I don’t want to sound naive, but…

I wrote this post this morning for a class that I am taking at USC.  I thought I would share it here since I have not posted in a while.

I read Savage Inequalities (Kozol, 1991) a number of years ago and remember feeling sick to my stomach each time I picked up the book.  I simply could not believe that children were allowed to attend school in such conditions.  Last year, I listened to his next book, The Shame of the Nation (Kozol, 2005) and, immediately afterward, I listened to Letters to a Young Teacher (Kozol, 2007).  Again, I was saddened and sick to my stomach.  I like to listen to audio books as I walk my greyhound in the morning and I’m sure that people were wondering why I was crying as they passed me by.  Still, despite my book knowledge, it is hard for me to accept the fact that there are numerous instances in which children are expected to obtain an education in squalor and teachers are expected to teach under those conditions.

I remember President Obama giving his speech about education at the beginning of the school year and telling the children inside that pristine gymnasium that there should be no excuses for not doing well in school (Obama, 2009).  I laughed at him at that time.  Who was he kidding?  Was he kidding?  This is what he said:

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.  (Obama, 2009)

Great, Mr. President.  Just great.

Our articles this week left me with three different impressions.  The first, by Zhou (2003) offered hope for children by recommending a greater investment in communities so that children can be supported in their educational efforts with after school programs and other resources.  He showed evidence that Korean children who had support mechanisms in place fared better in school than their Black and Mexican counterparts, who had no such support.  He asked communities to consider learning from each other and creating their own support mechanisms based on what they found in other impoverished neighborhoods.  He also mentioned that if certain neighborhoods had more business involvement, those resources could be provided to children, as the funds would be available.  My main question became as I was reading the article: if it was that easy, why isn’t it in place?  I found the article a bit naive.  It’s not just investment in the financial sense that is needed; it’s an emotional investment on the part of the community itself and others.  As a child in Philadelphia, I remember the one hour ride to school in which I went through neighborhoods with burnt out buildings and boarded up houses.  I remember thinking to myself, “That’s a shame.”  I remember seeing my 13 year old classmate pregnant with twins and thinking, “Well, her life is over.”  I also remember not doing a darn thing to help.  Shame on me.

The second left me feeling angry (Sipe, 2004).  Granted, I understand Sipe’s pain and disillusionment after a year in a school such as the one in which he worked.  It sounded awful.  He seemed resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do about it.  Why not?  Programs such as the Teaching Fellows and Teach for America are out there because there are groups who want to help underprivileged youth.  John, correct me if I am wrong.  Perhaps he could have used the sources of his organization to organize for change instead of deciding that he could not fight the system.  Again, granted, we cannot all be Rafe Esquith, Jaime Escalante, and Joe Clark.  But we can try.  Right?  Oh, perhaps I am being naive this time.

The third article reinvigorated me (Wilson, Corbett, & Williams, 2000).  I love the system that Granite has in place and I love how teachers have taken responsibility for a child’s learning.  That all children must demonstrate mastery before moving on to a new assignment is challenging for all concerned, BUT it shows a dedication to the cause of education and it shows confidence in children to learn.  I like how they have a half-hour at the end of the day for children to return to the teacher and get extra help.  Now that is progress, I think.  It’s a philosophy that flies in the face of curriculum pacing and teaching to the test.  Rather than check something off the checklist and move on, teachers are dedicated to a child’s learning.  That is what the President should have talked about and advocated in his speech in 2009.  That is what his Secretary of Education should be advocating now.  Instead, they are lockstep with a system that is hurting our children.

We say the words, those of us on the other side not living in darkness.  We say we understand what they are going through and sometimes we throw money at the cause.  But there are too few of us actually working toward a different reality for those who need help.  I’m not being critical of anyone else without accepting blame myself.  I hope that came through in this post loud and clear.

References

Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools (1st ed.). New York: Crown Pub.
Kozol, J., & Dean, R. (2005). The shame of the nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America [sound recording]. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape,.
Kozol, J., & Drummond, D. (2007). Letters to a young teacher [sound recording]. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio.
Obama, B. (2009). Prepared remarks of President Barack Obama: Back to school event.  Retrieved July 12, 2010, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/MediaResources/PreparedSchoolRemarks/
Sipe, P. (2004). Newjack: Teaching in a failing middle school. Harvard Educational Review, 74(3), 330-339.
Wilson, B., Corbett, D., & Williams, B. (2000). A discussion on school reform–Case 1: All students learning at Granite Junior High. The Teachers College Record.
Zhou, M. (2003). Urban education: Challenges in educating culturally diverse children. Teachers College Record, 105(2), 208-225. doi: 10.1111/1467-9620.00236

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