A conversation with my daughter… Her first impression of LAUSD

This afternoon my wife was driving our two lovely daughters by our neighborhood elementary school when the following conversation ensued. As told to me by my wife.

Niloufar: mommy what’s that?
Mommy: it’s a school.
Niloufar: no it’s not.
Melody: no it’s not Niloufar. It’s a park.
Niloufar: (considering her little sister’s opinion) no it’s not Melly, it’s a school. it’s just trapped!
Mommy: What do you mean Nilou? What’s trapped?
Niloufar: (pointing to the Gated fence around the perimeter of the elementary school) it has… that thing around it.

Wow… Its not like I hadn’t heard this sentiment expressed from different folks throughout the years. From community members to teachers in training, the general consensus, at least anecdotally, is that our schools look more like prisons. Even at a campus like Augustus Hawkins, which gets just as many compliments for its beauty. People still have a hard time juxtaposing the iron and metal enclosures surrounding our real schools with the image of the “ideal” school we have in our heads or hearts.

My wife reminded Nilou that her school also has a fence around it… Nilou contested this truth at first, and then pondered deeply about the implications of that. That is where the conversation stopped. But it is at that point that my wheels began to spin. What is it about the fences at my daughter’s school that fade into the background and communicate freedom and play while the ones down the street at what most likely will be her designated home school scream “trapped?” I have some working theories of explanation around the play based nature of my daughter’s school, the socio-economic demographics of different areas, and the broad aims of the educational policies enacted in the district I am employed by… but Nilou is not aware of any of these things on a conscious level. It leaves my wondering about the importance of aesthetics in our visual landscapes and the influence of socially constructed terms like “schools” and “parks.”

innovating with Angelenos who aren’t all Educators

photo credit: Carla Mays
photo credit: Carla Mays

i love collaborating and design thinking. i thirst to be around creative energies of diverse peoples and appreciate learning from open minds and hearts. this is in part why i have remained in the field of education for as long as i have. and yet, there is often a lack of opportunity to do this within one’s own field with their peers and colleagues, let alone with great minds from other professional backgrounds…

this is why i spent the last two days at the Hub LA space. i was honored to be selected to participate in this 2 day design session (masterfully facilitated by the folks at Learn, Do, Share and freedomlab) bringing together creative minds around the problems of civic engagement, collaboration with local city government, and open data use. this initiative is inspiring to say the least. the Civic innovation Lab and the folks who are involved with it have BIG ideas and visions for how to make Los Angeles a more livable, resilient, connected, and sustainable city.

there are many people in LA that have the desire to do this. and we all bumble along, one way or another trying to build networks and coalitions once we find each other. what was refreshing about this space was… well… that there was a space at all… and that it was the genuinely committed to design thinking, ideation, diversity of voice, and of all things… SOCIAL JUSTICE! admittedly recalling the time in my life where the phrase social justice itself angered me to the point of wanting to erase it from my lexicon, fearing that only a small population of well meaning educators even attempted to understand the words in action… over the last two days i was pleased to be part of a dialogue with city controllers, big data folks, entrepreneurs, business strategists, activists, programers, map-makers, story tellers, citizens, and yes… even other educators. no matter how difficult the conversations around systemic problems of poverty, education, transportation, and housing were… all of these folks kept the positive vision central, and the praxis of “YES! AND…” close by.

some questions i still have going forward:

– how will people ensure that authentic outreach to marginalized communities is taking place?
– how can we combine the power of open data with the power of story?
– how can we empower citizens to take ownership of designing solutions and telling their own stories?

ultimately i believe those whose stories drive the problems our city faces, those stories should also drive the solutions. i am looking forward to seeing what innovative ideas are submitted to the request for solutions soon to come. i am inspired to have met so many folks from different sectors engage in true dialogue around the real issues of civic engagement and community empowerment to realize a better Los Angeles for all… and i only hope efforts like these can continue to build stronger networks and coalitions of creative problem solvers and maintain momentum. today i am proud to be an Angeleno always trying to make meaningful and lasting change for our city.