I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"No Excuses": Race, Class, & Education

Last night, Condoleezza Rice stood in front of the Republican National Convention and declared that education was the "civil rights issue of our day." Diane Ravitch points out that it never occurs to these people that poverty should be the real civil rights issue, as poverty is the best predictor of school performance, health, longevity, happiness, and so on.

I'd add that we should also consider that "civil rights" might be the civil rights issue of our time, what with the massive, conservative-driven voter disenfranchisement that's going on in the country. That's closely linked to the destruction of local control of schools in the cities; and it begs a question of those, like Rice, who insist that education reforminess is the answer to endemic poverty:

Why are the corporate reformers creating schools for poor and/or minority children that engage in practices that affluent parents would never accept for their own kids?

Yes, this starts with the governance of schools: suburban parents demand a say in their district's supervision, and would never accept mayoral or state control at the expense of their ability to influence local education decision making. One of the reasons parents in the suburbs of New Jersey pushed back so hard against the expansion of charter schools was that they would have no say over how those schools were run; it would be, essentially, taxation without representation. Yet autocrats regularly insist - usually in coded language - that urban parents and taxpayers are incapable of running their own schools or their own districts, even when state or mayoral control has been a failure.

This notion of "separate but equal" also extends into the curriculum and culture of the urban charter schools that have become the standard-bearers of the reformy movement. This is, until now, a story that has been told by very few (Jonathan Kozol most prominently). But there is increasing evidence that the way children are being taught in a "no excuses" environment of the cities is radically different from the way affluent parents demand their children learn.

Which is why this post from Paul Thomas is so important. I urge you to read the entire thing, but here's a taste:

• Students are nearly silent in class (to quote this teacher) "mostly because they've been trained like dogs [emphasis added] to never speak -- I had to repeatedly tell one class that it was ok to talk to their group during GROUP discussion -- foreign concept for them." ["No excuses" schools confuse "training" with "learning."]

• The students have primarily been taught to be compliant; again to quote the teacher:
"They [the students] can't think for themselves, they have no concept of style and author's craft (they're skill drilled their 9th grade year), and they have a very prescriptive method for annotating texts to the point where the students are annotating in the margins so they won't get in trouble [emphasis added], but they're not making any meaning with the text. One student today asked me how many annotations per paragraph they needed, and when I told her she needed to note where she saw fit, she looked so confused and upset."
• Ironically, teachers have a great deal of support and autonomy, and are primarily themselves treated with respect and as professionals, but, as this teacher notes, that allows TFA recruits (without experience or expertise) to function with little supervision. [Note that increasingly charter schools are afforded autonomy while public schools suffer under impossible mandates.]
This is a description of urban "no excuses" education I'm hearing again and again and again, and you know what? No one in the affluent 'burbs would accept it for their own kids.

Yes, suburban parents demand discipline - but age-appropriate discipline that teaches children, rather than indoctrinates them. Yes, suburban parents want their children to learn when to be silent - but not all of the time; they understand a child must be given the chance to express her opinion if she is to grow. Yes, suburban parents want their children to be fluent in the mechanics of language and mathematical computation - but they want their children to be able to write creative and engaging essays and apply math skills to complex problems.

I've been going off for quite some time now about the predilection of reformyists like Bill Gates and Barack Obama and Chris Christie to play up destructive education policies in public schools that their own children won't have to endure, because these folks send their kids to private schools. Shame on them for their hypocrisy.

But this is worse. It is fundamentally anti-American to espouse one type of education for poor urban children and another type for affluent suburban children. If we really, truly cared about these most-neglected and most-deserving kids, we'd be working to make their lives as much like those of their suburban peers as possible - both in and out of the classroom.

That's the real civil rights issue of our time.

ADDING: Via Diane Ravitch, here's Michael Paul Goldenberg:
But perhaps at least as important is the TYPE of education KIPP provides, the kind of teaching TFA promotes, and what that means for students. On my view, KIPP is a very regressive philosophy. It’s “work hard, be nice” mantra sounds wonderful to many people, but to me, given that KIPP is working mostly with poor students of color, it sounds very much like “get back in your place. Don’t complain. Do what you’re told.” And given that there is so much emphasis on chanting, rote, and in general the sort of bunch o’ facts education that none of its wealthy backers and cheerleaders would EVER accept for themselves or their children, it feels racist, classist, and reactionary: designed to ensure that inner-city students of color and poverty are pacified with marginal and minimal skills that will not lead them to satisfying, challenging lives with competitive salaries. Frankly, I would scream if my son were in a KIPP-style school, and so would most educated parents. [emphasis mine]
Amen. Once again, here's George Carlin preaching the truth:

They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying -- lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want -- they want MORE for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They DON'T want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that, that doesn't help them. That's against their interests. That's right. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting ****** by system that threw them overboard 30 ******' years ago. They don't want that. You know what they want? They want OBEDIENT WORKERS. OBEDIENT WORKERS. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly ******** jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. 


czarejs said...

If you didn't see Chris Matthews show just how totally ill informed he is on education tonight find the clip.

Deb said...

You are so right - and this is where we need to focus right now. It is separate and it is not equal, and in those corporate charters the goal is not to teach children to become independent thinkers, but obedient followers. In every discussion of charters, in every discussion of urban education, and in public funding of choice schools we need to say what you have said - scream it from the roof tops if we have to. The impact of this educational cruelty will be seen in a decade but the damage at that point, for at least that generation, may not be reversible.

Duke said...

Thx Deb, as always. czarejs, just watched it. Will be posting tomorrow.