Why I Think This Is One Of The Most Definitive Essays On Public Education

** I reserve the right to change my mind later as always.

Of course this thoughtful post has been written by a “lay” person who is not an education administrator. Dave Troy is a WHY guy who resides in Baltimore, MD. I have been perusing his archives for several weeks trying  to catch up because I really enjoy the way this man thinks (though I’m not a supporter of the Waiting For Superman/Michelle Rhee ilk). See my post AA Women Teachers Being Scapegoated. ** There was another link I put on Twitter as well that I need to include.

His blog post titled, How We Get Schools Wrong should be a template for those critical thinkers, innovators and concerned citizens (whether they have children or not) adopt a more proactive stance of overhauling this broken system. If that’s even possible.

We know how poorly US students fare against those from numerous foreign countries that are at an economic disadvantage but obviously put more care into learning. We know how many teachers – and I’m going to focus on black women because that’s my forum – are being scapegoated for the poor performance of students. We know there is a huge politicalization and power struggles between parents, administrators, the teacher’s union and other interested and/or disruptive parties sullying the waters. We also know because funding is so precarious right now many will continue to fall through the cracks.

What about the children?

Since I wouldn’t dare copy Mr. Troy’s entire post I linked to it above the jump – but I must highlight certain segments with quick comments as follows:

“If we want children to learn, we must ensure that they are surrounded by people who value learning.”

That starts at home. We can interchange “learn” with thrive, be successful at life, ethical, productive citizens, well-rounded, compassionate, shrewd or any other quality we consider useful and appealing. Remember the African proverb says it takes a village. Only those households, neighborhoods and communities that prove their concern by acting in the best interests of children will help bring the next generations into society ready to contribute.

I had the pleasure of observing a couple with what I guessed to be their 8 year-old son at a coffee shop last Saturday evening. Well-mannered children always stand out and there was something about the confident way this boy carried himself that caught my attention as he walked past me with a plate and sat at a table waiting while his parents collected their beverages. This family had an easy affability with each other and clearly delighted in their child. He was discussing with them what he had done with his chess board. I hadn’t intended on eavesdropping but the way they all related to each other definitely stood out. Plus we were the only ones in the store by this time. I’m fairly certain this child will excel at whatever he chooses and navigate life’s ups and downs better than most.

“Consider that a single child surrounded by a diverse, thoughtful, inquisitive support network of adults and other children will undoubtedly flourish (assuming a base level of socioeconomic security). It is therefore incorrect to assume that the modern educational machine is necessary to produce a successful adult.”

Children are at a disadvantage under the less than ideal circumstances many must face. Broken homes and financial impediments. Parents that use schools are babysitters. Parents that don’t stress learning. Whether due to apathy or ignorance the results are the same. If nobody else cares why would the child see value in it or realize the struggles that will meet them later in life? One teacher cannot do it all. Black children who have to dodge bullets to attend school have been fit with anvils that will likely sink them before they’ve had a chance to thrive. The limitations based on accusing a child of “acting or talking” white for preferential use of standard English and a desire to learn to diminish their capacity and crush their spirit is pure evil. There was a time when black students were threatened with imminent violence to achieve a quality education. There was a time further back when learning to read could have resulted on death. So to see how far things have fallen should be a disgrace. That should be on the do-nothing Civil Rights’ organization’s agendas. Apparently they have other priorities.

What about the children?

“Confusion about what “school” actually is”

The popular conception of “school” is that it is a place where we send our children to learn and be systematically exposed to an orderly program of ideas, culminating in a baseline level of performance that will prepare them for employment. In fact, school provides only a) a basic social safety-net within which children can be placed into a social fabric, b) state-sponsored childcare, c) minimal insurance of the breadth of instruction (via a curriculum), d) minimal insurance of the length of instruction (usually at least 13 years of 180 days each).  School enables some parents to participate in the workforce while insuring a basic safety net for students who would otherwise lack a supporting social fabric.

Dave asks:  …look back on your own school experience and ask honestly how many truly excellent teachers you can recall.

The child is the driver of learning, and the teacher is only an informed and enthusiastic member of the child’s social network. (SOMETIMES the teacher is)

When I was 8, my mother was pursuing her Masters degree. She took me to a few of her classes as I recall to ease the burden on other relatives who were watching my younger siblings. I felt like such the grown-up to be entrusted with being around adults and was on my best behavior. I also delighted in pouring through her college texts even if I scarcely understood Child Psychology. It was fun to read them. I wanted to emulate my mother in diction and held her in such regard at that age. I concur about children who’ve been exposed to the joy of discovery of knowledge want to continue obtaining it. I went on to read new books every week, circle words I didn’t know looking them up in the dictionary to increase my vocabulary and getting my first library card. No one had to make me do it. Now children with learning disabilities need assistance in achieving their goals, but every child who is taught how can certainly take initiative without prompting.

I’ve spent the past two months at a public library branch in what was once a Middle Class neighborhood. I’ve observed  on numerous occasions children who are using the computer to play video games and browse random  web sites with no specific purpose. There have been a few who despite being with an adult have complained about being “bored” while there. Sacrilege!! How can you be bored surrounded by books? When I was a child I LOVED going to the library and would take out the maximum lending amount possible. This was before computers were available. I also spent time in the music library listening to musicals and world music. Anything that was different from what was familiar to me drew my interest. Clearly someone has failed the kids of today.

There’s so much more he goes into at his blog with so many valid points. Go read it! He provides information about Khan Academy that offers a variety of subjects that hopefully address the “boredom” factor for some children. Salman Khan spoke at Ted showing how video can reinvest the classroom. I don’t support the Teach For America model per se, as my observation is black children will be at an even greater disadvantage than the one caused by the disintegration of the family. I hope more parents, administrators and those in the general population will take heed.

Finland currently has the best education system for its students because they placed a huge emphasis on addressing their needs. They have three teachers per classroom. They are simultaneously teaching the students and vetting the process in real time to ensure the model is fully functional. That may seem intrusive or radical to many but they don’t need to use slogans like “no child left behind” because they’ll never allow it.

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I hope you enjoyed Why I Think This Is One Of The Most Definitive Essays on Public Education.

You might want to check out my previous post on African-American Women Teachers Being Scapegoated For The Poor Performance Of The Underclass

6 comments to Why I Think This Is One Of The Most Definitive Essays On Public Education

  • sisterlocgirl

    Wow. I really thought more people would have SOMETHING to say about this issue as well. It really does give me grave concern. I try to do what I can, but the kids I come across are really motivated and have the initiative to seek out mentors/ask for direction. I don't know.

  • simply me

    Faith, what are your thoughts on HBCs. Did you know the Governor of Louisiana is trying to merge and eventually closed the only public HBC in New Orleans?

  • sisterlocgirl

    I agree with your assessment of the importance of this essay. Public education and those who are depending on it are in serious jeopardy. A complete overhaul of the public education system in this country is long overdue. Its geared towards an America that no longer exists. Unfortunately the people who make the decisions regarding the educational system have no children suffering with the inadequacies that currently exist. Add that fact with a community that does not value education and actually looks down on advancement as selling out/trying to be white/etc. ( sidebar: this total insanity that pops up in academic discussions of some black students labeling normal academic achievement as " Trying to be White " has been officially designated a mental illness. I believe it is properly termed Academic Aversion Disorder and is listed in the DSM-5, the diagnostic bible for all psychiatric disorders. ) and you have a disaster of EPIC proportions. The Civil Rights organizations should really just 'fess up and change their names to reflect their true agenda: throwing black women and children to the wolves for the advancement of black men, no matter what the consequences. These nonleaders have managed to achieve what slavery and Jim Crow couldn't: a large proportion of black people who are not only HAPPY to be ignorant but actually believe this somehow defines black authenticity ( huh? ). SMH.