Lessons Learned In Combat

#Whatif? Gets Personal

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you are aware of the Twitter hashtag #whatif that almost immediately went viral after Secretary of Education (sic) Arne Duncan tweeted this question on December 30:

Two days later, on January 1, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post highlighted some of the most compelling #whatif tweets in her Answer Sheet column/blog, which you can read here. If you are on Twitter and are following some of the brightest educational minds, you have likely already seen many of these in your Twitter feed, as I have.

As I ruminated on the dozens and dozens of #whatif questions I had and thought about which ones would potentially make the greatest impact (and inspire the most thinking) were I to tweet one of them, I realized that the most compelling #whatif question I had for Mr. Duncan–and for everyone I knew, whether they were educators, parents, or thoughtful citizens–was not necessarily one that would generate the most retweets or the most favorites, but which consistently kept me up at night, evening after evening:

Because while my two daughters are fortunate enough to attend a school district that is, by most accounts, one of the “best” in the country (see my post on our local high school, which was recently named one of Newsweek’s Top American High Schools, here), they are not fortunate enough to be able to attend the school at which I teach, Rollinsford Grade School, a school that has worked extremely hard over the past several years to match students’ daily experiences with what we now understand about brain research, effective practices, and what it means to be a happy, engaged citizen. This is due to the simple fact that my husband and I do not have $32,000 burning a hole in our pockets, which we would need in order to tuition them in each year. As I recently explained to Ms. Strauss in an impassioned letter I recently wrote,

       My own children, while lucky to come from a stable, loving home with two educated parents, do not have the luxury of attending Rollinsford Grade School, as I live in a town different from that in which I teach. While the district I live in is lauded for its “excellence” (the high school in particular has recently been named to a variety of “best” American High School lists, including Newsweek’s annual list), my heart breaks knowing that my children do not get what the students of Rollinsford do. While Rollinsford students are creating pieces of art in order to persuade a public audience about their environmental responsibilities, my oldest daughter is taking a test on the capitals of all of the Northeastern states. While Rollinsford students are exploring the answers to their most burning questions, such as “Why do people do evil things?” or “What does it take to survive in the wilderness?,” my youngest daughter is being asked to complete Mad Minutes (you remember Mad Minutes–those worksheets where you had to successfully complete 30 addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division problems at or under one minute before you could move on to the next level?). While Rollinsford students’ social and emotional lives share the stage with their academic lives, my husband and I have had to fight to implement and uphold 504 plan so that our daughter, who has anxiety and sensory issues, can chew gum and take frequent breaks in order to help regulate her system.
       And while the district that my daughters attend is held up as a gold standard for districts across the state, and families flock to move close enough so that their children may attend the schools within that district, Rollinsford students are now having the existence of their school threatened by low enrollment and local taxpayers–many of whom are willing to shut down their community’s center and its heart.
And OK, you can scoff at what prevents me from sleeping–First World Problems, right?–when we are all aware of children whose educational experience consists of figuring out how to physically and/or emotionally survive on a daily basis. I get that–of course I do. I interact with some of these children daily at my school–at the one school of all the schools I have ever known or been lucky enough to teach in–that truly has their best interests (which are not all the same!) at heart. And while I know my own children, who are resilient and have a strong support network and are really good at “playing” school, will survive and even potentially thrive in spite of attending school in a district that can be considered “good” but could be so much better…
…I can’t help but wonder, #whatif?
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