Musing on the scrutinized and the scrutinizers

"ICS may be in the national fishbowl, but we have to figure out how to feed the fish."

That was ICS parent, Marney Mayo, talking last Wednesday at the monthly meeting of Georgia's State Board Committee on Charter Schools.

In her tone, I read part warning, part challenge.

"ICS may be in the national fishbowl, but we have to figure out how to feed the fish."

That was ICS parent, Marney Mayo, talking last Wednesday at the monthly meeting of Georgia's State Board Committee on Charter Schools.

In her tone, I read part warning, part challenge.

[Today's blog is by correspondent Lee Lawrence.]A member of the board had spoken briefly about the Monitor's project on ICS, and Marney was elaborating on it. It is interesting "to see the reflection [of ourselves in the project]," she said, "and the reflection is not always positive - but that's what we are, warts and all."

An in-depth look at an institution inevitably leads the reporter to the agencies and policies that govern and fund the institution and to the politics and dynamics behind decisions, she said.

Indeed. Just as it leads the reporter into the classroom, so it leads her into the board room. And just as this kind of reporting brings to light a valuable, maybe even life-changing interaction between a student and teacher, so does it unearth shortfalls.

It is understandable that - as Marney seemed to indicate - the people at ICS may be at once flattered by the attention and fearful of it. And also perhaps galvanized by it: "We have to figure out how to feed the fish."

From the reporter's point of view, the project is no less challenging and nuanced. Even after spending just two weeks subbing for Mary, I have grown very fond of ICS - its students and staff. Even the funky trailers that house the language classes. They seem so, well, pioneering and resourceful (though having sat in on a Spanish class with Seora Maria de Varona when the a/c was out, my notions of "pioneering" and "resourceful" may seem too romantic).

Yet as fond as a reporter gets of her subject, her job is to report. Over time, an intimacy grows between reporter and subject. After all, we are more than our roles, whether of journalist, administrator, board member, teacher. So the distant relationship that is implied by "reporter" vs. "subject" breaks down fast. Very fast.

You walk down the hall as kindergarteners take turns at the water fountain, and I don't care how tough a reporter or how cautious an interviewee you are, you can't help but catch eyes and smile at the sight of those eager faces. And you will want to do your best by them. For the school, this means doing what it can within its means to serve the children. For the reporter, it includes keeping an eye out for where the institution or individuals fail to serve these children.

We like to think that we can be a fly on the wall but, as quantum mechanics tells us, the observer cannot help but become part of the experiment. The challenge - and the opportunity - is to do this respectfully and honestly. From what I can tell, Mary has certainly set such a process in motion on this project - but it is not just her doing. The willingness of the ICS staff to be under near-constant observation is more than admirable. It is honest and respectful of those for whom ICS exists: the children in its care.

[Editor's note: ICS kindergarten teacher, Christina Shunnarah, blogged in the New York Times yesterday about her experience with Luca, a Sudanese refugee.]

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