Open thread: Less advocacy, more action

Published by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2009 at 12:37 AM

Face it: The arts still don’t fit in most of our schools and none of the advocacy claims made for them have helped a whit in the last five decades. The arts community — arts educators, arts organizations, artists who work with schools, other friends of the arts — has tried and failed for years to make the case for the arts in every student’s life and learning environment.

All the arts for all the children - hah! It's still some if any of the arts in scattered pockets of excellence, for some of the children, some of the time, taught by a combination of people who can rarely work together as a team and who prize different means, methods, ends and purposes.

Less advocacy, more action, locally. That’s probably the best place to start. — Jane Remer, The Arts Just Don’t Fit in Most of Our Schools

Most processes and practices of school leadership, our study shows, create temporary, localized flurries of change but little lasting or widespread improvement. — A. Hargreaves and D. Fink, The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership

People also talked to me with great enthusiasm about innovative programs. But these were always paid for with federal money, and as time went on, it always turned out that when the federal money stopped, so did the program. People might feel badly about losing these wonderful programs. But pay for them with local money, their own money? It was never considered. — John Holt, Teach Your Own

Only slowly did I realize that the people who brought me in to speak were almost always a tiny minority in their own school or community, and that my task was to say out loud in public what people were sick of hearing them say, or even what they had been afraid to say at all. — John Holt, Teach Your Own

• • •

Less advocacy. More action. I believe this.

When I started my school, I had no funding, no partners, no community, no support. I slowly, slowly built a community, found students, found like-minded teachers and parents. There was still no funding.

The school had to be remade constantly, like a sand castle on the beach, erased over and over again by students graduating, teachers leaving, families moving away.

Homeschooling is, as John Holt suggested, infinitely easier and more fun than making a school. Yet … a school serves more than one family. It serves a community. It creates community. It has the capacity to advocate for large numbers of children and educate all the members of their extended family. It is a big project well worth doing.

If we wait … for educational policy to change, for society to change, for cultural values to change … we will be waiting a long, long time. Children grow up very fast, and policy changes very, very slowly. If we merely advocate for children to have more art and less homework, more time collaborating and less time cramming for standardized tests — if we merely advocate, then we are working for some other parents’ children. In order to make things different for our children, now, we have to act. We have to act decisively and quickly, before their childhoods fall through our fingers like sand and one day we simply stop thinking about these things and start thinking about how to pay for college instead. And some other parent takes up the gauntlet we let drop, and the process begins again.

And this isn’t just about schools. It’s about the lives of children everywhere, all the time. The pervasive negative attitudes about children’s behavior and what they can accomplish without adult management.

Instead of wishing for things to be different, we have to make them different, today. Be the change we wish to see in the world, as Ghandi said. Less talk, more walk.


The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. — Sarah Ban Breathnach

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. —E. L. Doctorow

Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it. — James Baldwin

Try again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett


Comment by Amy on May 29, 2009 at 03:07 PM

Interesting post but I am confused and would love some elaboration!

"if we merely advocate, then we are working for some other parents’ children. In order to make things different for our children, now, we have to act. We have to act decisively and quickly, before their childhoods fall through our fingers like sand and one day we simply stop thinking about these things and start thinking about how to pay for college instead. And some other parent takes up the gauntlet we let drop, and the process begins again."

Earlier in the post you seem to be speaking up for schools (i.e. outside-the-home-schools) as crucial community-building enterprises. But then you say "if we merely advocate, then we are working for some other parents’ children."

When you say "more action," what do you mean? Home schooling?

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2009 at 05:59 PM

hi amy, thank you for encouraging me to articulate myself more clearly! ;^)

advocacy = meetings, taking a position, committees, putting forth a point of view, evangelizing, talking, discussing, etc.

action = doing something concrete right now.

i didn’t mean to imply that more action to me = homeschooling. action (to me) is deciding to do something yourself, right now, instead of talking about how much we wish things were different, instead of hoping someone else would start a program or instigate change.

so maybe we teach a free class, maybe we start a homeschool co-op or an independent school, maybe we start a phone tree and form a parent coalition to demand less homework.

maybe we turn the empty lot on our block into a community garden.

when i said “if we merely advocate, then we are working for some other parents’ children”, i meant that if we merely talk and ask and discuss and etc., then *maybe* some future parents’ children will benefit — if things change in some number of years. but meanwhile our own children are growing older and change won’t happen quickly enough to affect their lives.

when i started my school, one overwhelming lesson i learned was how easy it was to effect an enormous amount of change — not just for my family, but for many families, not just for my community, but for many communities (because i traveled and trained teachers all over the country) — and i was just one person with more enthusiasm than experience. if all the people capable of doing so took the initiative to *do something today*, we would have a very different world. of that, i am certain.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2009 at 06:10 PM

L.A. Times Article: Parents Urged to Demand More from Local Schools,0,3289443.story

Parent Revolution group's site:

don’t know anything about this; just thought it was interesting & i would share.

Comment by Amy on May 29, 2009 at 07:36 PM

I've thought about this a lot. It often comes up in the framework of a debate of homeschooling vs trying to fix schools "from within," and I've always said I'm not willing to sacrifice my child(ren) to the slow rate of change, especially since I think change is not what's needed when it comes to public schools; a bulldozer and a Brand New Plan would be more successful. I've also said that if we ever end up putting the kids in school, screw the PTO, I'm running for school committee. ;) (Although I haven't ruled that out for the future, since the school committee also supposedly serves homeschoolers, and I think we should have some representation on it.)

I love the idea of a community school. However, in MY community, anyway, it's hard enough to get a few homeschoolers to agree on something. I still haven't found a regular group of any sort. I did up and start an art co-op, which met over the course of one winter, and then when I tried to gauge people's interest in continuing, only one person even bothered to get back to me. And that is how things are around here. Someone will try a co-op, but it won't ever really get going. I do have Ideas, but not time or wherewithal at the moment. Most likely my youngest will benefit most, but you never know. I might get myself together before the other two are all grown up. ;)

From what I understand, our local Waldorf school started in this way, a few families getting together to start it. Now it costs over $10,000 per year for the elementary grades. I do not see that, somehow, as positive change exactly.

Comment by Cordelia on May 29, 2009 at 08:28 PM

Whew! And you don't drink coffee?
It's funny. I think this very thing about most areas of my life and work, but haven't really expressly thought about it re: education before. (I'm a veteran of too many "what we should do is..." meetings, but have always found that, even in the middle of the long and heated debates, the offer to do something/anything is rarely rejected.) Interesting set of posts this week. Seems camping got you all fired up. I can use some of what you're drinking right now. We've been sort of adrift for some time. Somehow, we never really hit our stride this Spring. On the other hand, maybe it's just the "white space."

We're watching "When We Left Earth" this week, so we think anything is possible. Well, anything other than getting out the door in less than 45 minutes.

Comment by Elise Edwards on May 29, 2009 at 09:42 PM

This is very inspiring for me today - thank you... I have lots of ideas, but sometimes feel like they all live in the future. Lately I've been practicing just diving in - acting in spite of my fears or doubts. They are little things - starting a blog without knowing much about blogging, starting a book study group without knowing how it will all turn out... There's a parallel for me physically - jumping into the ocean, going snorkeling by myself... Surfing looms in my future, even though it's a pretty scary prospect for me :) Random connections, but that's where I'm at today!
In regards to education - it reminds me that I do want to teach at our local charter school next year, I do want to be part of the action there, to keep it going, to crate it in a way that stays true to seeing kids as competent and creative...

Comment by peggy on May 29, 2009 at 10:02 PM

This is such a wonderful open thread. I loved all the quotes, as well as your thoughts about action. I have always felt that the best moments as a citizen in my community have happened when I am actively improving something in my world, not just griping about how it is. You can affect great change in your neighborhood, school, park, wherever, and pretty quickly too. I've found that enthusiasm and volunteering rarely lead to "no."

xo peggy

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 30, 2009 at 12:26 AM

amy, re: the waldorf school … an interesting point. but i would say that if they got what they wanted — and it works for them — then bully for them. i won’t argue with high tuition as long as that high tuition is supplying a demand and meeting a need, kwim? some people want a program that offers high-quality classrooms and materials and teachers with masters’ degrees, and that takes money.

that doesn’t mean someone else can’t start a co-op or a charter school. there’s more than one way to skin a cat!

cordelia, lol, no, i don’t! but i do drink soda…

this is actually where i’ve stood on this issue for some time. ten years before i started the school, i started a business. so i’m used to hacking out my own path.

i am a wee bit controlling … [raucous sounds of laughter in the background] … so, admittedly, i often prefer to be in charge and know that i’m going to get exactly what i want rather than endlessly try things that don’t quite make the grade.

if i care enough about something, then i will step up and get something rolling. i also think this is the way to create the kind of community you’re looking for, because like-minded people will be drawn to what you are doing. of course, people who just want to take advantage of what you’re offering (and maybe take advantage of you while they’re at it) will also come out of the woodwork. it’s a mixed bag.

i’ll go get you a mountain dew now… ;^)

elise, thank you! and i’ve done the same thing (again and again!) — diving into something that i know little about. but hey — expert status comes along eventually. :^)

peggy, re: affecting great change and pretty quickly, too, i agree completely! really, if i could just impress one thing upon people, it’s that it really *isn’t that hard* and it really does work. you just have to do it. and so few people do.

and you are so right — you can often get involved and maybe get things going in the direction you prefer simply by volunteering to get the job done! :^)

thank you!

Comment by Cathy T on May 30, 2009 at 01:34 PM

The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. — Sarah Ban Breathnach

Love this quote! When I first started homeschooling, people in town asked me why I didn't just fight for what I wanted from the schools - you know, get the elementary school to change and be more child-centered or whatever my beefs were with the school. They told me that by leaving the school I was abandoning all the other kids in the system whose parents didn't know what would be good for their kids and I was a good leader. I told them I had too much at stake (my kids' future) and too many things would need to change - no way would the school change as much as I wanted it to in the time frame I needed it to. I knew the school - in fact I had done my student teaching there and worked there as a substitute teacher there. BUT, when asked to serve on a committee that raises money for teacher grants and awards the grants, I did serve for four years ... and watched some grant money get wasted and other monies get put to good use and was a part of the committee until the committee was ready for more community members to come on board. I was helping guide the school as much as I had time and energy to give.

Now I have two kids high school age and two more who would be going to the local elementary school in a couple years....but no, LOL, homeschooling is a way of life for us now and the schools haven't changed enough for me. In fact they have gotten more test happy and controlling over what is learned when. Kids in kindergarten must be able to spell words like JUMP before they graduate to first grade. Ack! And that is only the beginning.

I think as homeschoolers we can lead by mentoring. I agree - us homeschooling are a fickle bunch of people. I've led groups that only met for 4 months before they fell apart. What did I learn? Sometimes it is the parents who don't have the investment in continuing or the energy or the willpower. Invest time and energy in the kids and what THEY want and hopefully the kids will be able to sway mom into continuing.... And don't give up. And sometimes food or a social aspect for the parents does help draw the parents out too LOL!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 30, 2009 at 02:43 PM

cathy, i got asked the same thing. and my pat answer was, “oh, they wouldn’t want me — i’d be their worst nightmare!” but the truth was exactly as you say — i couldn’t create change quickly enough to benefit my own children, and they were my priority.

i’m perfectly willing to cheerfully admit that the majority of parents aren’t demanding the same things *i* want. i went the route of the private school and that was extremely rewarding, but goodness knows, it is immensely easier (and therefore more enjoyable) to just make the custom learning situation you want for your just your own kids.

even as a homeschooling parent, though, i still have to get out there and create the opportunities, classes, groups, and experiences that i want my kids to have. in that sense, it’s no different. i really see all parents raising children as having most of the same shared concerns whether they are traditionally schooling or doing something more avant-garde.

have to agree re: hs’ing parents being fickle ;^) — i think it’s caused by all that overwhelming choice!

Comment by Amy on May 30, 2009 at 09:24 PM

Lori, I see what you mean about the Waldorf school, but what I meant (and didn't actually articulate!) was that the school started as a community thing, way back when. The original kids are long gone, and what is left is yet another expensive private school. That may be a case of having to adjust to certain realities, but it also strikes me as very much "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." It may have begun as an option for all, but by its very nature, it no longer is. Same thing with charter schools. There are simply not enough slots to meet demand. Our reality is that we are looking for an alternative to the local public school. We do not feel private school is the best fit, and the charter school is full. Ergo, we are homeschooling.

I'm looking forward to when I have a bit more time (ANY time, I should say!) to call my own. What might my kids and I come up with? It's exciting to contemplate. But honestly, I'm not sure who would be interested beyond us. We're sort of homeschooling on an island at the moment. It's a bit isolating, but for the time being, far less stressful than negotiating what often appears to be a landmine of politics that blows high school angst out of the water.

amy, who doesn't do well in groups, apparently :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 31, 2009 at 01:06 AM

amy, lol re: meet the new boss, same as the old boss. i do know what you mean!

Comment by Ann McG on May 31, 2009 at 12:43 PM

I really enjoyed reading this post, the quotes and the link to the article. It reinforced what I've been creating here in MI, in my little patch of green (suburbia).
I offer art classes to both homeschooled and traditionally schooled children...from my studio at home.
I remember speaking to a homeschooling mother a year after I had began offering them.She talked about how creative her daughter was, about how she had thought about opening up their studio to other children. I encouraged her, told her what I had been doing. Unfortunately what stopped her was what stops many great ideas. She called her insurance policy. She looked into how to create a small company. She came away discouraged before she even began.
What is interesting to me now is that none of that even occurred to me to do. I just offered it and it grew.
Many times asking people in authority, or even just those around you, if its okay to do something will stop you cold....what we need is action.
So those cheesy catch phrases...(you know the ones, please don't force me to quote them!) well I guess they aren't totally off.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 31, 2009 at 01:11 PM

ann, yes, absolutely — discouraged before they’ve even begun.

i started offering free art classes to my homeschool community and was overwhelmed with responses, both private and public, telling me *not* to do it — that i should charge something, that i shouldn’t do it for free, etc. it wasn’t exactly discouraging, but it was a bit bewildering.

i’m a fan of the get-your-feet-wet approach!

absolutely agree re: asking for permission or approval … and the cheesy catchphrases *are* true ;^) … the things that get done are because people one day just started.

Comment by Dawn on June 1, 2009 at 01:25 AM

It is now too late at night to articulate anything resembling cohesive thought but just wanted to let you know I've been reading!
Thanks for another get open thread topic!

Comment by Amy Payson on June 1, 2009 at 08:32 AM

Here is an encouraging poem I ran across today. Perfectly thought-provoking. Perfect for this group!

Children Learn What They Live

If a child lives with criticism, she learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, she learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance, she learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise, she learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, she learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, she learns to find love in the world.
If a child lives with respect, he will learn to respect himself and others and the world he lives in.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 1, 2009 at 01:45 PM

thank you, dawn! :^)

amy, thank you for sharing that. it is perfect. :^)

Comment by Tracy on June 2, 2009 at 06:39 PM

My son attends an Art & Music Charter school in NH. We have seen some wonderful things happen. Our success with the school is one of many stories at our school. Unfortunately we are once again faced with his school closing because of funding . Tomorrow we are having a rally at our state capital because the finance committee has put a cap on charters in our state. This cap is lower then the amount of children enrolled. If it stays some charter schools will close and his school will be getting rid of 5,6,7th grade.
Our school has proved that when children learn in the arts they learn more deeply. I think if this caps stays we will be homeschooling. I admire you for you homeschooling.
I couldn't let him go back to a school that doesn't support the arts the way he gets now.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 2, 2009 at 07:56 PM

tracy, how ironic that the number of children who want to enroll in charters keeps growing and yet they are reducing the number who can attend.

i wish you luck with your rally!

Comment by Faige on June 10, 2009 at 01:55 AM

There is a wonderful book that was written I think in the 50's called An Experiment in Education by a woman named Sybil Marshall.(I read it in graduate school and when I wanted to buy found it in some second hand place online)

It's very inspiring and enlightening for parents and teachers who are trying to integrate their children's education with art.

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