Ya Say You Want a Revolution?

Dear Dr. DeMott,

If you could Zoom down from heaven right now, you’d be amazed by what has happened since we were last together almost 45 years ago.

Oh. Zoom, you ask? It’s like a precursor to the USS Starship Enterprise transporter room. People can gather from all over for a meeting. Education supervisors can jump into a classroom. It’s much more advanced than Skype.

Skype? Well, we all once thought it amazing to make calls to one another using our computers. Skype let us talk and see one another; quite the improvement over an Alexander Graham Bell phone call. Skype is so yesterday though. We now actually have Dick Tracy watches!

Last night, I attended (meaning I watched and listened to) a panel discussion via Zoom titled: Reopening: Early Lessons Learned. Maybe you know we’re in the middle of a pandemic. That’s a whole different story. Suffice it to say, in order to keep students, teachers and everyone else involved in a school safe from a virus called Covid-19, districts closed and went to what is called remote learning. That essentially means teachers are using Zoom to try and teach students.

And guess what, Dr. DeMott? The education universe has had an awakening! Teachers and administrators have realized they can’t merely deliver content via Zoom to students sitting at home. Try to think of it as like teaching over a phone 45 years ago.

And while listening to the panel discussion, I was jettisoned back to SUNY-Geneso and all the classes I took with you and many of my amazing education professors (by the way, Dr. Matlin, the woman I credit with teaching me so much about children, is still toiling at SUNY-Geneseo). The lessons we learned in our campus school, the lessons all of you modeled–individualized instruction, active learning, student voice–it’s all here now. The terms have been changed, or have been identified as new, because that’s what happens with human beings, no? We constantly “rediscover” because we haven’t been taught well enough how to mine the great lessons of the past.

Last night three superintendents–all rock stars, in my opinion–declared the time had come to do what was best for children. It is time to let students have ownership of their learning. Because teachers and education leaders discovered if teachers try to deliver content via Zoom, students now have the option to not show up and go do something more interesting. Think of it as an evaluation of a class and professor, only in real time, not at the end of the semester.

Oh. And while this is all going on, the lessons you imparted with that field trip to Attica prison just about two years after the riots and my required service project which I chose to do in the Livingston County jail have also come to the surface in a mighty way. Do you get to see everything from heaven? Do you have the AP wire up there?

Yes, the world is finally talking about crime, punishment, and locking people away from society. I’m not going to say we have all the answers. But what we have finally learned is that much of how we have disciplined in K-12 education and the school and community cultures that have been built have actually led to an increase in prison and jail populations. So many of us have called for the disruption of what is called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” We are finally looking at children on the margins and not dismissing them, but actually trying to meet them where they are, too. You would love the talk of Adverse Childhood Experiences, the push for restorative justice practices.

Lots of my learning and observations from my student teaching semester in what was then referred to as the inner-city of Rochester have also come to the surface. I wonder if I can track down the name of my teaching supervisor who told me I liked kids too much to be a teacher? If Dr. Meyer is around, tell him I was right when I gave my presentation on IQ tests and urban students. There is a link between experience and intelligence. Just because my students living in Rochester had no idea what a flamingo was when we read a Basal Reader story titled Flossie the Flamingo didn’t mean they had low IQs.

And if you run into Dr. Starbuck, tell him his teaching on stuttering still survives. And he would be so delighted by this young man.

Brayden Harrington Speaking at the 2020 Democratic National Convention

Change apparently does take a lifetime. I don’t remember you telling us that.

By the way, I still remember visiting your farm. You taught us how to stick apples, as you called it, towards the side of the barn; then we all had dinner. Tell Shirley I send my love.

Dr. Donald DeMott, Professor of Psychology, SUNY-Geneseo, 1976.

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