lauer

 

I believe that these are the children who are going to change the world.  These are the children who are going to put an end to child labor.  These kids are generous enough and honest enough to make those dreams a reality.

 

This is the reason I can confidently answer “yes” to Seth’s question, “Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?”

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3 comments

  1. A great way to allow our children to realise what life is like outside their sphere – it is easy to ‘watch’ it on the screen or hear it talked about, but we all know that unless we experience something first-hand and ‘walk-in-my-shoes’, we will never truly empathise. What a tough day you all had – good too that the teachers also experienced what it is like to treat children in such a negative and unnatural way to them! There has obviously been a lot of learning and a total revolution of understanding now – awesome! Will look forward to reading about the project and how this evolves further in teaching and learning.

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