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Learning vs. Education: A Conversation at Germantown City Hall

Last weekend at Germantown City Hall, YahNe Baker and The Think Tank convened a conversation to explore different models of and approaches to learning, with a particular emphasis on what might be possible in Germantown. The Philadelphia School District is in a moment of extreme crisis because of the so-called “doomsday” budget, which has resulted in thousands of teacher and staff lay-offs and has come on the heels of the closure of 24 schools (Germantown High School is one of these and is located across the street from the town hall building). Most Philadelphians have strong opinions about the disastrous state of public education and what steps should be taken to rectify the current situation.

We asked participants to share their own experiences and motivations around education. This is some of what we learned:

  • A young teacher-in-training is interested in organizing a professional association of public school teachers who are displeased with the current dominant model of schooling in order to envision new models from the inside out.
  • A mother of a young girl in a local public elementary school expressed her frustration at the toxic environment in which her daughter is enrolled, which includes abusive and burnt-out teachers and teacher’s aides and tired, disinvested parents.
  • A community activist, author, and mother from West Philadelphia shared about her research into the cultural dynamics of parenting and discipline within the African American community, and how this impacts perceptions and practices within the space of education.
  • YahNe told us about the struggle to seek out the best education for her teenage daughter, which has included a range of experiences in private schools, public schools, and, soon, homeschooling and cyber school.
  • Meredith and I shared some basic information and resources on unschooling and other alternative educational models (including Think Tank Reader Vol. III). I spoke about the dilemma we face in wanting to unschool our own children while at the same time building broader support for others in our community who might be interested in this approach for their kids but unaware or unable to envision how that might happen.

In the end, the conversation circled around two related long-term objectives focused on Germantown: 1) providing resources and support for others in the community who might want to pursue alternatives to schooling (public or private) for their children; and 2) building community support for neighborhood public schools. The participants on this day made a tentative plan to organize a larger community meeting on education in Germantown later in the summer to explore concrete actions in advance of these goals.