Schools, Poets, Windows, Mirrors

“Children need mirrors in which to see themselves and windows through which they see the world” – Lucille Clifton

I’m looking forward to President Obama’s address to schoolchildren tomorrow. I’m thankful that my kid will get to hear the speech in his classroom and I hope that he’s encouraged by the speech to make the most of his years in school. My son is in public school. His dad and I went to public schools and I went to public universities. I believe in the idea of public education, but honestly, I believed in it more before I had children. Like any parent, I want what is best for my kids and I’m not convinced that the best is at the public school just down the street. Part of it is that Arizona spends among the least amount of money per child in the nation and that our state legislature made even more cuts to education in the last budget. But I think I’d be worried even if I lived somewhere else. My friends who live in other states are like me, they constantly re-evaluate where their kids go to school and make adjustments. Private school or public? Charter school or home-schooling? There are so many choices for us to make, both good and bad, and that’s just talking about curriculum. Many of us also have concerns about diversity and cultural inclusion.

I like what Lucille Clifton had to say about how children learn: they need mirrors and windows. I hope I’m getting Ms. Lucille’s quote right. I wrote it down years ago when I heard her speak at Cave Canem, but I can’t find that notebook now and I’m working from my memory. I’ve heard Clifton speak on a couple occasions. In 2001 I was fortunate to be invited to an informal chat with the poet after one of her readings. There were about six of us in an L.A. apartment sitting wide-eyed at the poet’s knee (we were on the floor and Ms Lucille, of course, was seated on the sofa). Clifton shared so much wisdom about learning, writing, relationships, life. I felt then that had she not been a great poet she would have made a great educator.

There is a school here in Phoenix that was started by a poet named Mary Glover. Awakening Seed School opened in 1977 and it offers an amazing education to children from preschool through fourth grade. Glover has taken the best ideas from Montessori, Waldorf, and traditional education models. The result is a school that honors critical thinking, imagination, and respect for diverse cultures. It is a private school but it offers scholarships based on need. My son was there for a while and his sister is there now. It’s a school where the kids grow herbs and vegetables, cook with those vegetables, harvest and count what they’ve grown. It’s a school that teaches the West African tale of Anansi in kindergarten. It’s a school where children study myths from around the world, a place where students learn the history of catapults then construct their own catapult. It’s a school with an extensive library in each classroom, a school where a kindergarten teacher will write, illustrate and bind her own series of “first reader” books and give the entire series (35 little books) to each child. It’s a school where I’ve seen kindergartners who read and write like first graders.

I wish this type of education was available to every kid in our nation. We should do it just because.


My son will NOT get to watch the president tomorrow according to this slip of paper sent home with him that reads:

Schools nationwide have been invited by the Secretary of Education to watch a live speech from President Obama on Tuesday, September 8th. CUSD schools will not be able to view the speech live due to the technology that is being used to broadcast the speech; our bandwidth will not guarantee a quality feed to all classrooms. We will be able to use our current CUSD technology to record the speech and make it available to our students at a later time. We will keep you updated as to when and how we may use this broadcast.

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