Education · Social Justice

Educational Performance: It’s about inequity and poverty

Much is made about our failing schools and the need for educational reform. Too often this takes the form of dismantling public education to instead champion private forms of education, or fighting teachers unions, or calling for more standards and testing. I’m part of a group, CTRL-Shift, and we’ve been meeting weekly to debate the issues and to coordinate different in-field actions working towards a better approach. Kenwood elementary in Champaign has been leading development of an alternate way, and results are indicating we’re on to something quite exciting that is building off a rich tradition of progressive and popular education applied to 21st century digital skills, as seen in a recent U4 Innovate video.

Today one of my CTRL-Shift colleagues, George Reese, sent me a video that does a nice job of putting some of the statistics used against U.S. public education into a new light.

My take away from the analysis they present is that what we’re really looking at is yet another symptom of the root cause — that the U.S. has the highest levels of poverty and inequity in the developed world. We don’t need school reform, we need reform of our social and economic policies and practices to address this root cause. (Here’s citations and resources that go with the video.)

A few years back I was starting to have unexpectedly high levels of bad cholesterol and some unexplained weight gain. I was also feeling unusually tired and was starting to fight a bit of depression. I had a great doctor who said before he started treating each of these factors with drugs or therapy, he wanted to first do a battery of tests. The results of those tests led him to identify hypothyroidism. Treating that one root cause with hormone replacement fixed a range of symptoms that would otherwise have been each treated separately.

Our country can treat a range of symptoms such as poor educational performance, particularly for a subset of our population, high rates of crime, and even inequity and poverty. Or we can begin to consider what root cause might be causing all these symptoms. Again, a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered in a speech called “Beyond Vietnam” April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York comes to mind:

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

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