Wolf in “Status Quo” Clothing [Reading Response]

Flexibility and accountability. Laboratories for innovation. Starting Over. Having More Options in the Market. I think the point has been clearly made that the system as exists isn’t serving us well for student outcomes (nevermind test scores or performance). It has also been underscored that it takes lots and lots of effort from the people on the ground and lots and lots of vision, guts, and a refreshing stubbornness from those that are to lead. But how do we get the stability from authorizing political environments (and I mean the voters and taxpayers, not necessarily those making the direct appointments) that is needed to prove a reform is working? To allow a reform to work? That will hold the cord, but won’t yet pull the plug. This is what I want to know. Because as much as I would vote for the bull-in-a-china-shop candidate if it meant grade levels of students would be saved, I dunno how many others would…

I posit that it takes someone that knows both sides of the issues and is party to both worlds. Someone who is legitimate enough to stay, or stay for now. The person who is hungry as a wolf to do the things mounds and mounds of education reform readings tell us work, but who has enough political cover that the status quo posse likes her too (or at least is not calling for her hide). We either find such people (begin to create them) or continue to feed the mob.


Two Thoughts Emerge In My Mind—On “Bad” Schools & “Race” [Reading Response]

Thought #1: What makes a “bad” school? The general answer might include schools with poor student test scores, school violence, dilapidated buildings and grounds, old textbooks, and unhealthy lunch programs. The unsaid, less politically correct answer is schools with lots of black and brown faces (obviously not because they are black and brown faces—though some of the theorists from last week might propose that it is because of those identities--but because, as this week’s readings amplify, segregated schools (bad) and high concentrations of students on free lunch (bad) are more likely to be the experiences of black and brown faces than white faces). Traits of “good schools” consist of the opposite features (perhaps explaining the teacher transfer trend in Georgia from Orfield and Lee, p. 17). And for the most part, our general solution has been to use money to transform the former into the latter. Yet, I find myself asking the same question asked by others: does one overcome the bad schools of the impoverished simply by having more money? I cautiously assert that the answer is “no” (though I make a sharp distinction between poverty being an aggregate condition that needs a large-scale remedy and “poor” as an individual status that might in fact benefit from a wealth transfer). So, I am left to choose amongst other model solutions to meet the challenge… but I am just not sure the importation of one particular model is the way to go.

Thought #2: In this week’s Washington Post, the conversation arose again about the inability of using race as a factor for diversifying schools as a result of Parents Involved v. Seattle School District (2007) (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/19/AR2010091904973.html?sub=AR). It seems this article and this week’s readings illustrate the core connections between the identities of the education have-nots and the resources of the education haves, and how our decentralized system needs but struggles to disperse identities and resources within its populations. But this effort at social engineering is a huge undertaking. Perhaps I am simplistic—but I drink of the water that says the teacher-leader and student-parent relationships are the key levers for change. Systems have an obligation to diversify student experiences, but if we are to advance student outcomes, the solution requires far more teacher and administrator self-awareness and vulnerability that I think most are ready for. 


Be Extreme [Reading Response]

Before I approached the readings, I jotted down my preliminary reaction to the Week 2 Student Questions prompt: “What’s your view of the purpose of education?” I suppose now, and assumed then, that I am similar to other classmates in that I have an engrained view on this topic before consulting the readings. My purposes of education? To teach/acquire concrete skills (the three R’s at minimum and occupational expertise through apprenticeship at the other extreme), to socialize maturity and self-awareness as individuals and identity groups, to create civic awareness and promote engagement, to facilitate the competency formations about what we think of one another within and across cultural groups, and to inform our personal and systemic methods of preserving mankind and the environment. I acknowledged that these areas may overlap, and I referred to education as an institution with desired outcomes—rather than as aggregated learning (perhaps with less defined outcomes but more qualitative aims).

The readings reminded me not only of a substantive conflict about “who wins” in the persuasiveness of their viewpoint (like the First Face of Power, “which do I believe in most?”), but also of a battle of relativity (“how much of each viewpoint am I willing to accept?”). Views such as Count’s criticism of Progressive Education may seem harsh or extreme, but the slight adoption of even some of his premises (like accepting that education should teach curiosity—an aspect missing from my purposes list) signals a relative victory for the author. Ultimately, I believe educators and education-interested people need to deeply grapple with such conflicts—without being forced to reconcile different viewpoints. I appreciated them “being laid out on the table,” but perhaps it’s because I started from a pluralistic assumption about education’s purpose. For me, when every side has at least someone who thinks her view is the only view (or that the accepted view should be taken to a more extreme position), I become more engaged—hoping for robust conversation. And, I admit, that’s where I think the real purpose of education lies—somewhere between the extremes.