Wednesday, December 4, 2013

School Tour: Creative Arts Charter

When my husband and I first met, we were globe-trotting hipsters that loved the liberalism of San Francisco, the intellectualism of urban life, and believed that our work would make the world a better place.  If we’d had kids then, Creative Arts would have been the ONLY school for us.

But we didn’t have kids then.  We have kids now, fifteen years later, at a time in our lives when we’re cynical, busy, middle-aged executives.  Going on this school tour made us a little grumpy and wistful. 

It seems like a very engaged group of parents, staff, and teachers that are committed to their community and to their shared worldview.  Our tour started with the daily all-school meeting, which included shout-outs to the birthday kids, a whole pile of students expressing various forms of gratitude to others in the CACS community, a nice rendition of “Thank you Mrs. Parks”, and the absence of an American flag to which students should be muttering allegiance.  Several school parents were using sign language to participate (by signing applause, attentiveness, thank you’s, etc).  I wasn’t sure if these parents were deaf, their children were deaf, or they were simply practicing inclusiveness. 

It’s hard for me to describe the mix of embarrassment and excitement that I felt on this tour.  Two points to illustrate:  
  1. Their upcoming fundraiser is a “We Are All Makers” fair.  A maker fair?  Is there anything more hopeful, privileged, urban, and educated than a MAKER FAIR?   
  2. At one point, a prospective parent asked the principal to address recent criticism that the school had received from the Board of Education.  The principal, to his credit, took on the question directly and answered that the school had essentially been criticized for being too white, and that the entire community was actively engaged in addressing the issue. 
I believed him that the community was concerned about increasing diversity.  I also could see why they’re not getting the diversity they’re aiming for.   For many parents who come from a poor, immigrant, minority, or conservative background, this place might seem like a risky bet.   CACS isn’t walking the traditional, beaten path of public education – instead they want to develop global citizens and liberal leaders.  But if those parents don’t have the resources to ensure that their kids get into a good school after CACS, I can see how they might not want to take that early bet with a place that has middling test scores and an unconventional reputation.

I summarized my take on CACS to my husband as “a young, hopeful, idealistic, vision of the urban future”.  My immigrant husband’s response was “Look, all of these kids here are clearly happy dolphins, swimming in a warm and sunny sea.  But what happens when happy dolphins are thrown into the deep, dark, cold shark tank of real life?” 

We’ll probably apply to this school, because despite our cynicism, CACS appeals to our values.  Any CACS parents out there that have experience with how their dolphins do once they’re in that shark tank, please let us know!

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