THOMPSON: Climb to the Top
If we did a real cost benefit analysis of the greater good for the greater number of families by funding the proposed "Race to the Top" innovations with the benefits of "No Child Left Inside," the race would not be close. Test scores may or may not reflect real learning, but blood pressure test scores; blood sugar counts; and Body Mass Indices are unquestionably real. Yes, we must build a "green economy," but how can we do that without building green values, and bringing children out into the green world?
Candidate Obama recognized that a huge part of the Achievement Gap is the result of summer learning loss when poor children are not exposed to museums, outdoor activities, and travel. Chairman George Miller recognizes that environmental education builds "critical thinking, problem-solving, team work, ... and critical analysis." The tough-minded approach, though, would be to use "Race to the Top" funds to meet the immediate and absolutely necessary challenge of creating innovative environmental education and getting kids into the countryside. We could invest in data systems if money is available during NCLB reauthorization.
The first time I took inner city kids camping and fossil hunting, a 3rdgrader found a "real live dinosaur nose! It still has blood on it!" When the toughest brawler tried to summon the courage to take his first step into the woods, it was like a kabuki dance, taking several minutes of wrestling with his terrors. I gained new insights into the fears that drove T___ to violence as I held him all night during his migraine headaches.
Even the coldest calculation of social benefits would show that a $5 billion investment in a green curriculum, summer camps, and travel, would produce far greater saving in health budgets as well as increases in classroom performance, but I have to tell the rest of the story. A couple of years later at the MLK Parade, T was nursing an arm that was badly broken in a fight.
Then a few years later, T was holding up the wall of the Transitional 9th Grade hall, and naturally called me "John." When the familiarity prompted laughter from his homeboys, T explained "he’s my parole officer." The next day I kept a straight face when jacking up my old camping buddy and ordering him to pee into a bottle, and T went along without missing a beat. T transferred into my class and we updated skits from the old campfires, reworked for the equally outrageous tastes of freshmen
A couple of years afterwards, when the cops and other teachers were out front dealing with an explosive situation, I was alone confronting another convoy of gang-bangers in the back parking lot. Suddenly, like in a cheap movie, T arrived. Still a natural leader but now 230 pounds of solid muscle, he ordered the gangsters to disperse and they did.
A few years afterward, T returned with a GED, saying he had left the gang and was trying to straighten out his little brother. - John Thompson