Sunday, September 27, 2015

Summers-Knoll in the Financial Times

Somehow, in the course of our overnight in Detroit, we ended up in the Financial Times, one of the leading newspapers in the United Kingdom. When we arrived at Earthworks Farm on the east side of the city, a freelance photographer was there taking pictures for an article on urban horticulture.

Here's the link:

And here's the lede:

Teachers Karl Sikkenga and Rachel Goldberg accompany Gabriel Resnicow to Earthworks Urban Farm’s plots in Detroit©Brad Ziegler
Teachers Karl Sikkenga and Rachel Goldberg accompany Gabriel Resnicow to Earthworks Urban Farm’s plots in Detroit
Since more of us now live in urban sprawl than on cultivated land, separate organisations have been rethinking how we can make cities more palatable places to live in. They are coming to remarkably similar conclusions. Their ingenious schemes are turning spare plots of concrete jungles into public farms. And the ideas are so cohesive as to represent a global movement for community-led urban food production.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Excerpt from 'A Sort of Complete History of the United States of America (Abridged)', This Year's All-School Play

JOHN ADAMS. Now, gentlemen, before you go on, I want to say something about the Bill of Rights.
JOHN. You Virginians are all the same. Franklin did this, Jefferson did that. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown AND on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his lightning rod and the three of them, Franklin, Washington and the horse, conducted the revolution all by themselves. Virginians!
BEN. I’m from Philadelphia!
THOMAS JEFFERSON. (To the audience.) Even in its early days, America had a problem with geography.
JOHN. Anyway, I’ve been doing some thinking about this Bill of Rights thing and I find it problematic.
BEN. What do you mean?
JOHN. I mean, they say we have free speech in this country, right?
BEN. Right.
JOHN. So I can say anything I want?
JOHN. No! Did you know the Supreme Court says I can’t say anything I want?
JAMES. Like what?
THOMAS. Classic example. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, right?
JOHN. Well, what if there is a fire in a crowded theater?
BEN. Adams, that’s not the point.
THOMAS. What is the point?
JOHN. The point is that the First Amendment guarantees all Americans the full freedom of expression.
ABIGAIL ADAMS. (Abigail Adams enters, carrying a sign which reads ‘Remember the Ladies’.) Not all Americans.
JOHN. My dearest Abigail. Help me. Suppose I wanted to light this flag on fire right now. Could I?
JOHN. Why not?
ABIGAIL. Because it would be a fire in a crowded theater!
JOHN. That’s not the point.
THOMAS. What is the point?
ABIGAIL. The point is that even this is protected speech. (She flips the sign. It reads, ‘Down with the First Amendment.’)
THOMAS. (Pause.) I don’t get it.
JAMES. (To the audience.) Even in its early days, America had a problem with irony.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Present Adventures in the City

We arrived in the city at 2:30 on Thursday afternoon for two hours' tour and work at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, a neighborhood-sized art installation and an old friend of Summers-Knoll. (Read all about them at heidelberg.org.) Under the supervision of our old friend Margaret, Heidelberg's educational director, we weeded out six flower beds in the neighborhood playground and will return in the spring to plant flowers there and to paint the walls of the raised beds.

After heading back to our spacious attic in the Mexicantown guest house, we bussed partway downtown and then caught the People Mover for Ford Field, where we watched the world champion USA Women's National Team defeat Haiti by a tidy five-nil. Carli Lloyd, hat-trick heroine in the World Cup Final, repeated those heroics. The kids will remember that less than how minutely they calculated their ten dollars' per diem down to the last scrap of cotton candy. That was math in action.

Back in our attic, the kids were spotted ten minutes for an epic pillow fight atop our twenty mattresses, then half an hour for card games; then we read Detroit history aloud for another twenty minutes before hitting the lights and dropping off rather abruptly to sleep.

(Our guest house serves as the headquarters of a fantastic organization called Summer in the City, responsible for educational programs, social services, and fabulous murals all over the city. Ask Rachel all about it; she is a charter member--or check them out here: summerinthecity.com.)

The next morning we were up at seven, with Evan and Nik manning the bacon skillets, had breakfast at the house before heading back to the east side, where we put in a shift mulching raspberry, elderberry and mulberry bushes. We got a quick tour from Roxanne, the farm manager and another Friend of SK. Then we got back on the bus to get to Los Galanes, our favorite restaurant in the city. (Last time we were there, so was Terry Crews.) One neighborhood constitutional, one class session in the attic, one whirlwind clean-up, and two dozen tiny Mexican popsicles later, we were en route back home to Summers-Knoll.

Past Adventures in the City

Ten minutes' search through this blog over the last couple of years yielded ten other posts about our classwork in and about the city of Detroit, the onetime Arsenal of Democracy and our neighbor to the east. Here they are, in chronological order.








Friday, September 11, 2015

'What’s done cannot be undone.'

We are paying particular attention to nineteenth century America this term. Our first project in this realm is entitled 'Antebellum, War, and Reconstruction in the American Identity'.

After researching three of these people well enough to briefly present on one of them, each student will rate a mixed-gender trio 1-3 in order of interest. Once assigned the subject, each will plan a road trip that incorporates important locations in that person's life. 

The trip is to includes at least three related stops. The budget, set at $200 a day, will be calculated and tracked using Google Spreadsheet.

These trips will be shared publicly, along with our initial themed maps of the United States and our whole-class antebellum-reconstruction map, on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 30.

Susan B Anthony
Clara Barton
Katherine Lee Bates
John Brown
Emily Dickinson
Dorothea Dix
W.E.B. DuBois
Olaudah Equiano
Ulysses S Grant
Lucretia Mott
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Henry Stewart
Lucy Stone
Charles Sumner
Henry David Thoreau
Alexis de Tocqueville
Mary Todd Lincoln
Sojourner Truth
Walt Whitman
Victoria Woodhull
Ignacio Zaragoza

'This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle.....This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.'

If this were a conventional school, we would be calling a lot of our activity 'English class'. However, much of what qualifies as 'English' is mixed in with everything else. Here's what we've done so far, organized according to our nine principles of progressive education.

We have been picking apart the themes for the year, which are Identity, Sustainability & Systems, and Innovation. We knocked them out in verb and noun form, discussed the difference in usage and tone, and embarked on the early stages of brainstorming project ideas. The kids have also been assigned books that engage the theme of Identity, and are reading those on their own. Here's the list of books (each student is reading one of these six):
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
  • City of Silver, Annemarie Alfieri
  • Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
  • When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka
  • Boy Snow Bird, Helen Oyeyemi
There has been a great mix in these first few days of directed and open reading. We've been reading George Orwell's Animal Farm aloud together, just today making it through the Battle of the Cowshed. Next week, as we near the end of the novel, the kids will be invited to research the bewildering range of commentary on this classic text. In pairs, they'll identify a particular line of inquiry, write it up, and report back to the class on the various analyses: as metaphor for the USSR, neocolonial Africa, and, for sure, many interpretations of which we are as yet unaware. Projects will grow from these.

We engaged the theme of Identity two years ago, when the current 7-8s were 5-6s. We're revisiting some ideas, but there's no question of simply dusting off the old work. Kids are reading different novels and will write on new interpretations of the theme. Ultimately, the projects they design will be the subject of Exhibitions, in which the students teach lessons to an audience of peers and adults on the work they have created. The initial quarterly round of Exhibitions will occur in the week after Thanksgiving. These Exhibitions will be reported on this very blog--each report written and edited, for public consumption, by members of this class.

'Am I so round with you as you with me, that, like a football, you do spurn me thus?'

PE, which I often call Kinesthetics--learning through motion--was a good time during the first week of school. On Tuesday, I invited the students to browse through our PE Alcove, located in the coatroom, and to choose any item for half an hour of free outdoor play.

Here are the kids, with their selections. 

Our first injury was Lindsay scraping her knee because she was sprinting around the woodchips on snowshoes. Our first argument was Evan and Lee debating balls and strikes, only it wasn't baseball or even wiffleball: Evan was shooting foam rockets past Lee, who was swinging at them with a Quidditch broom.

Kinesthetics will be a mixture of competitive games (soccer, football, Quidditch, basketball, track, shoe golf) and other physical activity (hikes, swimming, skating, invented games of tag, Calvinball, choreography). We will trek the wonderful trails in the fabulous forest of Bird Hills Park in all four seasons.

Here we are on our summertime hike, with Colin, our new best friend.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

'The readiness is all.'

The 7-8 space is ready for the imminent invasion. I would venture to say that it looks even better than it did last year. We have murals from the class of 2015; twenty flags; a new couch; a new project space; new toys and new fish in the aquarium; a PE alcove with basketballs, soccer balls, broomsticks, stomp rockets, snowshoes, and other essentials.

Best of all, we have a new Weather Report and a new Big Chart. Below is, loosely, what we can expect to accomplish between now and December. Anchors aweigh!

Identity Projectsbegin booksdetermine projectscomplete projects--
Identity Exhibitions--rehearseExhibitionsExhibitions
Identity Booksbegin booksread & plan in pairsproject & show-off--
Athletics & PEsix-a-side; Quidditchsix-a-side; Quidditchfour-school event?winter sports
Work Crewsfirst rotationcontinuecontinuecontinue
Science & Mathintroduce & relateSam & LisaSam & Lisaschedule Exhibitions 
Lit Publication4-6 prompts4-6 prompts4-6 promptscurate
Americansmaps & biographiesmaps & biographiesAmerica (Abridged)festival
Student Gov'tlame duck sessionselectionsrevise goalspursue goals
Identity Iinitial project------
Innovation Iintroduce with maps------
America (Abridged)read; composeaudition & rehearserehearseperform
Legacy Projectsbrainstormconsiderdecide and begincontinue work
Our Whole Livesretreatlanguagebiologicalsocial
High School 101contact alumnipoll eighth gradersshadow daysshadow days
Things Fall Apart------read aloud
Mango Street--read aloud----
Science Projects----identify projectsset deadlines
Science Exhibitions------schedule Exhibitions 
Civ Cityintroduceprojects for somepursuereflect
Animal Farmread aloud------
Martin Guerre----read aloud--
The Tempest------cast & begin reading
Sustainability Iintroduce with maps----project planning