Three Rules of Advocacy
1. Do good work.
2. Talk about it.
3. Do and talk as far and wide as you can.
Like all worthy thoughts, the above is simply common sense. Yet sometimes people talk about things they haven’t actually done. They’re saying all the right words, but they don’t have the weight of years and years of living them in their work. Or sometimes people do fabulous work, but don’t have the words to explain it or the impulse to find them. And even when 1 and 2 above are in place, they’re not showing it or saying it to the people with the power to protect it, to sustain it, to nurture it, to help it keep growing.
As this Blog testifies, I’ve been big on the talk side of things, relentlessly searching for a thousand ways to describe and illuminate the work that I and others have done. And with those 40,000 classes with kids and thousands more with adults, I’ve also been big on the doing side. As well as the “far and wide” side of things with articles, books, in-services, conferences, keynote speeches, a Tedx talk, courses. Not enough school boards as might be helpful and I’m still waiting for the invitation to testify before Congress, but I’ve worked hard on spreading the good news.
So when a college friend of my daughter’s asked her about good schools in San Francisco and she connected with me, my wife and other daughter and she asked, “What’s so special about your school?” (Yes, though retired, it’s still “my” school), without a moment of forethought, I set this down:
I think the center of the character of the school is an unbroken commitment to the dignity and delight of the child at each stage of development by teachers who sincerely love children and are passionate about their teaching. Teachers who are given the freedom to follow their own genius without ticking off boxes handed down by lock-step curriculums or national standards. Teachers who have joined together in the unspoken (and now more clearly spoken) agreement that justice doesn’t only matter in the way our community members, kids and adults alike, treat each other, but in the way that some narratives (white supremacy, for example) shut down justice while others (our Montessori foundation, the many faces of humanitarianism and civil rights) open them up and children should be aware of these competing narratives as their appropriate developmental level.
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.* Our alums prove time and time again that they leave school with a character both nutritious and delicious—strong critical thinking skills, a fearless confidence in expressing themselves publicly, a commitment to joining thought with action and a deep caring for the world, aware of what’s broken and determined to help fix it.
We also have a unique ceremonial calendar that gives feet to the wings of our vision— and those feet are dancing through the year, accompanied by the music that the kids make themselves and the songs they sing. The Orff Schulwerk music program that I started in 1975 is internationally known through workshops and courses taught by myself and my two colleagues in some 50 countries over the past 30 years, shared in the 12 books we’ve published and further spread through our kids performing at conferences in Salzburg (Austria), San Diego (twice), San Jose, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Long Beach and Las Vegas.
The Orff approach itself is founded on a wide definition of music that includes body percussion, speech, poetry, song, movement, folk dance, percussion instruments, Orff instruments (xylophones), recorder, strings, band instruments, arts integration and drama. The kids put on one elaborate play each year combining all the art forms and based on a folk tale/ fairy tale/ myth/ children’s literature with scripts that emerge from their improvisations. We are also just about the only school in the country in which the kids sing together every day and come to know a repertoire of some 200 songs. Though I’m retired, my two brilliant colleagues are carrying on this dynamic work in all the above areas.
Likewise, my wife Karen started the Art Program in 1974 and the children’s art work constantly displayed on school walls, in special projects like calendars and even once, city billboards, the wide range of artistic media (weaving, pottery, woodworking, collage, drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.) also play a big part of kids experience and confidence in self-expression.
In short, the school was founded all those years back (1966) with the idea “There must be a better way to do this” and grew guided by Gandhi’s invitation to “be the change we wanted to see in the world.” Though the bureaucrats and bean-counters and machine-sellers are daily pounding on the doors—and sometimes granted access— somehow that spirit has remained alive. It always was a special place and still is.”
After writing that, the thought occurred, “That sounds like a great place! Maybe I should apply for a job there!” J
* Thanks to faithful blog reader and old friend and colleague Susan Kennedy here. I originally referenced "The proof is in the pudding," a perhaps common misquote of this bit of folk wisdom and she politely corrected me. On her birthday! A gift to the world reminding us to be more careful.