Butterfly by Jessica Perlstein

Welcome back, everyone.  I hope you enjoyed your time here in the Central Plaza and at the market.  My name is Johanna—and Maya and I go way back.  I do mean, way back!  She’s asked me to take over the tour at this point because education is my area of expertise.  You may notice a slight transparency about me, that’s because I am regrettably a ghost.  I hope that doesn’t bother you—we aren’t prejudiced here in this city and we believe that the inconvenience of death should not sever one from the community.  You know what I’m sayin’?

At any rate, back in the day I ran educational programs, and it was my belief that children should learn about things from beginning to end.  So I taught them all about water, for example, by taking them backpacking—or rather, having someone young and hardy take them backpacking—up into the Sierras to drink from the snow-melt springs, and then follow the water down on its journey.  They’d dig irrigation canals in the Central Valley and holding ponds and swales.  They’d set up graywater systems and boil water to make steam engines.  They’d raise fish and look at pond scum through the microscope.   Before they were done, they’d know about water—and a good many other things besides.  And never be bored for a moment.

I’d started that work before the Uprising, running programs for some of the poorest kids in the city, back when we still had poverty.  After the Uprising, we got some big ideas.  One of them was—how do we make a city safe for children?  Could the whole city be a classroom?  A place they could explore, on their own, without fear?  How could we keep them safe from predators and crazies, not to mention cars?

Our first step, even before we did away with most private automobiles and transformed the streets, was to recruit one family per street to be a Safe House.  We’d put signs in the window and a sticker on the door, and all the kids knew that they could run inside or ask for help if ever they needed it.  Or if they needed to use the bathroom, or get a drink of water, or bandage a cut, whatever—somebody would be there.  With our new system of work credits, we could make sure all the safe houses were staffed 24 hours a day.  If a kid was having problems at home, instead of running away to live on the streets she could go to a safe house and get protection and counseling for the family.  If bullies were chasing a child, he could duck inside and get away.

Learning to use a rotary pipe cutter.

Then we started to think, how can a city be a classroom, a text, a learning experience?  I’m a great believer in kids being active in their learning.  Whoever got the idea that they should sit quietly at desks and memorize sh..excuse me, stuff…well, it’s as if they’d heard about children but never actually met any!  I say kids need to move, to run, to touch and taste and explore with all their senses, not sit back and parrot information they won’t remember anyway.

We involved our children in all the work of transformation we embarked upon—tearing up the streets and planting gardens and fruit trees, retrofitting our houses and building in cisterns and rain catchment and graywater, redesigning our way of governing ourselves and our economy.  We encourage children to come to Council—as long as they’re not too bored.  We give them a voice.  And we redesigned the city to entice them to explore. So, you’ll note the big, glittery ball right here at the edge of the Plaza?  That’s our sun ball—and it is a solar collector.  It’s also the sun in the solar system, and the other planets are located in other streets at distances proportional to their real distance from the sun.  So when they study the solar system, they can pace it out and get a feel for it in their bodies!  We have different tracks through the city that they can follow on foot or on bikes or skateboards, and as we head into the neighborhoods you’ll notice a few of our interactive stations.  Back when I was young, we had a famous museum called The Exporatorium,  full of hands-on science exhibits and interactive projects.  Some of their designers really went to town when we opened up the entire urban landscape for them.

Here, for example, in the plaza we also have a sundial.  You’ll note the statues of different sun Gods and Goddesses from different cultures.  The kids all have computer crystals—Willow, come over here, will you, sweetie?  Now, just touch your crystal to the statue and show the people what happens.  You can put it on Speaker—there!  Amaterasu, the Japanese Goddess of the Sun, is telling her story.  She’ll also guide Willow to some books in the library if she’s interested in learning more.  They might explore the physics of the sun, or the chemistry, or the sun’s formation out of the early universe.  And when they’re ready to go on, they’ll hear a song that leads them to the next station.  Yeah, we kinda stole that idea from the Australian aboriginal songlines—but  why not?  Songs stick in the mind.  Think of how many song lyrics you can remember from your high school days?  Now, how many facts and dates do you recall from your history courses of the same era?  Exactly!  We have corps of musicians who set lessons to music, and the kids are always putting on Teaching Shows for each other.

But following the song lines through the city piques their curiosity and keeps them interested.  It also teaches them how to investigate, how to use their eyes and observe, how to cooperate and how to navigate and how to stay on track!

We’ve got an astronomy track, with the solar system and all.  We’ve got a History Trail, that takes off from that statue of Califia you noticed earlier.  Takes them through Ohlone park, where the tribes maintain a traditional village in the heart of town and someone is always on hand to teach them some of the skills of grinding acorns or weaving baskets.  Further on, there’s a Russian-fort playground and beyond that, they can pan for gold in one of the streams and put on shows in a 49’ers era dance hall.  You get the picture.  We don’t try to cover up the awful side of history—they learn about the massacres, the prejudice, the ways people suffered.  And then there’s also a biology trail and a botany trail and so many more!

Free time in San Francisco.

Our kids have a lot of free time.  We believe that unstructured play is vital for children—and we do not load them down with homework!  But every day, they also meet in a Learning Group with a Guide.  There they discuss what they want to investigate and explore, and get help to learn at a deeper level.  They research things they’re interested in and teach each other—lots of research shows that we learn best by teaching!  The Guide makes sure they convey accurate information, and that they cover the breadth of what we feel every person needs to know.  Our kids love learning, and they are brilliant, if I do say so—the results show in our continued advances in so many areas, from bioremediation to renewable energy to the arts.

But now it’s time to walk out a bit into the neighborhoods.  Let me turn you over to a more corporeal guide.  Rosa—why don’t you take over this tour?







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One Response to City Tour 4: A City Safe for Children

  1. Michael Dague says:

    I like the thoughts on education here. Rote learning perpetuates the system of inequality and inhibits creativity and true advancement. When children and communities are truly invested and invest in practical education, everyone benefits. The only ones who benefit from our current education system are those that feed off of the rest of us, otherwise known as the 1%. We have the ability to change if we choose to.

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