"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another Modest Proposal

My compatriot "Mick-of-the-Moment" (I don't know him, but he/she is a frequent blogger on Philly.com) had the following take on the Obama/Duncan/Bloomburg/Ackerman idea to improve public school education, Mick would like to carry the great educational reform ideas over to crime fighting: "Areas of the city with consistently poor crime statistics should have all police officers fired and only 50% can successfully re-apply for their jobs. These districts would be forbidden to join any FOP (union) type organization and officers who work in areas of the city with good crime stats can be moved into a Renaissance police district at any time. Hooray for the Renaissance model!! We all know the way to fix struggling communities is to hold the public employees 100% accountable and the community itself completely unaccountable." Does this sound crazy to you? Of course not! After all, a similar idea is about to save public education. All we have to do to make sure that children being raised in poor neighborhoods that are trapped in an unceasing cycle of generational poverty do well in school is FIRE THEIR TEACHERS! That's right, the very people who have dedicated a great portion of their lives to urban education, who feel called to work in places with legions of problems, who feel privileged to offer a safe haven to kids from tenuous neighborhoods everyday, ARE THE ONES TO BLAME for educational failure! Yes, the test scores and achievement levels that the government measures ARE lower for poverty-stricken students, but that may just be because of poverty and deprivation itself. And, yes, some schools have been able to make astounding achievements in extremely poor areas--but they are usually charters that are able to self-select for very motivated parents and children. The children whose parents are unable or unwilling to participate in their education are the children who we work with every day. Not all teachers are great or even good, but wholesale firing of entire school staffs are certainly not the answer. The Unions have already agreed to newer and innovative methods of evaluations and training for teachers. Most teachers put heart and soul into their work--we do not deserve the sole blame for a large, intractable societal problem. The way to come to a true solution for educational reform is to ask parents and teachers what they need. Society and political leaders need to have the stomach to hold parents and communities accountable for their children. We need to attack poverty and make sure children are safe and well-cared for. Only then will we be able to truly institute educational reforms that work.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Who Are "THESE" Kids??

As I read many responses to education articles (in the Inquirer and Daily News) lately, I have become slightly dispirited. Although many comments can be helpful and germane to the larger conversation on educational reform, there are a depressing number of comments that refer to "these kids". "These kids" the rant goes, are irredeemable, not able to be educated, worthless, beyond saving..... So, WHO are "these kids" in regular (non-magnet,low SES) Philly public schools? What are they like? Well, if a demographer walked into my seventh grade North Philly classroom here is what he or she would see: A class that is over 90% minority and 75% "poor" (judged by the number of children who qualify for free lunch), a class in which only one or two children live in a home with both parents, a class in which 25% of the children receive Special Education services. Those are simply the facts; it is no more the sum of my students than any set of numbers could be. Here is what I see: A group of boys and girls who can be, on any given day, funny, engaging, heartbreaking, infuriating, hard-working, insightful, lazy..... In other words, kids who are like almost any other group of twelve and thirteen year-olds in the country! In my advisory (homeroom class) I have several talented cartoonists, three or four students who read at a 10th grade level, several who read waaay below grade level, an aspiring nurse-midwife, boys crazy for basketball, some kids with worries too big for a seventh-grader, four drum students, kids who are well taken care of, kids who are neglected, and worlds of potential. Most of my students (and the others in our school) truly want a connection with their school and teachers. It never ceases to amaze me how eager they are to say hello in the morning (even if they were reprimanded the previous day), open doors for me, carry bags, and in general seek out positive interactions with adults. That is what I see and experience every day. Others have shown, through words or actions that they see something or someone to be fearful of. One of the funniest and saddest things that ever happened when I was with my students was this: We were walking as a class between our two school buildings to the gym. Many of my seventh graders--especially the boys--are quite a bit taller that I am, so it may not have been apparent to passersby that the students were supervised. We were walking down the school sidewalk, a little noisy but generally in good spirits when a man who appeared to be about 25 or so (and Caucasian) decided to wander down the side walk with his rottweiler. When he saw and heard my students (mostly African-American) he visibly flinched and recoiled. A hale and hearty 25 year old man was intimidated by a bunch of twelve year-olds. One of my boys said, "Mrs. L, what's up with that dude?" I professed not to know, and we headed to the gym. This man, had he known my students, may have found them as endearing and/or fun to play basketball with as their phys ed teacher did. But he saw "these kids" and was afraid. The truth is that "these kids" are really the same as our kids. In fact, in a very true sense, they are our kids.