Learning about the wondrous American experiment

Two weeks ago, Deans for Impact released Building Blocks, our digital publication summarizing our research visits to 18 educator-preparation programs over the past two years. One of our goals was to make the hard work of teacher preparation more visible to the broader education community, and the early wave of enthusiasm and warm feedback suggests we may have hit our target. We are grateful to those who have read and viewed the report – and hope those who haven’t yet will take a peek soon.

In the meantime, I want to share about some of what we learned that we couldn’t include in our report. Our investigative efforts taught us – and by us I mean the Deans for Impact staff – a lot about teacher education. But we learned something else through the course of these visits, too, something perhaps equally important.

We learned about the wonders of this nation.

We learned about what is believed to be the very first public school in the country, Mather Elementary School, in Boston. We learned from teachers there that they still feel reverberations from the violent protests that took place decades ago to resist racial integration in that city.

We learned about the first school district to integrate Native American and white children, the Lapwai School District in Idaho, the “land of the butterflies” and the Nez Perce tribe. We learned of the “three Rs of Indian education: Respect, Reciprocity and Relationality,” according to the terminology of the school district (and based on principles often contained in Indigenous learning practices).

We learned about the Permian Basin of West Texas, now known to the world – for better or worse – as the land of Friday Night Lights. We learned that high school football stadiums in West Texas can be nicer than many, if not most, university stadiums.

Speaking of Texas, in Lubbock we learned about the elementary school that Buddy Holly attended as a child (Roscoe Wilson Elementary). Some of us watched the November 2016 election results in a hotel lobby in Lubbock, and will never forget the experience.

We learned about Belmont High School in Los Angeles, where the student body is filled with immigrant students who have fled violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and other countries in Central and South America. Many of these students live on their own, without any family, working full time to support themselves. We learned they come to Belmont because they know they will be welcomed, and educated.

We learned about – and went up – the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and some of us became inexplicably obsessed with it. We even have a children’s book in the office, The Most Awesome Arch!, that features a squirrel named “Archie.”

And speaking of things most awesome, we made it a point to learn about eating delicious local cuisine (though cheaply, as we were on a budget). When next in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, you might want to learn about the chicken and waffles at Craft Tap House. In Boston, you might want to learn about the Dominican food at Merengue Restaurant. When in Reno, however, exercise caution when eating at the casinos, unless you want to learn about lung cancer from second-hand smoke.

We learned that, in a third-grade classroom in a school just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, there is a young student writing a play about the “social grammar of America.” Correction: When we asked if this was the theme of his play, he explained that it was merely the play within the play.

We learned to look forward to working for this student one day.

We also learned that there are many signs now hanging in Charlottesville that read: Hate is Not Welcome Here.

We learned about tragedy, and we learned about joy. We learned about privilege, and we learned about poverty. We learned about race, and we learned about racism. We learned about the diversity of America that is both our greatest strength and our most pressing challenge. We learned about the possibilities of our future – and the ghosts of our past.

We hope through Building Blocks you will share in some of the wonder of what we learned. And we hope those of you in the field of teacher preparation will consider working alongside us so that we can strengthen teaching, strengthen the opportunities for the next generation of students, and in so doing strengthen the wondrous experiment that is the United States of America.

Let’s keeping learning together.

Benjamin Riley

Founder and Executive Director

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