Delivered June 9, 2017
For several decades now, the 9-10s have hosted the June visit from Roxbury Central School pen pals, teachers and parents, and I have joined their student-led tours of MCS for many years. They are always touching to witness as the children proudly share their school. However, little did I know the adults would be so entertained this time around.
In the basement, a 9-10s tour guide explained that the Shop is “where we work with tools and wood. It’s not a shop like where you go shopping, like where you buy celery.”
On the first floor, a 9-10 introduced the main office this way: “This is like our old Mezzanine office. It’s the place where the high-ranking people are.”
When touring the third floor, another 9-10 had this to say: “We pick books for our reading buddies ‘cause we partner up with the 6-7s. We learn about our buddies’ interests and pick good books for them. I remember when I was in that class. I loved my buddy.”
Over the years, these talks are meant to be a tribute to children. They are intended to be a tribute to teachers, as well. Teachers’ skill, passion and gifts enable children to learn and to thrive, through tough moments and easier times, to develop strategies, and to see themselves as capable individuals and group members who care for one another and their ever-expanding world which they encounter as they work together. For children, their interactive play will always be the most authentic work they do—it is joyful work, and it is also hard work sometimes. A child in the 5-6s put it best: “Work time should be called plork” (pronounced plerk) for play is work.
One of my greatest pleasures is visiting the classrooms and watching children engaged in their plork, in their writing, and in their dialogue with one another. If I am too busy to visit, I can live vicariously through the teachers’ wonderful accounts of your children’s days at school.
Clipboard in hand, a 5-6s child takes orders at her restaurant:
“What do you want? Pizza? Pizza will take a while….
Okay, two orders of pizza!”
Soon, the pizza is delivered with a song, “Pizza here, pizza there!”
Upon mixing corn starch and water to create magical Goop, a 4-5s child reveled in the experience: “It gets hard after a while. Look! The Ositos (the counting bears) are getting tucked in by the Goop.”
While reading My Father’s Dragon, a 4-5 wondered,
“Are there women knights?”
You can bet a lively debate ensued.
Recently, I had the pleasure of watching several 5-6s engage in science play with the soil in the planters:
“I’m making mud cupcakes in the mud factory!”
“With cherries on top?” Another child offers mud cherry balls.
“Sure! How about a mud tower?”
“Or a mud island!”
“I’m making a mud pond now.”
“Watch out! A volcano is going to explode!”
“Can we use this spoon, Olivia? Ohh, yeah, now it’s buried treasure.”
“The volcano is erupting now—watch out!”
“Ohh, no—it’s time to go soon. I can’t wait to come back.”
During a winter weather discussion, a 4-5 cautioned the class: “It’s going to be so windy! Don’t go outside, because if you do, you will fly up in the air. All of you will be like angels!”
Later in the year, while noticing signs of spring outside, one child offered, “Shoots are plants.They are stems that come up from seeds—the ones that make flowers before flowers are born.”
Toward the end of the baby study in the 4-5s, one child asserted, “I am not a baby anymore. I like being strong. When I am a grown-up, I will fight bad guys and keep people safe.”
Young children love to pretend to be grown-ups as they imagine what life is like for adults. One day I was taking a group of university educators around the school and we found ourselves lingering in the classrooms longer than we had planned in order to soak in the contributions of the children. In one class we lucked out with this lively discussion:
“I can’t wait to be a grown-up so I can do whatever I want!”
“No, you can’t! When you’re a grown-up you sometimes get called for Jury Duty and you have to do it. So, you can’t do whatever you want when you’re a grown-up.”
(When asked by another child what Jury Duty is, this child explained, “Jury Duty is when two people don’t agree.”)
As soon as the 6-7s’ Wings Postal Service began, a 5-6s child beamed during writing time: “I just want to write letters all day! I think I’m actually going to do that; I’m gonna write a letter to all the people that are in our class!”
While building with small blocks on the rug, a 4-5s child explained: “I am making a jail but it does not work anymore. You get a ticket for one dollar and see it like a castle so you can get out of jail.”
In a poem entitled, Spring Time, a 6-7s child wrote:
Spring is warm.
The flowers smell like peace.
In the air it smells like justice.
The trees smell like justice.
When asked about her poem, she said, “I was thinking about MCS when I wrote it, thinking about how nature is free and peaceful. And I was thinking about how my school started because MLK fought for peace and justice.”
During a class discussion one day, a new child had this to add:
“Martin Luther King made the world a better place. He marched and marched and marched because he did not like the rules. He studied lots and lots of laws.”
When reading Sometimes I’m Bombaloo, teachers asked children to think about strategies that could be helpful when they feel frustrated. One child stated, “You need to take a rest and calm down.”
This child’s sound advice is offered up to classmates arguing in the block area:
Why don’t you say, ‘I don’t like it when you eat my animal’
instead of saying, ‘I won’t ever play with you again.’
The 6-7s remind one another to Stop and Think:
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
Is it necessary?
It is common for children at MCS to compose a class contract toward the beginning of the year. Here is one from older children that is particularly concise:
- Include everyone
- Treat people the way you want to be treated
- Keep your body steady and safe
- Try to solve problems before they escalate
- Treat our supplies, our classroom, our school and the Earth carefully.
Perhaps world leaders should consult with MCS children.
The 6-7s wrote reflections of the year, including parts they will never forget:
The post office and being a clerk
The bird study and the museum study
Blocks—the 6-7s is the last year of blocks
Read-aloud chapter books
My teachers and the chicks
Each year, children in the 7-8s come to their own definitions of family as they study about each other and their families and learn about history though their stories and artifacts.
“You are you and no one can change who you are.”
“Family is people who you love to spend time and have fun with.”
“You are you because of your family.”
“You are them and they are you.”
The 7-8s wrote about their favorite experiences with grandparents and special friends:
It was so much fun at my grandparents’ house. I wish I could go there again. I want to go for a walk in the woods because I find and make things. Last time I was there I built a fort. I want to see how much damage it has took.
I played with my grandpa in Central Park. My grandpa loves baseball. I want to be as happy as possible I love my grandpa.
Once me and my pop-pop were trying to find worms and lizards. Then we noticed a family of small lizards! It was so awesome. We also saw some worms.
I saw my first hummingbird at my grandma’s house.
At my grandma’s house we had a white Christmas. I sang, “I’m so excited!” for about 4 minutes. Typically it is too hot for snow.
The best trip was when I went fishing with my uncle in California!! [2 exclamation points] My brother was scared to go cause he was going to get sea sick. It was awesome!!! [3 exclamation points]
I caught a lot of fish!!!! [4 exclamation points]
In thinking about a book she had read this year, a 9-10s child poignantly noted that the author “changed things around. Not everything is going to be nice, happily ever after.”
When asked what they know about the election, this is what some 4-5s and 6-7s had to say:
I have a concern. Trump said he was going to be good for the country, but I am not so sure.
Well, sometimes the voting machine usually has pipes that show you which person was voted for, but if you press the button the pipe might suck up the voted into voting for the bad guy.
If Trump says something mean to you, you can say something nice back to him so he can learn to be nice.
5-6s contributed their thoughts to discussions around the election:
A president is someone who keeps other people safe.
I know Donald Trump said he doesn’t like women; does that include little kids, like little girls?
In a letter to the President, a child wrote:
“Can you keep our world safe? If you do, I will be your friend.”
8-9s also wrote letters following the election results:
I am so sad you lost. I agree with women’s rights. By a lot.
My parents voted for you because I was with them.
Oh, I am 9 years old.
Oh, and I don’t want a wall at all.
I am done with my conversation. I have to get back to social studies.
Bye for now.
Dear Donald Trump,
Congratulations, but I personally don’t agree with anything you said.
Now you might not care that I am saying this as me just turning 9 years old. But I have the right to tell you that you made terrible choices and that is not fair for other people! You do know that being president is about making a good life for the United States of America, not about you and your money.
Dear Mr. Trump,
I don’t think that you should build a wall because I don’t think that we should keep people from entering the country because people want to live here. And women should have equal rights. We all deserve the same rights.
In January, children wanted to make signs for protests. Some community members were going to DC and some were joining protests in NYC. Here are some of their signs:
Support Equal Rights
Be Open to People Who Aren’t Just Like You
Immigrants: We Get the Job Done
Black Lives Matter
You Don’t Have to Be a Bad Guy
Climate Change Does Not Discriminate
Don’t Stop Protesting
When sending a letter earlier in the year to Mayor de Blasio to encourage him to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Day, a child in the 8-9s wrote:
“I know I’m a bit small for protesting, but my ideas matter, too!”
A 5-6s child let us know that protest means “you’re waiting until something is fair, and if something is not fair, you’re not going to have it.”
Many children of all ages wrote postcards to the President on Earth Day:
From the 5-6s:
Dear Mr. President,
Keep beaches clean.
Don’t pick the flowers while they are still growing.
If we don’t take care of the earth, then we won’t have anywhere to live.
Don’t kill too many animals because then nobody will be able to discover them.
From the 8-9s:
Dear Mr. President,
I think we shouldn’t pollute because we need to protect where we live and it’s killing many people. So if you care about the world take a stand 'cause we need a good environment to live!
Dear Mr. President,
I think you should think about climate change a bit more. It’s not imaginary.
Dear Mr. President,
We love our earth. I think you should try to pay more attention to all the people you are now in charge of. We have to protect our environment.
MCS children know Robert Coles as the author of The Story of Ruby Bridges. Coles became a sponsor of MCS in 1966, even before the school opened. In April of that year, these were his words:
Manhattan Country School will have an impact on education because it is clear that truly integrated education, public or private, in Northern cities is still something of a rarity.
One wonders whether, if asked today, Coles would comment about his statement still being applicable today.
Not long ago, during one of our child development meetings, I shared a bit of an old interview on NPR with Robert Coles. As part of NPR’s introduction, Coles was described as having “spent his career exploring the inner lives of children. He says children are witnesses to the fullness of our humanity; they are keenly attuned to the darkness as well as the light of life; and they can teach us about living honestly, searchingly and courageously if we let them.”
Indeed, children can teach us a great deal if we let them, even when “not everything is going to be nice, happily ever after.”
In thinking about early Chinese immigrants and the Exclusion act of 1882, the 9-10s thought carefully about our history:
I never knew how much Chinese people were discriminated against. Did Americans get nicer to Chinese immigrants after the immigration ban was lifted?
Americans were being hypocritical because the Chinese took the jobs they didn’t want but then they wanted them.
Were there some Americans who stood up for the Chinese?
Chinese immigrants actually worked for lower pay! Then, if their families lived with them, how would they support them?
Everything pretty much started with Americans being mad and taking it out on the Chinese because they got no gold. It’s a silly thing getting mad because you’re not rich.
Were rich Chinese immigrants treated the same as poor Chinese immigrants by Americans?
I think the U.S. was supposed to welcome other cultures kindly, but apparently not!
World leaders should certainly consult with MCS children.
After reading Miss Rumphius to the older children, this is how they thought they could make the world more beautiful:
I am going to try to make the world a better place by helping the homeless people that need food.
I want to change the world some day and here is what I want to do:
Make sure that everyone will get along without having to fight or argue. And I try to help and so can you. Just try.
I think I can make the world a better place by making more public gardens.
Let’s make the world more beautiful by doing art!
Make sure to not just scribble scrabble and actually draw.
The 7-8s thought about some gifts that you cannot hold:
To be alive and well
People are different and that is everybody’s gift
To be depended upon
People bring you love
Joy—that is a gift you cannot hold
A 7-8s child wrote this poem not long ago:
In the Woods
I walk on a rocky path
First step in the woods
It is like a dream
Sweet songs of chirping birds
Butterflies coming out to play
My Mom calls me
It is time to go
I say bye to the animals and birds
I say bye to everything
Soon, this child and her 20 classmates will get to experience their first farm trip—the first of many trips in the woods of the Catskill Mountains. One 9-10s child described their favorite part of the November farm trip as “waking up in the morning to the fog.” How many children can say this about their school? How very lucky they are, and how lucky we are to be able to honor these years of their childhood, in the city and in the country.