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Education Monday: Seeing the City Anew

The D.C. schools' dynamic duo of Adrian Fenty and Michele Rhee are focused on fixing buildings and defatting the central office, all of which is good and fine, but the ultimate test of their labors will come in the classrooms, and there, sad to say, the job will prove much harder.

But it's far from impossible, and the first step must be to change the expectations and standards, to demand rigor and to embrace classic literature and hard math and science. But an insistence on high standards does not imply rote learning or dull teaching. To the contrary, the challenge is to grab hold of kids' natural curiosity and passion to learn and turn it into a love of things academic. The vital tools are not, as the federal government would have it, standardized tests, but rather, the great books, stories, and poems that have inspired mankind for centuries.

This month, a slew of local poets focused their efforts on writing about Washington--just the kind of work that D.C. school kids could easily be taught and challenged to take on.

Here's some of what the Beltway Poetry Quarterly published in its latest issue, "The Evolving City"--good inspiration for school kids throughout our area:

The first comes from fast-changing downtown Silver Spring....

The Universal Artificial Limb Company
crouches at the end
of a row of storefronts.
It waits on Wayne Avenue
at the end of a strip mall
whose other stores
are long since closed,
their windows covered
with brown paper and plywood,
like women draped in mourning veils.

Its marketing plan looks like modesty
which these days
does not really sell.

Its name, painted in clean
gold and black letters,
arcs across the front window,
announcing the ancient art
of remembering what has been

Meanwhile, Whole Foods and Starbucks
hover across the street
waiting, plotting, maybe even grinning,
rubbing their manicured hands together
under tasteful signs,
beside stacks of polished fruit
picked by people
who knew what it meant
to bend.
--excerpted from The Universal Artificial Limb Company, by Joseph Ross.

We can imagine what it means to live in a place with history.
We can remember even what we have never known.

When the new market opens on 12th street.
Let us remember the old Coop that struggled
......and gave people fresh produce while it struggled.
Let us remember the Safeway that stood there before that.
Let us remember the houses that gave way for the Safeway.
Let us remember the hillside that gave way for the houses.
Let us remember the woods that Ann Brooks spied
...... ......from the back window of the mansion.
...... ......when all the hills were wooded and green long ago.
--Dan Vera, about Brookland

Here's one about a place out Georgetown Pike on the road from McLean to Great Falls:

The two pink houses on Swinks Mill Road
know such riches and poverty too.
Daily they see each vehicle cut through
and learn which zoom belongs to whom,
those wise windows on Swinks Mill Road.
---From The Two Pink Houses on Swinks Mill Road, by Greta Ehrig

Chuck Brown at da Panorama Room
Murrays' steaks, cookouts, Rock Creek sodas in
Rock Creek Park, a seedless joint rolled
tight as EU in the pocket at Anacostia Park....

safe neighborhoods with real neighbors
instead of arrogant urban pioneers &
third millennium settlers
the end to naïve romanticism about the
disappearance of crime & crack filled properties....
a bama-less world
swung to an Ellington tune.
--From DC Wishes, by Kenneth Carroll.

Somewhere there is a bright green Vega hatchback with an 8- track tape deck
sitting still and rusting, just like the one my cousin and I cruised through the
city in back in l972; Kool and the Gang lit up the world as I waved to pretty long legged
women in the park by the river with the golf course where families used to have picnics
and the Park Police would not be around anywhere.
--From In Memory of 8-Track, by Brian Gilmore.

By Marc Fisher |  October 29, 2007; 7:30 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

DCPS uses textbooks for teachers! Teachers are not allowed to "stray" from what the textbook publishers have written. Houghton-Mifflin is the required text for elementary and teachers are reprimanded if they are using any other resources!!! Ramp-Up, America Choice, etc. are the "programs" of the day for secondary. Everyday math and Connected math are the teachers of mathematics. Teachers are stifled and bound! When will Fenty and Rhee hit the textbook publishers??

Posted by: Frustrated in the system | October 29, 2007 9:04 AM

Since my kids learn a lot of material from online sources and books that aren't the text book I think that someone needs to talk to their principal. All the kids use online sources and Houghton Mifflin doesn't control that.

Posted by: DCer | October 29, 2007 9:50 AM

actually, Marc, the DC school systems DOES have high expectations and standards-- the standards are based on Massachusetts standards which are considered the very best in the country.

they have only had the new standards in place for a couple years though. They are quite impressive-- far more challenging than what I was expected to learn going to public school in California in the 80s.

the real problem is that schools can't do it all on their own --unless they have the kids at least 8 hours a day. if school is out at 3 pm and no parent is there to ensure that homework gets done, it is no surprize that the kids goof off and then don't meet the high expectations and standards. PArental involvement is critical! If parental involvement isn't possible, then school with longer hours is the best best bet.

How can charter schools like KIPP do this but public schools cannot? Can charter schools accept corporate sponsorship to get the extra money needed for the longer hours, but public school cannot do this? Just curious how the finances work . . .

Posted by: baby-work | October 29, 2007 9:57 AM

Long live the power of poets and their words.

Congratulations to Kim Roberts and Beltway Poetry Quarterly!

Posted by: DreamCity4Life | October 30, 2007 2:54 AM

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