Monday, August 18, 2014

Incomplete Efforts

Today I am honored to turn over my blog to a guest writer - Felix Gil. Felix is an educational leader in New Jersey and a classmate of mine at the University of Pennsylvania where we are entering the final year of our doctoral studies. Felix took this opportunity to share his perspectives on the issues in Fergusson as they relate to our roles as educators and leaders...

I believe the US should adopt a common set of standards, and general recommendations for when those standards should be met in the course of a student’s K-12 career.  Clarity of instructional goals supports improved instruction, as such I believe adoption of the Common Core can improve educational outcomes.  However, it can’t be standards alone that is expected to improve how much our students learn. I support the standards, but I do not believe they are the solution many hope.  They will not be a balm for what ails public education in areas of concentrated poverty and – in many settings – racial isolation.  I argue that that – poverty and racial isolation - is the root cause of the all too referenced “crisis” in American schools.  Here I echo thinkers like Diane Ravitch, who has powerfully argued aspects of this point.

None of the most noted educational reforms proposed and executed since “A Nation at Risk” was authored in 1983, including that very report, has meaningfully addressed poverty and racial isolation.  Until we as a nation tackle this concern I fear we will continue our sad march, with occasional respites as we celebrate a small success here or there.  I think it’s high time that as a profession we debate the issue of poverty and racial isolation, and as profession begin to advocate for systemic reforms that extend beyond the classroom, rather than passively accepting the reform du jour. 

If we accept the simple reforms without speaking the truth, its so easy for politicians to blame us for the “failure” of our schools when they are courting votes and need a wedge issue.  Moreover, we will be contributing to a system of that has done and continues to do real and lasting damage to whole swaths of our country; a system that oppresses the poor and many racial minorities.  I would argue that the police in Ferguson, MO, are part of that system.  Are schools part of the system too?

Eventually we may understand what actually led to the recent shooting in Ferguson, a shooting that as we all know has given rise to demonstrations and, unfortunately, violent action.  However, the emotions unleashed by this shooting respond to generational grievances and practices that still disadvantage many minorities and specifically, in the case of Ferguson, blacks.  These are practices that are systemic, cruel, and are ultimately a form of violence.  Overzealous policing is part of that system.  Courts that routinely sentence minorities more harshly than whites for the same crime are part of that system.  The dismantling of affirmative action programs, even though we know discrimination exists is part of that system.  

By accepting weak-willed, incomplete efforts, like the Common Core (#CCSS), as the “solution” to educations’ problems, without speaking the truth, I fear that as educators we may unintentionally be part of the system as well.  It does not matter if as an educator you are in a public or independent school, urban, suburban, or rural district, rich or poor – as educators we have a responsibility to raise our voice.  

Let’s do it!

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