Borlaug Elementary School, Iowa City, built in 2012
One-room schoolhouse, Johnson County, Iowa, date unknown (source)
A couple of years ago, people in our school district were intensely engaged in debating possible boundary changes between attendance areas. Now, we seem to have moved on (after making only very minimal boundary changes) to the topic of improving facilities and possibly building new schools. Having been unable to prioritize its building needs without angering large groups of people, the school board will apparently propose a bond issue that purports to fund everyone’s desires at once.
I didn’t write much here about the issue of boundary changes, and I expect I won’t write much about the facilities issue either. It’s not that I don’t think the issue is important; many of the arguments for facilities improvements are very persuasive. (I’m not sure whether to be happy or sad that our school’s roach infestation might get addressed in the district’s long-term plan.) But so much energy goes into discussing buildings and boundaries, and so little into discussing what goes on inside those buildings.
Will the conversation ever turn to whether we are offering a meaningful, humane education? To whether the district is too myopically focused on standardized testing, and whether it has taken a wrong turn with its increasingly authoritarian emphasis on behavior and discipline, and whether its curriculum is too lock-step and unengaging, and whether its demands on the kids are justified and developmentally appropriate? To the values that the district stands for, and its understanding of how people learn, and its conception of what it means to be well-educated?
Facilities aren’t entirely irrelevant to those questions. But given the choice between continuing our district’s current educational approach in shiny new high-tech buildings and pursuing a meaningful, humane educational experience in run-down World War II Quonset huts, I’d take the Quonset huts in a heartbeat.