Getting Schooled About Schools

Mar 4, 2010 by

Because I am one of those in charge of my son’s education these days, there’s a lot of things I’ve seen and heard in the course of his seven years on earth that have made me throw up my hands in wonderment and in exasperation – sometimes I throw up my hands at both things at the same time. When I started to post about some of those things in my humble corner of the interwebs, some other folks commiserated with me, gave me advice, told me of what they had seen and heard, and continue to do all of those things to this day. This week has been a hot one for education-related links, so allow me to pass the following on to you.

The little guy made it quite clear at the beginning of this school year that he did not want the school lunches. He’s a picky guy anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. I look at the lunches this teacher is chronicling all throughout 2010, however, and I find myself wishing more parents could take that option. The kids’ bodies still need good sustenance in order or the kids’ minds to do their best, and serving up slop just shouldn’t be an option. Thanks to DJ Poptart for the link.

I was alerted to this one through Twitter as well: Ta-Nehisi Coates on the process of searching for the right school for his child.

I want him in a school that’s preparing him to question the world, that nurtures his formidable curiosity, and at the same time, reinforces the kind of work ethic that we’re trying imbue him with at home. More than I hope that he goes to college,  I hope that he learns to be passionate about something. If he grew up to be a curious, humble, reflective dude who was passionate about operating a fork-lift, the boy would be alright with me. Again, part of this is class and privilege. But another part of it is the Coates gene. My Dad grew up in grinding poverty, while my Mom grew up in the projects. I think they, generally, felt much the same way. More than anything, they wanted curious children.

The problem with all of this is that, despite my own experience, I’ve always been committed to public schools, and I believe in them for many of the reasons I outlined above. Public school put me in contact with kids who were a lot different than me, and forced me to learn to relate. It taught me how to navigate other worlds, and appreciate vocabulary that wasn’t particularly native to me. At my middle school, you couldn’t erect a wall between yourself and the kids from the projects. You had to learn to cope.

That’s a lesson that I’d like the boy to learn also, but not at the expense of eight hours of test prep.

What Coates describes is what many, many parents are going through regardless of where they live – especially in these tough economic times, when it becomes harder to justify the rising costs of keeping a child in a private school.  Conscientious moms and dads want our children to be well-rounded as people, and it is becoming increasingly clear that this emphasis on teaching to tests driven home by the continuation of No Child Left Behind isn’t contributing to that.  The comments following Coates’ post are worth looking at to illustrate further how conflicted we parents are when it comes to elementary and secondary education.  Go ahead and take the time to really read through them, as they lay out all the stuff that has certainly crossed my mind.

So parents can go on about all of this ad nauseum to each other while we struggle with bureaucratic hurdles, admissions criteria, dollar amounts, the roles of teachers, the socialization of their kids and whatnot, and it can feel like we are having a hard enough time running in place for our own children, forget trying to make things better for all the children in the schools.  It’s why I’m grateful for G-Bitch’s find: that author and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch has done a 180 concerning her position on NCLB and the charter schools.  Having myself read Ravitch’s The Language Police, which took a hard look at the textbooks and readings used in schools and the increasing role censorship and political correctness played in which texts made it into classrooms and which didn’t, I look forward to tackling her latest. A sampling from The Death and Life of the Great American School System:

…I started to doubt the entire approach to school reform that NCLB represented. I realized that incentives and sanctions were not the right levers to improve education; incentives and sanctions may be right for business organizations, where the bottom line — profit — is the highest priority, but they are not right for schools. I started to see the danger of the culture of testing that was spreading through every school, community, town, city, and state. I began to question ideas that I once embraced, such as choice and accountability, that were central to NCLB. As time went by, my doubts multiplied. I came to realize that the sanctions embedded in NCLB were, in fact, not only ineffective but certain to contribute to the privatization of large chunks of public education. I wonder whether the members of Congress intended this outcome. I doubt that they did.

Ravitch came to the above conclusion in 2006…a little late to affect the “system of schools” we have here…but it is important to have voices in education as nationally valued as hers is speaking out against the tangled web we’ve woven in the name of change.  We cannot go back to the way things were, especially here in New Orleans, but we can take a much harder, longer look at what really works in educating our children and why it works, which hasn’t been happening much in the rush to improve the schools’ performance ratings and the kids’ test scores.

Keep checking G-Bitch’s site as she checks out the backgrounds of key NOPS personnel and keeps digging into many, many other issues concerning the schools and school reforms.


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