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Clutter.

February 13, 2012

This story from the Philadelphia Notebook made the social network of educators this weekend:

Talk to teachers in Philadelphia, and you’ll hear more than a few complaints about walkthrough teams. These are the groups of educators sent each month to struggling schools to see how well teachers are following the details of the mandated curriculum, down to such items as how desks are arranged and what’s on classroom walls.

One of these walkthrough teams came into my wife’s 3rd grade classroom in Lea Elementary School, took one look at a lovingly assembled reading corner, and determined it was “clutter.” As if that were not enough, the District then paid someone to come in over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend to remove it.

Does the headline “Walkthrough team deems reading area ‘clutter,’ removes it,” sound more like something you would expect to read in the Notebook, or in The Onion?

Unfortunately, it actually happened.

I used to work with a teacher who hated clutter so much that she would decorate her bulletin boards with Crate and Barrel wrapping paper at the beginning of the year and never put up her students’ work.

She was a fine teacher. She just hated what she considered messiness.

I also have worked with a teacher whose room was a visual roller coaster. Overstuffed pillows. Hiding places. Plastic bins of books in every nook and corner.

She was a fine teacher. Mess didn’t bother her. Or her students.

My art room? Oh, man. I marvel at some of my colleagues in the art department at other schools. Their rooms are pristine. Mine? On a recent Open House I acted like my own parents were coming to visit my first apartment. Everything loose was shoved into the kiln room.

The point being: What does this all have to do with teaching and learning?

Or.

Have those in charge nothing better to do?

And.

Is there data to support little petty tyrants sneaking around after hours removing what they consider clutter from teachers classrooms?

Who can miss the irony that this is happening to what Philadelphia calls an Empowerment School.

Stealing furniture from a classroom in the dead of night is what the Reformers call empowerment? Who is empowered by this?

Would this be permitted in a wealthy suburban district?

Yes and no.

I’ve been to schools on the tony north shore where clutter is a mark of what they think of as progressive child-centered education.

I teach in a suburban school in which the principal has been most arbitrary in berating teachers for clutter infractions.

Nobody is arguing for fire hazards.

How about some common sense?

And respect.

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