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The legacy of the one-room schoolhouse: The Notebook

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

As I stood in the middle of the Turning the Page for Change Celebration, I realized how the Notebook is a big part of how I’ve come to know the school district I work for. I also thought about how much and how little the process of getting your questions answered about schools has changed.

Long ago schools were one room with one instructor. A very small number of children got to be students. If a parent had a question about curriculum or pedagogy, they simply had to ask the teacher. There was literally one person to know and one building to go to. All that mattered was what went on in that one place.

Society changed and schools got bigger and more complex. America realized we should be educating more kinds of people who lived here. School buildings transformed into factories of which a workforce was the product.

Some of the shells of these 5,000-student behemoths are still around. Instead of one teacher there were dozens. Administrators, coaches, counselors, and specialists started to join the fray. Large bureaucracies took root.

In Philadelphia we are controlled in no small degree by people who make their decisions 94 miles away, in Harrisburg. Today you could ask a teacher the same things about your child’s education that someone 200 years ago would ask, but the answers would probably be vastly different.

I’m not a parent. I can’t imagine how intimidating and frustrating it must be to try and make the right decisions for your child. How difficult must it be to navigate all the information about education in this city by yourself. Even more daunting is what if you don’t like the answers you get? There are so many places and people to know about. How does one acquire the access they need to make sense of it all?

The Notebook and thenotebook.org bring us back to the one room schoolhouse.

It is the place, albeit virtual, where we can all go to find out about education in Philadelphia. I have taught in the District for only three years. Many of my colleagues have been there five times as long, and yet couldn’t tell Heidi Ramirez from Shelly Yanoff.

I feel as though that tide is turning.

It is so much easier to collect and analyze information about all of the people involved in schools now. The power of an online community is vast. In realtime, or any time, people can read and discuss what is going on in Philadelphian education. No one need be alone anymore in their search for what they need to know about their child’s education.

Here we have transcended the one-room schoolhouse.

We have built a place without walls, for all to come to inform and be informed. While the Notebook will never be the single solution to what ails our city’s education, I believe it will always be part of it.

What matters happens here. So pay attention, ask us some questions, and empower yourself.