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.”