Callie is 14 years old, and she is a great kid who tells me about her life (at least some parts of it). I’ve been loving her school for a couple reasons recently, and I asked Callie whether she minded if I blogged about it. She said no, as long as I didn’t tag her in it.
REASON for LOVE #1
About a week ago, I had a parent-teacher conference with Callie’s reading and English teachers. I told them that Callie seemed a bit unmotivated with her writing recently. She was specifically complaining about writing in the formulaic 5-paragraph essay format, and would it be all right if…
I don’t even know if I got a chance to finish asking my question. Both teachers looked at each other then back at me and explained they were both writers themselves, and they understood perfectly. And they said, Sure. Callie seemed ready to explore other ways of organizing her essays. WOOT!
We talked specifically about an upcoming persuasive essay that Callie had discussed with me, and they were supportive, and I went home to tell Callie the good news. She could please her teachers AND herself.
It didn’t take a 5-paragraph format to persuade Callie’s teachers—they were open and receptive and clearly cared about writing and education—and their students!—in all the right ways.
REASON for LOVE #2
Callie has been participating in a mock Congress in her social studies class. I have never seen her go so far beyond the requirements of an assignment. She and I have talked and talked and talked about her experiences. [Note: I added a few updates to this post after Callie read it; each update is labeled.]
It has been awesome.
I know I said Callie is a good kid. I will also add that she’s smart. But it is her school and her teachers who have provided this particular experience that has challenged her and motivated her to research and think and discuss and act.
I don’t really know all the details, but here are some things Callie has talked about.
- each student had to research an issue and write a bill, modeled on actual bills, with definitions and clarifications and so forth (Callie’s bill focused on reproductive rights)
- each student claimed a political party, and each class had a Speaker of the House, majority and minority leaders, and so forth (Callie’s class had a majority of Republicans, though Callie was Democrat; she might’ve been the minority leader, though I’m not certain. I know Callie wanted to have a leadership role so that she’d have more opportunities to speak rather than having to wait to be called on. [UPDATE: Callie was not the minority leader.])
- each class was divided into committees, and the committees voted to approve bills for debate on the floor (Callie’s bill made it out of committee, but a lot of bills died in committee, just like in School House Rock. Callie rehearsed her arguments and quoted statistics in preparing for the debate in committee. [UPDATE: Callie was her committee chair, which in itself proved challenging because her committee struggled to debate all the bills in the allotted time.])
- once the bills made it out of committee, they were debated by the whole House—that is, the class.
- Callie was extremely stressed after her bill was debated. Hers was the first one, and she was the only person who had done extensive research on reproductive rights, so she had to answer any and all questions. It was tough for her to be on the hot seat, feeling like she was almost alone against the world. But I’m sure it won’t be the last time she’ll have that experience, so I’m glad she had such an opportunity in a safe environment, stressful though it was….
- And the uneven debate was a learning experience in other ways as well. The most stressful parts seemed to center on poor communication; Callie complained to me that a couple students interrupted her to argue instead of listening to what she had to say before responding, and she was also upset that her teacher (a Republican and also President with veto power in this mock Congress) used a poor analogy to argue against her bill. I could relate to Callie’s distress: I can usually cope all right with disagreement, but I am most upset when I feel like I am not heard or respected. Callie and I talked about coping strategies for future times when she might be interrupted or when an authority figure disagrees with her publicly (perhaps using a poor argument).
- Callie came to me one night a few days after the debate and said she still kept thinking of things she should’ve said. Yes, that is how much she cared. And that moment gave me the opportunity to tell her that coming up with good things to say after-the-fact is a common human experience, and the only thing to do with such thinking is to apply it to the future or share it with others who might be in a similar situation.
- Callie and I chatted about the entire debate with her friend Samantha, who was arguing for a similar bill in another class section. That’s normal, right? To drive around a couple young teen girls while they discuss the best ways to debate their bills in Congress…
- Callie said they were considering impeaching the president (that is, the teacher), but he bribed the Republicans with lollipops.
- That night, Callie researched impeachment and found that bribery is grounds for impeachment. She texted (or Instagrammed? or tweeted?) the Speaker of the House, Carina [UPDATE: Carina was the Minority Leader. Callie and Carina were also in touch with the Speaker of the House, but the Democrats led the impeachment efforts]. They found Republicans who would testify against the President. Callie wrote up two paragraphs calling for the impeachment….
- The next day, another class of students sat at the back of Callie’s social studies class, and the vice-principal showed up. Why? Because Callie’s classmate Alex knew that the Senate (the extra class of students) and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (the vice-principal) were necessary for impeachment. Callie’s paragraphs were read aloud. Witnesses were ready to testify, but the teacher denied everything and said he would resign from his position.
- Callie couldn’t wait to tell me. Her teacher said their class led the most-organized impeachment case he had ever experienced.
- And here and there in the experience, members of Congress have been censured. By their classmates. Because they screwed up in their Congressional responsibilities.
It’s crazy, right? and amazing?
My daughter has been learning about American government and politics, about fighting for what she believes in, about dealing with conflicts when working with others, about stepping up and using research to get things done, and about building coalitions outside of school hours to make sure that
when class starts, she and her classmates are ready to make things happen.
THAT is the kind of education that matters. And it’s happening all the time. Even when no one is measuring it.