At Other Schools..

I had the great honor to speak to classes of 9th graders in the Civitas program at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento this month. This is a unique program which has been around for almost 25 years, winning awards from the Department of Education and the California State Supreme Court. Civitas is a 4-year political studies and public service academy, with project-based learning and college-level classes. I was there specifically to talk to the students about education policy and my book, Literally Unbelievable: Stories from an East Oakland Classroom.

I wasn’t totally sure how this talk was going to go; I knew that they students had signed up for this program, so they were obviously interested in government and policy, but I also knew that they were 9th graders, and I wasn’t sure how much they’d be willing to think outside themselves. I was, however, pleasantly surprised.

I started by asking the students what they thought were the biggest problems in education, and this was when they started impressing me. These kids go to a high school with many resources, in one of the wealthier parts of Sacramento. When they started talking about the problems in California schools, many of them prefaced it with, “We still have this at our school, but at other schools…” They still have many of the programs that are essential to learning and involvement in school but are not considered core, but they were willing to think about other students at other schools.

The students had many great questions and ideas: paying teachers more, cutting funds from standardized testing to pay for arts enrichment, making school campuses more inviting so that students would be more motivated to spend time at school, and many other thoughts that made me want to put them in charge. But what stuck with me, was the beginning of that sentence, over and over. “At other schools…”

If every American thought like these kids, we would not have educational inequity. If everyone in power who made policy decisions thought like these kids, we would have better schools for everyone. These students understood that it was important to not just think about what they wanted and what their friends wanted, but to think about everyone. I hope we all learn from them.