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A Well-Rounded Public School Education

The more likely explanation is that extracurricular education—one that focuses on skills beyond standardized testing and rankings—creates passionate citizens who are spring-loaded for citizenship.
They Were Trained for This Moment How the student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High demonstrate the power of a comprehensive education.

By Dahlia Lithwick

Feb 28, 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma González gives a speech at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Feb. 17.


The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to class Wednesday morning two weeks and moral centuries after a tragic mass shooting ended the lives of 17 classmates and teachers. Sen. Marco Rubio marked their return by scolding them for being “infected” with “arrogance” and “boasting.” The Florida legislature marked their return by enacting a $67 million program to arm school staff, including teachers, over the objections of students and parents. Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill opted to welcome them back by ignoring their wishes on gun control, which might lead a cynic to believe that nothing has changed in America after yet another horrifying cycle of child murder and legislative apathy.

But that is incorrect. Consumers and businesses are stepping in where the government has cowered. Boycotts may not influence lawmakers, but they certainly seem to be changing the game in the business world. And the students of Parkland, Florida, unbothered by the games played by legislators and lobbyists, are still planning a massive march on Washington. These teens have—by most objective measures—used social media to change the conversation around guns and gun control in America.

Now it’s time for them to change the conversation around education in America, and not just as it relates to guns in the classroom. The effectiveness of these poised, articulate, well-informed, and seemingly preternaturally mature student leaders of Stoneman Douglas has been vaguely attributed to very specific personalities and talents. Indeed, their words and actions have been so staggeringly powerful, they ended up fueling laughable claims about crisis actors, coaching, and fat checks from George Soros. But there is a more fundamental lesson to be learned in the events of this tragedy: These kids aren’t freaks of nature. Their eloquence and poise also represent the absolute vindication of the extracurricular education they receive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

The students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America.

Despite the gradual erosion of the arts and physical education in America’s public schools, the students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America and that is being dismantled with great deliberation as funding for things like the arts, civics, and enrichment are zeroed out. In no small part because the school is more affluent than its counterparts across the country (fewer than 23 percent of its students received free or reduced-price lunches in 2015–16, compared to about 64 percent across Broward County Public Schools) these kids have managed to score the kind of extracurricular education we’ve been eviscerating for decades in the United States. These kids aren’t prodigiously gifted. They’ve just had the gift of the kind of education we no longer value.

Part of the reason the Stoneman Douglas students have become stars in recent weeks is in no small part due to the fact that they are in a school system that boasts, for example, of a “system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age.” Every middle and high school in the district has a forensics and public-speaking program. Coincidentally, some of the students at Stoneman Douglas had been preparing for debates on the issue of gun control this year, which explains in part why they could speak to the issues from day one.

The student leaders of the #NeverAgain revolt were also, in large part, theater kids who had benefited from the school’s exceptional drama program. Coincidentally, some of these students had been preparing to perform Spring Awakening, a rock musical from 2006. As the New Yorker describes it in an essay about the rise of the drama kids, that musical tackles the question of “what happens when neglectful adults fail to make the world safe or comprehensible for teen-agers, and the onus that neglect puts on kids to beat their own path forward.” Weird.

The student leaders at Stoneman Douglas High School have also included, again, not by happenstance, young journalists, who’d worked at the school paper, the Eagle Eye, with the supervision of talented staff. One of the extraordinary components of the story was the revelation that David Hogg, student news director for the school’s broadcast journalism program, WMSD-TV, was interviewing his own classmates as they hid in a closet during the shooting, and that these young people had the wherewithal to record and write about the events as they unfolded. As Christy Ma, the paper’s staff editor, later explained, “We tried to have as many pictures as possible to display the raw emotion that was in the classroom. We were working really hard so that we could show the world what was going on and why we need change.”

Mary Beth Tinker actually visited the school in 2013 to talk to the students about her role in Tinker v. Des Moines, the seminal Supreme Court case around student speech and protest. As she described it to me, the school’s commitment to student speech and journalism had been long in evidence, even before these particular students were activated by this month’s horrific events. Any school committed to bringing in a student activist from the Vietnam era to talk about protest and freedom is a school more likely than not to be educating activists and passionate students.

To be sure, the story of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students is a story about the benefits of being a relatively wealthy school district at a moment in which public education is being vivisected without remorse or mercy. But unless you’re drinking the strongest form of Kool-Aid, there is simply no way to construct a conspiracy theory around the fact that students who were being painstakingly taught about drama, media, free speech, political activism, and forensics became the epicenter of the school-violence crisis and handled it creditably. The more likely explanation is that extracurricular education—one that focuses on skills beyond standardized testing and rankings—creates passionate citizens who are spring-loaded for citizenship.

Perhaps instead of putting more money into putting more guns into our classrooms, we should think about putting more money into the programs that foster political engagement and skills. In Sen. Rubio’s parlance, Marjory Stoneman Douglas was fostering arrogance. To the rest of the world, it was building adults.

Dyanthe’s Weekly Letters

Week of February 26, 2018

Dear Neighborhood School Families,

It’s at this time each year that the Department of Education (DOE) Parent Survey comes out.  The DOE survey gathers information about your overall satisfaction with our school and the results are published and used to determine our official rating. Completion rates are also important as they reflect the level of parent involvement to the DOE.  Each TNS family needs to complete a survey so that the Chancellor knows that our parents are involved, informed, and are advocates for our children. Each student received a green envelope containing a hard copy of the survey to fill out along with postage-paid envelope. You can also complete the survey online using your access code (in the green envelope).  Thank you!

Our TNS Spring Auction is just two weeks away!  Please join me, TNS families and staff Thursday, March 8 at the Manny Cantor Rooftop (197 East Broadway).  There will be many wonderful items up for bids like summer camp at Elite Gymnastics, ice cream at Van Leeuwen, VIP Family Pack at Lefrak ice skating rink, brunch for 2 at Tribeca Grill and more!  Even if you can’t make the event, you can still get some great deals (and support TNS) at the online auction.  Check it out: http://tnsny.org/auction.  All proceeds go to support our PTA funded programs.

Mark your calendars:

  • The Auction Committee meets Monday at drop-off in the small cafeteria.

  • ECO meets Tuesday at drop-off in the small cafeteria to plan for the Earth Day Fair which will take place on Wednesday April 18th from 12:20-4:00.

  • SING is Wednesday at 8:45AM in the auditorium.  We will have a bake sale in the lobby beforehand.

  • SLT meets Thursday at 8AM in Room 301.  All are welcome!

Agenda:

1. Quality Review feedback.

2. Follow up on parent responses, esp. Related to IEP answers.

3.  Begin planning CEP for 2018 - 19.

  • Lice Treatment Center will be doing a school-wide lice check on Thursday in Room 301.  Parent volunteers will escort groups of students to and from your class during the morning.

  • The Advocacy Committee meets Friday morning at drop-off in the PTA Room.

  • Erin, Dianne & Shaquawn, Jane, Olivia & Chelsea, Grace, Hannah and Mara & Caroline’s classes‬ go ice skating Friday.  

Welcome Back,

Dyanthe

News & Announcements

CONGRATULATIONS! HANDMADE FOR PR

CONGRATULATIONS TNS COMMUNITY!  We raised $1,521 through HANDMADE FOR PR!!  

THANKS TO ALL THE MOMS, DADS, TEACHERS, PARAS, SISTERS, SISTER-IN-LAWS, NANAS & BABAS, GRANDMAS, BROTHERS, STUDENTS, ANONYMOUS, AND ALL OF OUR DONORS WHO CREATED BEAUTIFUL HANDMADE ITEMS TO SELL!

ALL PROCEEDS WILL GO TO PURCHASE AND SHIP SUPPLIES TO OUR PARTNER SCHOOL:  EUGENIA MARIA DE HOSTOS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN SAN LORENZO, PR!

News & Announcements

PTA Agenda for 2/15

Meeting Agenda

1. Introductions 8:40-8:50

2. Approval of Minutes 8:50-8:51

3. Updates from PTA presidents (all activities at TNS are accessible to ALL families regardless of ability to pay) 8:51-8:52

4. Presentation by Barbara DiGangi, LMSW & Jennifer Agis, LMSW about Families Thriving, a support network for our families  8:52-8:57

5. Half Day Survey results and discussion 8:57-9:02

6. Updates from Treasurers 9:02-9:04

7. Committees Reports

1. Events

1. Auction: March 8 9:04-9:10

2. Puerto Rico Fundraiser 9:10-9:12

8. Wellness: discussion of #metoo movement changed into request by parents to have more education on how to talk to their children about their bodies, age appropriate sex education and harrassment; SW to do coaching with us  9:12-17

9. Class Parents/Parent Liaisons 9:17-9:24

1. Are you getting class emails? Are you on the TNS listserve?

2. Konstella: school wide vote to adopt/not adopt software program to help with school communication & organizing

10. ECO   9:24-9:26

11. Garden   9:26-9:28

12. Old Business and New Business 9:28-9:30

Meeting adjourned 9:30

Dyanthe’s Weekly Letters

Week of February 12, 2018

Dear Neighborhood School Families,

The TNS Handmade for Puerto Rico Pop-up store is open all this week!  Proceeds will be used to purchase and ship supplies for our partner school in PR.  There are three ways to get involved: make a handmade item to donate (use this link for INSTRUCTIONS), volunteer to work at the store (CLICK HERE to sign-up) and come shopping!

The Diversity Committee is listening and discussing “Seeing White” http://podcast.cdsporch.org/seeing-white/, a series of podcasts and a deep dive into the notion of “whiteness”.  Where did “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is it for?  How is this discussion important to our work as a school?  The premise of this series is that the American conversation about race, and the stories we tell ourselves about race and ethnicity are deeply incomplete and often misleading.  We need new stories and new understandings about our history and our current racial and ethnic reality.  I hope you will take the time to listen and join Diversity this Tuesday at drop-off for what promises to be a rich conversation.

Mark Your Calendars:

  • The Auction Committee meets Monday at drop-off in the the PTA Room.

  • The Diversity Committee meets Tuesday at drop-off in the small cafeteria.

  • The Garden Committee meets Wednesday at drop-off in the PTA Room.

  • Our February PTA General Meeting is Thursday at 8:40AM in the PTA Room.

  • There is no school February 16 - 25.  

Have a wonderful break.  We’ll see you Monday, February 26.

Warmly,

Dyanthe

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