Saturday, November 10, 2012

Civics Lesson

Downtown Denver, seen from City Park Golf Course. Photo by Stevan Kalmon, November 2011.
Driving home across Denver on a recent evening, I had the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between privilege and housing/neighborhood design.

I travelled from Green Valley Ranch, at the eastern edge of the city, to my house on the western edge. (I was coming home from a golf lesson. Yes, a golf lesson. This embarrassing fact becomes relevant in about four paragraphs.) From GVR,  I followed surface streets west and south and west through Northeast Denver, Stapleton, Park Hill, City Park, Five Points, Downtown, LoDo, Platte River Park, Jefferson Park, and finally to my not-Highlands/not-Colfax area... It's a fascinating -- and highly learningful -- drive. Huge diversity of neighborhoods. Some fine views (like City Park, with the stylized Denver cityscape rising to the west). And much to consider related to the makings of a 21st century American city.

Apartments in Stapleton
As I was cruising along Martin Luther King, between Havana and Quebec, flanking the northern boundary of the Stapleton developments, I marveled at how much nicer the housing looks there than it does along, say, Tower Road in northeast Denver. "Nicer", of course, according to my subjective and culturally manifested judgment. 

House in Northeast Denver
Now, why is that?, wondered I... with ironic amusement...
  • Why do I think so? What makes me think so? How do I think that I  have the standing to think so?
  • Are the houses in Stapleton better built? Why might they be?
  • What economic decisions ordain that some housing has to be "ugly" and/or less well built? What would it "cost" to plan and build all housing with the same attention and care that was devoted to Stapleton? What would such an investment return?
  • Why did the Stapleton and Lowry developments get so much more attention than the Montbello, Gateway, Northeast, and Peterson developments?
  • As these areas continue to build out -- and when simply everyone thinks that Stapleton is a model of urban housing development but the northeast areas aren't -- why is it that more effort isn't made to emulate Stapletonesque features in the Northeast Corridor?  
  • Who is paying the costs of not making more such effort? Whose responsibility is it to make the effort? And who decides whether it will (or won't) be made?
After musing along these lines for some time, I suddently thought, What a study this would be? What learning! I'd like to be teaching in a school that makes this its "curriculum." Perhaps an ongoing study  for one cohort of students -- starting when that cohort first enters the school (like 9th grade, or kindergarten) and concluding (officially) when they graduate.
From "Systems Thinking," Part 3 of "Clinical Microsytems: Transformational Framework for Lean Thinking," published on the ASHP Foundation website - Last update, 9/17/12.

See blog rants about learning for the 21st century, how we learn, and inquiry. 

As it happens, when I got home and browsed my email, I saw my daily dose of the EdNews e-report, Accomplished Teacher*. Today's #2 "Top Story" was headlined "N.H. school embraces elections for civics lessons." The lead paragraph reads,
"Women Voters Secured Obama Victory,
According to Exit Polls,"

on the Glamour website (accessed 9-10-12). 
Teachers at a New Hampshire middle school began social studies lessons on Wednesday by discussing the results of Tuesday's presidential election. Leading up to the election, teachers also planned a series of election-themed lessons on topics such as the electoral college and political advertisements. The presidential election also came the day after the school's elections, in which 23 students ran for six school-council seats, and students were asked to vote for president along with their school representatives. SeacoastOnline (Portsmouth, N.H.)
Good for N.H. School! I might quibble about some of their reported strategies... For instance, why "election-themed lessons" rather than, say, just-in-time tutorials for students as they conduct elections? Or case studies about representative democracy? Are there some problems in likening student council to our national government? (I say this as a former Vice President of my high school student council.) I could go on... probably to everyone's dismay, including my own... 

Still. Here we have a whole world from which to learn; instead, we teach classes in civics. 

*  Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief - News about teaching and education excellence; November 8, 2012, edition is exceprted at

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