Saturday, April 11, 2009

Small Schools Benefit All Involved

The East Bay Express published an extremely long, rambling article about small schools claiming that they create more problems than they solve, and the writer used obnoxious conservative fears (not using mainstream history texts, teaching children about social justice and equality, and other horrible things) to illustrate her point.

This is my response:

Reading Rachel Swan’s contemptuous article about Berkeley High School’s small schools really broke my heart. The article reminded me of the partisan hackery used by big-network news anchors in order to create controversy out of thin air when they’re running low on newsworthy stories. Swan referred to “progressive, politically correct Berkeley” just before she gave us liberals a slap in the face with the hard truth; a trick used only by the finest journalists. I have some hard truths of my own I’d like to share.

As a student who sometimes hid within the anonymity of large classrooms, I found my voice in a small school at Berkeley High School. I went through grade- and middle-school with a complete distaste for social studies, but within my first year in the Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) small school, I discovered a strong interest in history, politics, and social justice. Some of my most inspiring mentors were teachers in that small school.

Our highly diverse class of sixty students graduated with powerful friendships, robust critical thinking skills, and a passion for social justice forged by a combination of group learning and independent inquiry. The teachers in that small school helped us find our paths and were with us every step of the way.

On top of all that, I am the daughter of the co-founder of a new small school, the School for Social Justice and Ecology. I watched my father work day and night on a large project that he hoped would changed the lives of those involved. His passion wasn’t about helping kids fake success so they could pass high school; it was about helping his students think for themselves. Unlike most mainstream schooling, the small schools prepare children for the real world outside of academia, outside of grades and completely abstract learning.

I am aware that anecdotal evidence is not the strongest form of evidence. But compared to Ms. Swan’s insulting collection of bogus facts and skewed information, my experiences are solid proof of a small school’s success. Perhaps Ms. Swan would like to try taking her work to Faux News, where I’m sure she’ll find her career would really take off.