Family Magazine

Inscrutable Sets of Boxes

By Stevemiranda

A friend sent me this screed from the brilliant James H. Kunstler, the angriest architect in America.

Inscrutable sets of boxes

“Presenting the new Clinton Middle School, Tulsa, Oklahoma—a building that expresses to perfection our current social consensus about the meaning of education. . . . It summarizes our collective aspirations about school as the unidentifiable contents of an inscrutable set of boxes. This is one of the reasons that public education is failing so desperately.”

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Earlier this week, I wrote about Seattle’s amazing Rainier Scholars program, which helps low-income students of color succeed on a path to college. The most remarkable thing about Rainier Scholars, however, is the fact that we need it so badly. The only reason it exists is that the traditional school model has done such a reprehensible job in serving low-income students of color.

Seattle is filled with awesome non-profits that are in a similar business: doing the work that our schools can’t seem to do. Arts Corps helps kids cultivate creative habits of mind by engaging them in artistic endeavors; Youth in Focus helps young people develop a positive self-identity through photography; Reel Grrls encourages young woman to be leaders through work in media production.

These are the “extra-curricular” programs that kids wish they could be doing during school. Instead, they sit in those inscrutable sets of boxes, enduring one required class after another.

* * *

It was the second day of summer vacation, and I called one of my students at home for help solving a computer problem. I asked him how summer was going, and he frenetically listed a series of fun-sounding activities he was involved in. The one consuming most of his time was building a green screen to help them achieve high-level special effects in video production.

“It’s amazing,” he concluded, “how much cool stuff you can do when you don’t have to go to school.”

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