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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Little Red

I'm not sure what they do on the first day of first grade these days - perhaps a review of the principles of recycling and waste management or an introduction to recombinant DNA. My first day of first grade was held in a newly built school. Everything was brand spanking new, including the green chalkboard.

Our teacher drew a large red apple, filling in the entire thing with red chalk. After successfully identifying it, she erased it. However, no matter how much writing and erasing was done, a hint of that red apple remained on the board for the entire year, much as it has remained in my mind.

It was a much simpler time, for sure, in a much simpler place but superior to the education of my parents who were educated in a one-room school house with one grade per row. One teacher taught the eight grades simultaneously.

Now we have pre-school as the norm and parents stressing about their children being admitted to prep schools like the Dalton School with acceptance rates of only 14%. Barely out of the womb and kid's trajectories are being plotted for Ivy league schools.

The Little Red School House has been a fixture in the heart of Greenwich Village for near a century. It occupies two buildings at the corner of Bleecker Street and Avenue of the Americas. Like many establishments in the city, it is easily overlooked - nothing in particular screams school house and the red brick is typical of the structures around it. The Little Red School House is generally considered New York City's first progressive school. From their website:

In the early 1900s, Elisabeth Irwin, John Dewey and other progressive educators developed a new educational approach based on active learning instead of passive absorption of facts. “The complacent formalism of schools, its uncritical and therefore uncreative spirit, must be replaced by an honest hospitality to experimentation,” Irwin wrote.

Elisabeth Irwin founded the Little Red School in 1921 as an alternative public elementary school. Parents and students loved the new dynamic learning community. It was an exciting place to learn, with a palpable spirit of curiosity, creativity and challenge. However, during the Depression, the Board of Education could not afford to keep the school open.

Parents pledged their own resources, establishing Little Red School House as an independent elementary school. In 1941, the program expanded to include a high school at 40 Charlton Street. For nearly 70 years, we have been a pre-K through twelfth grade school: LREI.

Red apples on the first day of first grade, red paint on school houses. Good things in education are looking a Little Red :)

Note about red school houses: Red was used traditionally for barns and school houses because of the cost of the paint - it was made out of ingredients that were readily available: iron oxide (rust - giving it the distinctive color) along with skim milk, lime and linseed oil.

Related Posts: Meetings With Remarkable Men Part 2, The Little, Finger Painting, Matters of Opinion, That's Quite a Briefcase, Who See the Red, The Scholastic Building


Beatrice B. said...

the name is awesome: little red school house... obviously hehehe


Karen said...

Ahhhh... nostalgia. Interesting and informative. Reminds me of the smell of freshly sharpened pencils.

Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

You are always a source of cool, arcane information, Brian. Loved hearing about why schoolhouses and barns were typically painted red!

room divider nyc said...

This isn't little red, its big. Anyway, is there any room divider inside? In case you wonder where to get, check my name.