Bulletin boards are a topic I have no patience for. You might recall that last week I ranted about dioramas. The case of dioramas pales beside my feelings about bulletin boards. Reader, beware.
In the December 28–January 10 issue of New York Magazine (one of the best-written magazines anywhere, in case you wanted my opinion), I was reading with interest Andrew Rice’s excellent piece on New York City’s mayor: “How Are You Enjoying the de Blasio Revolution?” Since taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been making a fair number of moves on the public education front—at least some of which seem to be successful, perhaps most notably his impressively speedy implementation of universal pre-K.
One thing de Blasio did, as any incoming mayor would do, was appoint a new chancellor to lead the public schools. His choice was Carmen Fariña, a former New York City Department of Education teacher, principal, district superintendent, and deputy chancellor. She seemed like a reasonable choice.
In writing his article, Rice said that he asked Fariña “—who usually visits six schools a week—how she could tell a good one from a bad one.” Here is what Rice wrote next:
‘No. 1, I look for a welcoming lobby,’ she said. ‘Is there evidence that the school has pride, that there are bulletin boards that have kids’ work on them?’ Word about the chancellor’s aesthetic eye has filtered downward. ‘[Expletive deleted] bulletin boards!’ says an acquaintance of mine who taught math at a Brooklyn high school. She told me that last year she was barraged with emails from the principal reminding teachers to keep their boards well decorated, lest they fail a central-office pop test. (quoted from the article)
Like it or not, I cannot blame Fariña for the bulletin board fixation—though I can and do blame her for not ending it. When we opened our Early College high school in New York City in 2009, we were subject to the administrative system then in place that called for district superintendents to lead a relatively intensive site visit of individual schools to judge each school’s strengths and weaknesses. During the site visit, many constituents were interviewed—students, parents, college staff at our cooperating City University campus, business partners on our Advisory Board, and more—and classrooms were observed. All of which seemed reasonable to me. But one major directive in getting prepared for these site visits was always about our bulletin boards.
Now, let me say again that we were a high school. And we were an Early College school (we sent our kids to college classes after two years with us, and we graduated them after just three years with us). And we were a career and technical education school, with an active Advisory Board of business and industry and higher education representatives. We were all about college and careers—even before that became today’s popular mantra. Some of my colleagues and I truly felt that bulletin boards with kids’ work on them seemed out of place in our school culture.
To our credit, our hallways were decorated with very large college banners. Some bulletin boards had college information on them. One was dedicated to our Advisory Board and the businesses they represented. One was dedicated to our career-related after-school engineering clubs. We thought these were fine. We just didn’t see the point of putting kids’ essays from English class, for example, on a bulletin board—like bulletin boards you might see in an elementary school.
We were the first Early College career and technical education high school in New York City. We were a demonstration school for the State of New York. As such, we had lots of important visitors. Colleges don’t have student work on bulletin boards in their hallways, we argued. Corporations don’t have bulletin boards of employees’ work in their hallways, we continued. We got nowhere.
I think the idea that bulletin boards—in school hallways and even in school classrooms—should have students’ work on them might work for an elementary school, but has no place in a high school and probably no place in a middle school, either. My guess is that teenagers find that practice a bit childish. But why not ask them?
I won’t end with my usual advice to go ask the school board whether there is a policy on bulletin board displays in your district—though I can imagine there should be one and would even like to write a good one, if any school board is interested. Instead, talk to your principal about the bulletin boards in your child’s school. Are they appropriate for the school level—elementary, middle, or high school? Are they interesting for students and for visitors? What would students like to see on bulletin boards? I bet they have an idea—and I bet it is better than Fariña’s.