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The New Vocabulary Of Urban Education

LA Johnson/NPR

Once upon a time, most kids attended things called schools to get an education. And, in those schools, these kids were called students.

Well, times are changing — especially in urban areas with lots of charter schools. In New Orleans, where just about every school receiving public funding is now a charter, we asked a bunch of adults where they had gone to school.

Their answers: Newton Elementary and Newton High School, Warren Easton High School, Epiphany School, Folsom Elementary School, Valena C. Jones School and the Moses Brown School.

Then we asked several kids the same question.

Their answers: Belle Chasse Academy, Langston Hughes Academy, Mount Carmel Academy, Success Preparatory Academy and KIPP Central City Academy.

Can you spot the difference?

One word stands out: "academy."

"It goes back to Plato," explains Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education. "And it has a long history of intellectual exchanges."

Cuban studies school reform and teaching. He says our idea of an academy comes from Europe and traveled to the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries.

"Think Phillips Exeter, Andover," Cuban says, "private schools for elites where intellectual learning would occur. So it has that kind of pizzazz and kind of a cachet."

Cachet — something struggling schools in New Orleans and many of America's big cities could use.

"So it's an urban phenomenon," Cuban explains. "It's aimed at children of color because it's very hard to get experienced, highly skilled teachers into urban schools. This is, I think, aimed at both teachers and kids — the renaming."

/ LA Johnson/NPR
LA Johnson/NPR

And the renaming doesn't stop there.

"A scholar is like a person who's from Akili," says Jada Brown, a fifth-grader at Akili Academy in New Orleans, "who does what they need to do." At Akili, all students are known as scholars.

"It's a big term for us," explains fourth-grade teacher Julie Patterson, one of the school's founding teachers. Patterson says Akili uses "scholar" to send a message to its kids.

"We have big goals for you," Patterson explains. "We have big ideas. So you're not just a regular old student. You follow our values, you follow our school rules. That means you're a scholar."

"No word is magical in changing behavior," says Larry Cuban, but using words like "scholar" and "academy" can change the way students and teachers think about what happens in the classroom.

Copyright 2014 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio

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