Archives for category: Education Reform

careyWhen we speak of progressive education, we often think of thought leaders like John Dewey and his famous book, The School in Society (1899).  Progressive education leaders wrote of and acted upon their beliefs that a democratic, child-centric, experiential approach to learning was best for children as well as society (Reese, 2001).  It is important, however, to avoid becoming stuck in the dogmas of past educational philosophies and keep a critical eye toward needed improvements. If we are to truly live up to the democratic ideals of progressive education, it is perhaps most important that we examine which children were not included in early visions of this educational approach.

John Dewey published The School in Society in 1899.  Less than a decade later, 33 states would pass laws legalizing the involuntary hospitalization and sterilization of individuals with disabilities (Cohen, 2016). As the Progressive Education Association was being established in the US, the US Supreme Court was upholding states’ rights to incarcerate and sterilize disabled individuals (Cohen, 2016).  The surge of progressive education in the early decades of the twentieth century coincided with an international wave of enthusiasm for eugenics – a belief that the ills of society could be cured by removing those with undesirable traits from the gene pool. Rather than see eugenics and discrimination toward individuals with disabilities as incompatible with the progressive movement, many progressives embraced eugenics as a means for improving society (Cohen, 2016; Freeden,1979). Children with disabilities in the US would not be guaranteed access to even minimal education until 1975, over two decades after Dewey’s death.  Dewey never imagined a world in which children with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities would inhabit the progressive classrooms he sought to create.

Why paint this grim historical image? Because knowing that students with disabilities were not factored into the original imaginings of progressive education provides us with a path toward a greater and improved progressive philosophy and practice. We can stop reading Dewey and his progressive colleagues for hints for creating a truly inclusive school community and start looking to other child-centric models that will help us to provide a meaningful education to all.

It is time for progressive education to welcome a makeover. We must re-examine our approaches to teaching and learning and weed out unnecessary barriers so that all can participate in participatory learning.  The City Neighbors schools have embraced this re-imagining of progressive education.  A commitment to inclusive education and equity for students with disabilities has led to an examination of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an approach to instructional design that embraces student-centric learning experiences and offers access through student-led choice. It has not always been an easy path to blaze.

In order to embrace inclusive education, educators must critically examine ideas about how things “should” be done in order to creatively provide options for all students. There must be a shift in considering the barrier to learning as a within-child problem, to a barrier that is externally caused by instructional choices and the design of learning environments. Progressive educators must keep a sharp eye out for the implicit ableist biases that saturate our culture and profession. What happens when progressive educators are able to intentionally create accessible learning environments, provide meaningful options for student expression, and view student engagement as the key to a deeper relationship with learning? A greater fulfillment of the promises of progressive education; the creation of a more just, democratic, and critical thinking generation.

~Lisa Beth Carey, Assistant Director of The Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education at Kennedy Krieger Institute

Cohen, A. S. (2016). Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, american eugenics, and the sterilization of Carrie Buck. Penguin.
Freeden, M. (1979). Eugenics and progressive thought: a study in ideological affinity. The
historical journal, 22(3), 645-671.
Reese, W. J. (2001). The origins of progressive education. History of education quarterly, 41(1), 1-24.

John Henderson Photo (2)One of the most significant throughlines that have been central to me throughout my time in Baltimore is its public education system. I thought about it long before I had kids. It has predominated in my thinking because of what public education promises–equity, fairness, and community engagement. That is at odds with what public education in our city so often provides. The racial and economic inequities which were at the heart of our city’s creation are thriving today; they are nowhere more visible than in our schools. 

One of the stories my family tells about itself is its preoccupation with education and the capacity for education to expand your opportunities. I grew up in a predominantly African American town in rural Alabama, where, at least to my experiences, the public school education was regimented, woefully underfunded, and at best an afterthought in the state legislature’s mind.

I remember that the section in our history books on the massacre and removal of Native Americans in Alabama was at best a paragraph, which is odd given that many of the city names, names of bodies of water, and indeed the name of the state are of Choctaw origin. The section on slavery was perhaps no more than a page, which would be fair if one determined that neither economics, history, sociology, nor state politics were important enough to make their way into the history book. 

But at least the people there were clear-eyed about racism and economic inequity which were the sources of their problems with regard to education. They were also clear-eyed about the solution: a significant financial investments in public schools. 

Later, when I came to Montgomery County, Maryland as a teenager, the teachers and students spoke derisively about the south, about its backwards educational system, and (without much coded language) their low expectations for me as an Black child. I suspect they were not aware of the racism and lack of introspection that informed those judgments. I recall them speaking just as poorly about the kids in Baltimore, for similar reasons. Perhaps they just weren’t aware that schools are primarily funded through local property taxes, and that those taxes bake in the inequities across generations. They were also likely unaware that Maryland is the northernmost southern state. 

My daughters go to City Neighbors Hamilton. One of my proudest moments as a father was looking at a map at the school that shows what part of the city the kids come from, and hearing about the school’s including all of those stories into a narrative about what it means to be a Baltimorean, a Marylander, and an American. The lived experiences of kids from Highlandtown are different than those from Sandtown, or Waverly, or Oldtown, or Guilford. 

Recently, I became the ACLU of Maryland’s Board President. One of the things I am proudest of on behalf of the organization is its work to push for equitably funding Baltimore city schools through the Bradford litigation, and its mobilization efforts to equitably fund all schools throughout the state through its work on the Kirwan commission. I am equally enthusiastic to support the Kirwan formula through the City Neighbors Foundation’s advocacy work. 

I also have served as the Treasurer for City Neighbors Hamilton for a few years, so, unsurprisingly, I guess, I spend a lot of time looking at City Neighbors Hamilton’s budget. Each month we look at the financials, and each year, we fret about whether we can meet the needs of the kids with the money we’re allotted. That is important work, but in a more profound sense, it is an annual process of papering over the problems that have resulted from our collective failure to properly fund our schools. I hope you will consider joining with me and the Foundation’s advocacy team in an effort to make the legislature and the governorship live up to its obligations for our children. 

~John Henderson, Parent & Board Member, City Neighbors Hamilton

robertsWhile serving in the Army, Dr. R. Adams Cowley, affectionately known as the father of trauma medicine and founder of Shock Trauma, coined the term “golden hour” to describe a crucial period of time. He observed that many traumatic injuries could be stabilized if the patient could be transported to a military hospital where a surgeon was present within one hour of the initial injury.

As I wrapped my brain around this concept during a tour of University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center, I could not help but to question myself: In my day-to-day life, how can I help someone during their golden hour?

Last August, I applied to be considered for a Baltimore City School Board Commissioner. In that moment, I chose to be intentional and show up during the golden hours of some of the district’s most vulnerable families. Combining my lived experiences and professional skill sets, I realized that I could potentially help shape the educational trajectories of 80,000 Baltimore City Public School students.  Like the clients I serve every day, I choose to show up for the next generation of Baltimore. In these times, they are often unaware that they are in a crucial period of time in their lives–their golden hour, and I am choosing to model the same thinking as Dr. Cowley.

Over the course of my life, I learned various examples of disabling practices that cause trauma to people by way of “redlining,” inequitable community funding models, and many occasions were groups of people were discriminated against for race, religion, or some other unique identifying characteristic.  Major trauma has the potential to leave long-term disabilities or even cause untimely death.

Now, just so we are clear, these traumatic injuries may not come by way of a motor vehicle collision or with a weapon.  Perhaps it may be a person or family representative of the United Way’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed Report. Perhaps it is a new participant in the Center for Urban Families’ “Strive” program, or even a youth attending a local mentorship program. There are families within every neighborhood, community, and jurisdiction that–at any time–can and perhaps will experience a severe traumatic injury and will be in need of a City Neighbors version of Dr. Cowley.

To my City Neighbors family, I challenge you and I need you to, in your personal and professional lives, help someone during their golden hour. Thank you.

~Shantell Roberts, Parent, City Neighbors Hamilton



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