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When I posted about the Beverly Hills Unified School District expelling non-district (or “permit”) students I made assumptions. I assumed wealthy residents were seeking to expel middle and low income families from their community. My knowledge of Beverly Hills – a composite of scenes from the Slums of Beverly Hills and pictures of Rodeo Drive.

A commenter on my simultaneous post to K2Twelve told me I was wrong. My commenter from Horace Mann told me the situation was very much the opposite. My commenter told me the wealthy families were actually from outside the Beverly Hills school district. My commenter goes on to say that the Beverly Hills permit policy was being used to “dilute the number of Persian kids in Beverly Hills schools, which the then-Board majority felt drove away white, non-Persian Beverly Hills families to private schools.”

I had never thought of Beverly Hills residents as being anything but wealthy and White -  Assumption #2.

Fatemeh writes on Racialicious about a W article she read titled, “The Persian Conquest.” The title hints at the W author’s (Kevin West) feelings about the influx of Persians in Beverly Hills.

From the myriad of titles he could have chosen, he chose the aggressive one – the negative one – the descriptor of an invader – the one set in the game of Risk. As a 2nd Generation Chinese American, I am particularly sensitive to war inspired immigration descriptors like “conquer” and “invasion.” In social studies, you learn the Chinese built the railroads and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. If you are lucky you may have a teacher who whispers about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Internment Camps.

Despite the title, Fatemeh wants to believe Kevin’s intentions were well meaning:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right? In attempting to dispel stereotypes, W simply backed them up: showy images of wealth and references to media and real estate empires are uncomfortably close to the stereotypes of “rich Jews” and “Jews running the media and the banks.”

What are the intentions behind this 2007 article from the LA Times: “Diversity program at Beverly Hills High enrolls mostly Asians?” The author says the Beverly Hills diversity permits were begun in 1969 as an effort by school officials to diversify Beverly Hills school campuses –

For decades, the permit program aimed to bring in a deliberate mix of black, Latino and Asian students from outside the city limits… Today, however, the vast majority of the students enrolled with diversity permits at Beverly Hills High are high-performing Asian students… Critics say the program has shifted by default from a program aimed at increasing racial and ethnic diversity to one that simply brings smart, well-rounded students into the district.

Are the critics of a strong Asian presence in the Beverly Hill permit program (which now no longer exists) undermining the significance of “Asian” as an ethnic group embracing a multitude of cultural histories and traditions?  Are they saying all Asians are the same – all East Asian and light skinned? Are they saying that Asians are somehow “less ethnic” (and thus less deserving of public services) than Blacks and Latinos?

Are they making assumptions about Asians? As Kevin West did about Persian immigrants? As I did about Beverly Hills?

Like a baby putting every accessible object in its mouth, we taste the world around us to know what we like and what we don’t care for. We draw conclusions – make assumptions – about new experiences based on the outcomes and sensations of old experiences. We then compile our feelings about these experiences into personal systems of belief that we use to help rationalize the world around us.

Assumptions try to create a “truth” but are not the truth. Our understanding of our world should be mutable – changeable – with growth and personal development. Assumptions are a necessary evil – An evil that can only be repented by thinking more deeply about the roots of what is being assumed.

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What would you do to change education if you ruled the world?

That’s how Jon Snyder began the Bank Street Niemeyer Panel at the Times Center on 41st Street – March 1, 2010.

The discussion: Race, Class, and Reform.

The panelists: Irving Hamer Jr., Peter McFarlane, Michael Nettles, Jeannie Oakes, and David Sciarra.

The mental image of James Cagney closing White Heat on top of an oil tank, talking at the sky – shouting – “Top of the World Ma! Top of the World!” And then Pow! White light!

The memory of that Tears for Fears song – What is that ringing at the beginning of the song? – A synthesizer? – “Welcome to your life, there’s no turning back…”

As ruler, Peter McFarlane, Principal at the Hugo Newman College Preparatory School,  desires more community engagement. His comment – “moving schools from mediocre to greatness” – reminded me of Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. Jim Collins also wrote a monograph appending his book: Good to Great in the Social Sector. It distinguished between the measurements of greatness in the corporate world from those in the social sector. While the processes are elementally the same, the measurements are different.

What is a good school? What is a great school? It is easy to differentiate between bad and good – the two are polar. The distinction between good and great is far more difficult – there is a finer line identifying the two.

I’ve given good schools a lot of thought. I agreed with parts of the UCLA CRESST report, What Makes a Good School? A good school involves parents and the greater community. A great school would involve them in meaningful and transparent ways that promote its overall objectives (as defined by David Labaree and told by Eduwonkette):

  1. to prepare children for their place in the economy
  2. to achieve democratic equality
  3. to nurture social mobility

I believe as Peter believes – community involvement has the potential to transform a mediocre school to a great school.

The community school (by Sarah Fine):

Take neighborhood schools and turn them into community hubs, by extending their hours and broadening their uses. Rather than locking up on weekends and after the dismissal bell each day, a school might keep its facilities open, for use by partner organizations offering tutoring, recreation, health care, child care, meals, or English-as-a-second-language classes. The arrangement is win-win: Service organizations gain facilities and opportunities to collaborate, and families gain a more centralized system of services.

I believe when people are able to personalize an institution, they are much more likely to care about it – nurture and protect it. While it might offer the types of community services Sarah states – “tutoring, recreation, health care, child care, meals, or English-as-a-second-language classes” – it might also be a place to reflect – a place to get away. In a city like New York where the pace of life can run you ragged, a community school might just be the place to go to get absorbed in a book, to write, or to daydream.

But who composes the community? I am opposed to putting up barricades and drawing lines in the sand – dividing space into territories. It is ridiculous in the virtual age – an age where technology and availability of the Internet have furthered the realities of the global village.

The online Encyclopedia of Informal Education provides these three interacting – overlapping – definitions of community:

Place… where people have something in common, and this shared element is understood geographically.

Interest… people are linked together by factors such as religious belief, sexual orientation, occupation or ethnic origin.

Communion… In its weakest form we can approach this as a sense of attachment to a place, group or idea (in other words, whether there is a ‘spirit of community’). In its strongest form ‘communion’ entails a profound meeting or encounter…

Can I propose a “communionity”? A communionity school? A school that would communicate the spirit of a community school on a broader, more inclusive, more open stage?

The communionity school would retain local geographical and cultural characteristics that it would actively transmit to other schools that would do the same. This active sharing would create a more informed holistic system for learning and growing by revealing commonalities and exploring differences among peoples.