Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Let Em Play by Bronx Principal Jamaal Bowman

What an amazing day and honor to join Dr. Jesse Turner on his walk to Washington D.C. for true education reform. When I arrived at Crotona Park in the legendary South Bronx to meet Jesse and longtime Bronx activist Dr. Mark Naison, I was immediately struck by the emptiness in this beautiful park. There were about 12 tennis courts totally available for anyone to use, acres and acres of fresh cut gorgeous green grass, a baseball diamond, swings, and a sprinkler system, all being used by no one.

 I asked myself, "where in the world are the kids!?" I guess the answer was obvious, the kids were in school. But should the answer be that obvious? This is the last week for public schools. Testing is over and based on my fifteen years of experience, not much "teaching" takes place this time of year. So why aren't the kids outside, with their teachers, playing, and having a great time? This is the perfect time of year to do it. The last week of school, no tests, test prep, quality reviews, or mandates. Get the kids outside and let them play.

 The desolate park was scary to me as I think it communicates a psychological subjugation that has become pervasive in public education. Studies have shown that once people have been in "bondage" for a certain period of time, it's difficult to break free even if a proverbial "door" is left wide open. The empty park today felt like a metaphor for the oppressive state of public education. Teachers, students and families are oppressed by unreliable and invalid standardized exams. They're oppressed by mandates obsessed with accountability and compliance. And finally, they're oppressed by a fascist autocratic system within a so called democratic country. The freedom of no testing and the last week of school still couldn't get teachers and students outside to play.

 Have we forgotten how play facilitates joy and how joy drives a love of life? The more we play, the less we are stressed, the less anxiety we feel, the more anger dissipates, the less crimes are committed. Imagine a school system is which play and sports were at the center? Or at the very least a part of a holistic approach to public education? Special Ed referrals would go down as would diagnoses for ADHD and depression. I argue that the school to prison pipeline, and the disproportionate number of boys placed in Special Ed and diagnosed with ADHD would cease to exist if movement and play were a pillar of our curriculum. As Dan Pink states, play passion and purpose will drive the 21st century economy. Why should public school students be left behind?

 Thank you Jesse Turner for modeling the way. Thank you for walking over 400 miles at the tender age of 60 years young to properly reform public education. Thank you for fighting to end high stakes testing and bringing play, the arts, and the multiple intelligences back into our schools. Thank you for making C.A.S.A. Middle School a part of your amazing journey. You have affirmed for me that we will win this fight. Nothing can stop us now.