Aproaching Activism

The Our Richmond project was meant to bring the children to the city and the city to the children. One surprise was how long it took to build a picture of the city that was personal and particular to Richmond. Some people started with an idea of the city that began at their front door and circled through places they visit often. For some, schema of "city" looked much more like New York, with rushing traffic, loud sounds and tall, tall buildings. This first year of research was quite a bit about building both individual 'cognitive collage' and group intersubjectivity about the many facets that make this place our place. It shows how important it is to have the rare gift of time in schools. By the end of this school year, Our Richmond had really just gotten going.

"Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it." Goethe

By spring, advocacy or activism began to emerge in many classrooms. Third graders became advocates for expanded public transportation in Richmond, taking part in the rapid transit initiative. First graders delivered their plan for a more amiable and useful Monroe park. Three year olds in the Garden room built a model of an alternative skyline for downtown filled with buildings designed to bring more joy and beauty to office workers. 
In the next few posts, I will show some of the work that took place in collaboration with the studio.

In the kindergarten, everyone offered advice or advocated for an important issue in a letter to Mayor Dwight Jones:


Thoughts About a Mentor: Gail Perry of NAEYC

If we're lucky, we all have a few people in our lives who help us go further than we could on our own.

A long time ago, I started to get the feeling that it was important for teacher-researchers to get our work out there in some way. It was a combination of reading about the wonderful work that teachers in Reggio Emilia were doing, while at the same time, finding most of the rest of the literature about young children was kind of clinical. Beyond Reggio, Vivian Gussin-Paley, and a few others, where were the current stories written by teachers about children in their own classrooms? I began to look around for places to write and read these stories. That's when I found the Journal 'Voices of Practitioners'.

Gail Perry is the long time New Book Editor at NAEYC, but I know her as the Editor of 'Voices of the Practitioners'. I am so grateful to Gail, not only for publishing such wonderful work, but also for her nurturing care and attention while editing my own work. I can't imagine a better editor for a first piece of published writing. Gail applied her skill as a researcher, book editor combined with a wealth of knowledge about young children. She really shepherded me and other authors through the whole process.

I am also forever grateful to Gail for pulling me in to a group of educators that I would have never met as a teacher at a small school in Richmond, Virginia. She is a master of bringing people together to make things happen. Gail invited me to present many times at NAEYC conferences in places like Dallas, Orlando and Washington D.C. It was through Gail that I met so many early childhood teachers and researchers who I learned so much from. At these conference presentations I first met and worked with Lella Gandini, Lillian Katz, Barabara Bowman and Vivian Gussin-Paley. I don't think anyone there noticed my shaking knees as I spoke along side these people who I had long admired. What a thrill to finish my talk and then take a seat next to the podium as Vivian Paley told stories from her classroom!

Gail told me a few stories about her most loved and admired Mother, Alice Coe Mendham Powell, a fascinating woman who was a classmate of Margaret Mead, worked for the rights of domestic workers and became the wife of a diplomat who served in the Roosevelt administration. After studying anthropology and child development, and meeting John Dewey and traveling with him in Russia in the 1928s, Alice came to believe that education was the engine of social change. She founded the Green Acres School outside of Washington In 1934. This school was ground-breaking because it was open to all children, used a sliding scale for tuition, and because it brought John Dewey's progressive ideas to to the nation's capitol. Gail grew up at this school, which was located on a farm where the family also lived.
Green Acres school continues today (www.greenacres.org/history.pdf).

I think of Gail often, but more since yesterday, when I learned that her health is not good. I hope she knows what an impact she has made in the world of early childhood education and teacher-research. I hope she knows how much I have appreciated everything that she has done for me. And I hope the care that all of the people she has brought together feel for her, surrounds her now.

*See the newest issue of Voices www.naeyc.org/publications/vop


Lynda Barry and the Mind's Eye

Today (6/23/15) I saw Lynda Barry talk about drawing. There is a little piece in her new book "Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor" that says "In the mind's eye: How have visual images influenced the way we think about thinking?" It reminded me of this blog entry from 2012 when some 5 and 6 year old girls were talking to me about the 'mind's eye', and how they know about something they aren't close enough to see...

I had suggested to a group of kindergarten girls that I thought the best way to show a journey that starts and ends at the same place is with a round piece of paper. They tried it, but in the end explained to me that I was wrong, that the journey they were representing was best shown as a "bumpy square." 
When the girls came back to the studio I asked them if  they thought that they all saw their forest walk the same way in their "mind's eye." Here are a couple of answers...

Isabel's picture explained how her feet take her on a journey. "1 foot is straight, 1 foot is turned. Right, left. Right, left."
"What's powering the feet?"
"Different motions...(Isabel walks and shows how her feet go)
"Are your feet doing that by themselves, or is something making them do that?"
"It's not my feet, it's my feelings. I feel around where I am, and use my eyes."
"But really, how do your feet know where to go? How do they know which direction to go?"
"..Something that...I'm getting lost, I feel around with my hands, I use my feet for the motions on the ground, and I use my brain to think 'where am I? Where am I?'"
"Like, you're close to your birthday, and my brain reminds me my birthday is soon."
"But does your brain actually talk to you in a voice?"
"Yeah. It sounds like God. Cause you know God makes everyone move. Like, inside your brain, there's a story, and God tells you...like, to help other people."

Kaiya- the mind's eye

"I was thinking that the light goes in your pupils and then it goes through and then it makes a big mix of colors, and then with all those colors it makes a picture! And it shows a picture of a flower popping out of the ground in the forest, so when the light comes in my eyes, I close my eyes and a picture comes -pops out- and then I know I just have to follow the flowers popping out of the ground.
"So the tools you need to find your way are your eyes, feet and brain?"
"It's not my brain, though. It's my eye." 
Isabel "It's a reflection. And then when you can see the reflection in your heart, you can go there."
Kaiya "The light goes in my pupils and then the light makes a big mix of colors, and those colors work together to make  a picture. And there's a bunch of flowers in the forest where I'm going, and so in my mind's eye I can see a flower popping out of the ground to tell me where to go. Then the color draws onto the object, and the other colors that you don't need go somewhere else. And so then all the colors I need come here (to my mind's eye) to form the picture."
Isabel "The reflection goes into your thinking. Actually the reflection in your eyes goes to your brain. ...I always use foot motions or hand motions where I'm going. It's like a pattern. Each time it's a different foot that turns. I would need to do a flip book to show it, cause it shows the different motions. This (picture) shows the basic. Basically my brain. 
Cause your brain has the heart, which is the love. And it has the thinking. The heart is just to keep you alive, cause it beats, but it's not really the loving scene." 

Sydney- the Sun

"I'm drawing a lot of pictures cause I like to draw. The sunshine?..when the light shines on the place where I'm wanting to go, then it tells me where I'm needing to go. The light shines, and I follow the light, and it helps me find my way.""
"Inside of here (head) does it look that way? In your head does it look the same as in real life?"

"I know it looks different. That's just how I think it works, not how it really works."
"Maybe you do know how it looks. Maybe you can teach the rest of us."
Kaiya "Well, you know how the world looks like, don't you?"

"The forest walk, it's not just a big circle. It's probably really squiggly. Can we do one in a bumpy square next?"