Who is “Us”? And what do we need?

Posted: April 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

It has been both said and suggested that I had no right, or at least less right than some others, to remark bluntly and publicly about the inequities in educational outcomes for students who live in poverty, specifically if I were going to associate my school with my name and picture.  In my time at *****, I have learned a great deal from my students and colleagues about love, learning, humility, acceptance, and dedication.  However, I’ve also learned something about prejudice and discrimination.  It is ugly and insidious no matter where it comes from.

I can be part of weWe isn’t a color.  

That said, I would like to return to my original subject, which was learning, teaching, and testing.  For one thing, attempts to quantify the effect on development of one human being to another; and efforts to standardize what should be an artful, organic leadership through ever-deepening knowledge and better understanding of the world are perilously misguided.

For another, tests aside or included, the fact is that students who come from poverty achieve negative educational outcomes in greater proportion than their counterparts in other socioeconomic strata.  This is true everywhere in the country regardless of race, and educators have observed this broadly since at least 1966.  There are exceptions; examples to the contrary and small pockets of success, just as with any sociological trend, but it would be a waste of time and energy to quibble about this extremely well documented, widely known  fact.   The question is “What are we going to do about it?”

Now:  I’m here to tell you we have a big challenge in our public school system for all kids, unless their main talent is taking tests, the worst of which require kids to read passages designed to be boring.  When was the last time you sat down to read something very, very carefully that you had absolutely zero interest in?

I love telling people I work at ***** High School.  I enjoy challenging whatever preconceived notions they may have.  Some see me battened down in the trenches, gritting my teeth and dodging bullets, when nothing could be further from the truth.  The vast majority the students I’ve met at ***** are just like our young people everywhere; pleasant, humorous, and curious.  The campus is friendly, safe, and orderly. We recently celebrated dozens of scholarships awarded to many of our most dedicated and talented seniors.

But it’s not the scholarship winners I’m talking about when I say, and I maintain, that public schools are not and have never been as effective as they need to be for a great many people, and we must refuse to accept that it simply is that way.  We need to differentiate our approach, in addition to modifying the uniformity in expected outcome, because every child does not arrive at school ready to learn the same things in the same way.  With the emphasis now on testing, this has never been more critical, nor more evident.  As I see it, part of our task as educators is to develop as much human resource for society as possible, preparing as many people as we can to participate fully in civic life and the economy.

We need to begin working together to demand the legislative reform that would allow us to adjust the approach schools take, redefining modern public education to meet the needs of the 21st century world, and discussing what resources need to be redirected from what’s not working to what will.  Can we accept that individuals have varied and inherent talents, and develop those?  Mightn’t we teach people to use these specifically to address the challenges of their particular circumstances, and develop basic literacy, numeracy, and writing skills in the process and for a recognizable purpose?

I can already see people reaching for their pitchforks, reading between the lines that I said to expect less from poor kids.  I didn’t say less, and I didn’t say poor kids only.

We need a more responsive and realistic approach, and we need all hands on deck.

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