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  • Writer's pictureElliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF 6.7.2024

“Are you with me now” A J Ryder


This week I spent a day in DC at the Brookings Institute and with Joe Youcha. The Brookings symposium around parent, school and community engagement drew an international crowd. There was lots of talk around what to do but not much around how. This was a meeting where research and policy were driving change. Welcome to DC! As a practitioner at a meeting with policymakers and researchers, it felt like déjà vu all over again. In our world context and connections get top billing, not mandates or content. Without innovative groundwork, the latter two just don’t cut it even if they are well intentioned. I found a lack of local context that without much probing left lots of elephants in the room. It is always good to have a few practitioners at these meetings and that said I’m glad I was there to raise some of those issues. After all these years, there was no mention of things like changing the role of a teacher to an advisor; initiating strong advisories; engaging the entire community as the school; allowing all constituents to search for what matters as they do meaningful work. I could go on and on. I kept asking myself, where have people been for the last 50 years? And, what has another data set from a survey telling us that we don’t already know? Without making something new, how can they expect something very different?  As Andrew pointed out in his TGIF invoking Bucky Fuller’s quote: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”


 “In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.” Doug Stowe


My dinner with Joe was quite different. Our two big topics of conversation were around filling the employment gap in the marine trades with people who have traditionally been left out and elevating the crafts and trades to the level of any academic endeavor so students don’t keep two sets of books. We will be working on these together coming at them from our different places. Joe’s connections to unions and not for profits in the mariner’s world and our connections to finding youth through their interests and connecting them to adults in these fields is a great match-up. One question is where to begin? We’re thinking Newport News and SoCal. Of course, Harbor Freight Fellows, the 311, B-U and the IBPLC loom large here in finding groups of youth that traditionally have been left out of this work. The other initiative of elevating the trades and crafts is trickier. It always seems like it is almost in our grasp but then slips away. Once again, a new design is needed that makes the old design obsolete. On the practical side we have new designs and now I’ve been working with higher ed partners like the American College of Building Arts, The Bennett Street School and Reach University to issue credentials and degrees that get students to work asap. Joe has identified schools like Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey. These schools have elevated the crafts and trades for degrees in applied sciences. Higher Ed is a piece to the puzzle that helps move this endeavor along.




When we look at Finnish schools as a standard of excellence, why do we miss their emphasis on the crafts? Each and every year in their schools, students are working with metal, wood, textile or clay. Not only do these activities ground students in academic and problem-solving skills but they also contribute to the individual and collective mental health and wellbeing in their communities. In recent research from Finland it was reported that the repetitive nature of working with your hands in crafts like knitting and crocheting relaxes the brain and body.




And at the other end of the spectrum where people are in academia for the love of learning we find….


“Bolger models his daughter’s education after his own: hands-on, interactive, wide-ranging, lots of time in the car. She is fluent in two languages, she is nice, she is funny, and last summer she performed Fritz Kreisler’s thorny violin piece “Sicilienne and Rigaudon” at Carnegie Hall with grace, élan and even wit. At the very least, Benjamina has on her hands the material for one of the all-time great college-admissions essays.”


Ben’s daughter and son

Bolger’s children, Blitze and Benjamina, are home-schooled. One of his main teaching devices is the field trip. Here they are at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Credit...David Hilliard for The New York Times

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Dorothy Jean Tillman who at 17 is the youngest person ever to earn her doctorate from Arizona State University. Today, I found a tickler of a story about the man who has accumulated the second most college degrees ever. The only one with more degrees is an octogenarian. After reading the story about Benjamin Bolger, The Man Who Could Not Stop Going to College I saw lots of parallels between Dorothy and Ben. Surprisingly, they were both homeschooled and did their learning in third spaces. They received college degrees at early ages. They both had supportive adults in their youth, and they followed their interests and had a love for learning. In their cases they wanted to be academics and they ended up in academia not by seat-time but through experience.  Ben now has children who are being home-schooled. His day job is an advisor to students who want to get into top universities using the methods he uses to gain acceptance that look similar to BPL and IBPLC. 


Yesterday, Anthonette and I had lunch with  Michelle and Gerardo who direct the San Diego Foundation’s educational wing. Today we attended one of their meetings. There's a lot of synergy here. More to come.



Sarah Kahn sent a great video of the work going on at New Legacy Charter. It is so interesting that Sara and Steven, both BPL principals end up in Denver where neither are from and are the principals of New Legacy. Who knew?


Be well!


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