Teaching my Grandkids to Make Good Trouble by
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Prompted By Good Trouble

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One of my granddaughters, the short one in the featured image, had the opportunity to meet John Lewis in 2017. She was twelve and meeting him made a profound impact on her life. She had been deeply shaken by the 2016 election, as she was certain we were about to get our first woman president. Instead, Trump became president via an electoral college victory. Try explaining that to an eleven-year-old. Lewis was able to inspire her and make her feel hopeful again.

My message to my grandkids and their peers is to stand up for what you believe in and then to go out and make some noise. I will always be proud of you for any “good trouble” you create along the way.

She comes by her sense of justice and her willingness to make some noise honestly. Her parents are a child psychologist and a civil rights attorney, both of whom have advocated for people with disabilities and disadvantages all of her life. Her twin older sisters have special needs that required making plenty of noise to ensure that their educational and emotional issues were met. And she has a grandmother (that would be me) who got into a bit of good trouble herself. Politically, I joined protests from college civil rights and anti-war causes through the Women’s Marches following Trump’s election. But my primary method of making good trouble has been with the pen rather than the sword.

When I first became an early childhood director in 1984, I decided to use my column in the monthly newsletter to advocate for educational issues that I thought parents should be ready to question if they saw them in their children’s elementary schools. Then came the battle for our preschool’s school’s existence, which I described in Betrayed by a Church.

I guess I led a mini-insurrection and eventually a mass exodus to create a new school after trying to negotiate for over a year to save the soul of our preschool. Starting Cherry Preschool was an opportunity to shape young children’s values. Fairness, inclusion, kindness, caring, community — all of these were taught by our wonderful staff, both through example and in developmentally appropriate ways. I hope some of that rubbed off on the children. I know my granddaughter, who grew up in the preschool, often invoked our motto, taken from the works of Vivian Paley, “You can’t say you can’t play.”

As director of the school, I became bolder about advocating for developmentally appropriate education once children left us for grade school. I’m sure school principals and teachers didn’t always appreciate my annual “going to kindergarten” meetings in which I encouraged parents to respectfully question practices that felt were educationally and developmentally inappropriate. I saw the trend toward accountability, testing, unrealistic standards, and No Child Left Behind (Bush) and Race to the Top (Obama) as being antithetical to how children learn. After I retired in 2013 and started blogging, my pen became louder and I was no longer afraid to get in a bit of “good trouble.”

I railed against unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate kindergarten practices, including the notion that every child should learn to read at that age. I wrote about the abuses of special education programs. I’m sure I drove some folks nuts with my rants against everything from homework for kindergarteners to assessing children too frequently and teaching to standardized tests to abuses of children with disabilities. I heard back from teachers who didn’t appreciate what I wrote about their misuse of PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) to publicly humiliate children into complying. When I was writing about these issues, I was not only close to the early childhood scene but also had grandkids who were suffering what I thought were injustices in early elementary grades and special education programs.

The sampling of some of my posts below illustrates what I thought was the necessary, good trouble our educational system needed:

Stop Documenting Kids’ Behavior at School and Just Start Teaching

When Teachers Punish Kids for Who They Are

Locked in a Closet: School Discipline for a Child with Special Needs

Out to Lunch: School Lunch Programs Are Stressful and Unhealthy

More Absurd Kindergarten Homework

Judy Blume’s Fudge and Today’s Kindergarten Expectations

Inclusion Classrooms and Children with Special Needs

Grading First Graders, Seriously?

Standardized Testing: March Madness Returns to our Schools

My message to my grandkids and their peers is to stand up for what you believe in and then to go out and make some noise. I will always be proud of you for any “good trouble” you create along the way.

With love,
Your Noisy Gramma

Photo by Eric Haynes

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Good for you, Laurie! You truly have created “good trouble,” and in important ways, with your educational reform and other actions. And, as a Bank Streeter, “developmentally appropriate” is absolute music to my ears.

    And how awesome (in the true sense of the word) that your granddaughter actually got to meet John Lewis, Mr. Good Trouble himself. Your children and grandchildren have been taught so well by you!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, John. I know as a Bank Streeter, you really understand my grievances against the newest trends in education. Hard to say what is happening now with so many kids doing remote learning, which may be remotely called education. I suspect we will have a lot of work to do once children are back in school. Perhaps we will have learned that we need to move in new directions. Meeting John Lewis was so inspiring for my granddaughter.

  2. Marian says:

    This is awesome, Laurie, and I applaud your actions on behalf of all young children. My friend Linda was constantly struggling for her daughter’s special needs (Natalie ended up a junior at Mills at age 18!). And talk about homework–when my niece was in middle school, she had homework that kept her up until midnight, and when my brother complained to the teacher, she broke down in tears because the state was forcing this and she knew how counterproductive it was. Keep up the good trouble fight. Can’t wait to look at the resources you included.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Marian. I don’t think we ever experienced the degree of pressure in school (pre-pandemic) my grandkids did with all of the testing and rigid standards. Now, they are dealing with remote learning, which can be a real joke. Lots of kids tune out. We owe them better than this when schools reopen.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I truly admire all the work you’ve done, Laurie. As the mother of a special ed kid, I was an advocate for years and years. I understand all too well that kids don’t fit into neat little squares and that “teaching to the test” is a horrible way to educate. I was SO relieved when we got our kid out of the “good” Newton public school (which absolutely could NOT teach my child) and into a quirky special ed school that was a safe environment for her and encouraged her to become an active learner. She went from a child who couldn’t write more than two sentences to being accepted, early decision to Brown and graduated with a 3.7 GPA.

    Thank you for speaking out and raising your voice/pen.

    And how cool that your granddaughter got to meet the late, great John Lewis! I watched every second of his funeral, which was my introduction to Raphael Warnock.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I totally relate to your situation with your child, Betsy. Public schooling was not good for either of my grandkids. Even for the typical students, they are unable to individualize to meet children’s needs and learning styles. And the pandemic remote/hybrid education is a shame. My Newton grandsons are largely being taught by their parents.

  4. Brava Laurie! I already knew you as an early childhood educator and advocate and now see how very active and involved you were!

    I was still working as librarian in an inner-city public high school during the No Child Left Behind years and know how antithetical to good educational practice it was. Colleagues had little time to do much else besides teach for the test.

  5. Hooray for you, Laurie, for your eloquent advocating on behalf of children, particularly the “square pegs.” You are clearly motivated by caring, not by what’s convenient. I fear too much of our experience these days is dictated by computer-generated intelligence rather than common sense and good old human contact.

  6. Suzy says:

    You have gotten into some wonderful “good trouble” on behalf of the causes you believe in, and I celebrate you for that. I also love, love, love the photo of your granddaughter with John Lewis. How lucky she was to have the opportunity to meet him when she was twelve years old! Thanks for the links to some of your posts, it’s great to see your advocacy in action!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for your advocacy for humane learning over the years. The power of the pen is great indeed. My mother was a teacher, and I have great respect for the challenges involved in trying to change the educational system, as well as the importance of doing so. Education done right is the key to democracy and opportunity, and everyone deserves a good one.

  8. Wow, we have so much in common! (History of involvement in early childhood education and special education and I believe, a shared set of values with regard to both of those fields.). I loved to see that whole list of topics on which you have taken a stand. I will share one in return, a small book I wrote, https://www.amazon.com/Discipline-School-Age-Care-Children/dp/0917505077
    The subtitle of the book is the giveaway to my values: “Control the climate, not the children.” If you are still involved in any campaigns or advocacy related to child-centered, developmentally appropriate education, and/or the rights of children and parents, please call on me as an ally!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Dale, thanks for sharing the link to your book. I suspected we had common values when it comes to education. Between misguided policies that put standardized testing in control of our school curricula, Betsy DeVos, and now the pandemic, education will need to reinvent itself when kids finally go back to in-person schooling. I’m hoping that will be a good thing.

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