Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Three years ago, I taught a one-year stint in a "no excuses" charter school. (It was the least satisfying year of my teaching career.) The biology teacher and I started a science team. Problem solving and building things with power tools attracted a slew of excited kids, who had been missing that kind of open-ended creativity in their daily routine. (The experience motivated me to start a science team in my current school.)

Fast forward to last Thursday, when I found out that one of the psyched freshmen from the charter school had just enrolled in the public high school where I'm now teaching. It's now the middle of her senior year, which tells me that something had gone awry and she needed to leave the charter school. She was excited to see me, and quickly joined our science team. As she and the other students worked this afternoon on the Rube Goldberg Device for one of the events, she told me about some of the frustrations that had made her senior year at the charter school unbearable. (They were pretty much exactly the same issues that had made the school a bad place for a badass teacher like me.)

However, what really struck me was how bouncy, excited and exuberant she was to be with friends and doing something she enjoyed and didn't have to feel guilty about or suspicious of--to a level I never saw at the charter school. It was as if she had suddenly gotten her childhood back, just in time for the last half of her senior year, and she wasn't going to let go of it for the world. This is what our children need: they need to be allowed to love life, love learning, and love the feeling of having something to be passionate about. This is what public schools do for our children. And this is what we stand to lose, because too many of the people making the decisions either don't realize or don't care how much it matters.

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