Archive for January 9th, 2009

MicroSociety Banks Don’t Need Bailouts

Friday, January 9th, 2009

The city in which I live, Rochester, New York, has a high school graduation rate of between 30-and 40% depending on how you spin the numbers. Let’s go over that again – only 3 or 4 out of every 10 kids who start school in Rochester get a high school diploma.

The rest of them? Some are in the County Social Service offices lying on applications to get help with their 3 or 4 kids. Others are on street corners looking for a new hustle. And some are spending the next 10, 20, or 30 years in NYS Department of Correction Crossbar Hotels.

Do you think this is a new problem?

In the mid-1960’s, George Richmond, a Yale-educated teacher, had his first job in a Brooklyn, New York elementary school. It was a nightmare.

“If spitballs could kill, we’d all be dead,” wrote Richmond. His fifth graders skipped class, scorned homework and slept through lectures. Their apathy and cynicism was surpassed only by their appetite for classroom warfare. (Does any of this sound familiar today? Remember: this was 40-years ago!)

After slamming into countless walls, the young, idealist teacher threw up his hands at a system in which teachers pretended to teach and students pretended to learn. From that frustration was born his thesis: If discipline, willpower and the force of reason couldn’t hook students, maybe, just MAYBE freedom and responsibility would. It was worth a try. As Janis Joplin sang, “When you got nothin’ – you got nothin’ to lose.”

So George King, a teacher with a deep belief in the value of learning for its own sake started a game “paying” his students – in pretend money – for completed assignments, good marks and perfect attendance. Students then used their “cash” to play a game of “real life” Monopoly – in which they built, sold and mortgaged various cardboard “properties”. As they began to discover the relevance of reading and math through managing their society, Richmond’s students also discovered in themselves an enthusiasm for learning – and a hunger for more.

A few hundred words cannot possibly describe this program or its potential – or my rekindled hope in the future of American education. For a better look at WHAT COULD BE and SHOULD BE in our schools, go to: http://www.microsociety.org/who.php

I am not an educator – nor an idealist – nor someone who has a lot of hope for the future of this country. But as long as there are alternative, creative, educational approaches like those found in MicroSociety, I cannot abandon all hope and dreams for tomorrow.

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