I know a town in Spokane County where everyone has a good job and everyone tries to get along.
Pipe bombs don’t explode at City Hall. Obnoxious Hells Angels don’t prowl the streets. There are no racist threats aimed at black law students or murders committed with baseball bats and guns.
The best part is that you don’t even have to leave Spokane’s city limits to find this haven of harmony.
Welcome to Kidsville, USA, the classroom community on the third floor of the YWCA.
Kidsville has a mayor, a police chief, sanitation workers, lawyers, a newspaper and everything else you’d expect of a bustling metropolis.
Except a coroner, that is. Nobody drops dead in Kidsville.
“If Spokane could do as well as we do in here, we’d be a lot better off,” says Kidsville founder Ish Quidwai, a former IBM instructor who teaches second through fifth grades at Spokane School District 81’s Homeless School.
Quidwai (pronounced Kid-way) dreamed up this amazing reality-based civics lesson a couple of months ago with co-worker Tim Lorentz, who teaches older students at the school, and teaching assistant Sandra Murphy.
The educators were trying to solve the age-old problem of how to make students accountable for their actions.
“I started thinking, ‘Why should I do all the disciplining?”’ says Quidwai, 38. “Why not let the students discipline themselves?” Establishing a system of law and order is the appropriate first step of any civilization.
Once a court was set up, the city soon followed. Students voted on the name Kidsville as a play off Quidwai’s name.
A general store was stocked with goodies to buy with special Kidsville money. Each bill features the photographs of Quidwai, Lorentz or Murphy, depending on the denomination.
Payday comes every Friday. Steve Forbes will be proud to learn that here in Kidsville the flat tax rules. The taxman takes a straight 20 percent chunk out of every paycheck.
The residents take their imaginary city very seriously.
I dropped in just in time to see the trial of a girl who mocked a young student named Joshua.
Johnny Cochran has nothing on these kids.
Joshua was represented by Catrina, 11, who practices law when not serving as Kidsville’s mayor.
“Did you laugh at Joshua?” asked Catrina as she cross-examined the defendant.
“Yes,” the girl admitted.
“Do you think that was responsible?”
“Do you think that was appropriate?”
The jury was back quicker than the O.J. trial, but with an opposite result. “We find the defendant guilty of all charges,” announced Michael, the foreman.
The girl’s attorney is appealing the $5,000 fine.
It’s a moving scene to see young kids having such fun learning. Even more so when you consider that these students have every right in the world to be grim.
The Homeless School typically caters to children whose worlds have been upended due to domestic violence, jobless parents or some other sad situation.
They are forced to live in temporary shelters. Ninety-five percent of these youngsters have no adult male role model living with them.
Because of this, Homeless School enrollment changes with a regularity that would drive most teachers insane.
More than 1,100 students have come and gone in the six years the school has been in existence. February, alone, saw 94 different kids at the school.
“We adapt every second, every minute, every hour,” says Lorentz, 40. “If you are a rigid teacher, you’re not gonna make it in this place.”
“Flexibility. That’s the buzzword around here,” adds Quidwai with a guffaw.
Yes, violence-prone Spokane could learn a lot from Kidsville. Of course, some things we here in the big city already know.
The other day, for example, Quidwai noticed the general store was running low on supplies so he hiked all the prices.
The Kidsville City Council quickly held an emergency meeting to assess the situation. They voted unanimously to give everyone in Kidsville a raise.
“Just like the real world,” says Quidwai. “Just like the real world.”