Between textbook readings, I'm trying to read up about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. I just finished Possible Schools, by Ann Lewin-Benham. Have you come across this one? It's not new: published in 2005, it chronicles the life and times of the Model Early Learning Center (MELC) in Washington, D.C. For a few short years in the early 90s, this school went from being choked with problems (running through several new directors within months, and many issues stemming from the poverty of their students and families), to becoming a truly child-centered learning environment that deeply, meaningfully involved their families. They were so successful at adopting Reggio's philosophy, that the Reggio Children organization, in Reggio Emilia, Italy, adopted them into their network of schools. This meant that Reggio Children supported 37 schools: 36 in Reggio, Emilia, and the MELC in Washington, D.C! But, then there were subtle changes in leadership and vision, and that proved to be enough to dismantle the hard-won gains. The school closed.
Possible Schools is an honest account of this school's life, and I'm grateful for that. Lewin-Benham celebrates the huge accomplishments, but she also lays out the glaring shortcomings and disappointments. She doesn't hold anything back about their early days, including the arguments among the teaching staff and their confusion about Reggio. Then, once they achieve the magical learning environment that was the MELC at its apex, she shows how fragile it was, and how susceptible to being dismantled by outside forces. It's a sobering tale. It's also a hopeful one, as the title implies. Lewin-Benham seems to be saying, okay, this was our attempt. This is was we made possible, even if briefly. What will you make possible?