“Everything You’ve Heard about Failing Schools is Wrong.”

The subject of today’s post is from a recursive series of quotes; Dr. Wiegand’s latest newsletter highlights an Atlanta Journal-Constitution (ajc) educational blog which is highlighting an essay by University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky about the bane of how media often portrays the dire plight of the public education system and he manages to ring the bell of anti-Bill Gatian assessments. Dr. Smagorinsky refers back to “The Manufactured Crisis”, which sounds like myth-debunking work aiming to de-teeth the many klaxons of war-mongering politicians.

I have asked Dr. Wiegand what she thought of the piece, since, to be honest, most of it is very general for me. I do acknowledge that Dr. Smagorinksy paints a very salient point; “to show one example of the perils of making judgments about people based on media images and accounts.” Which makes me wonder, what does the media hope to gain by pointing a crooked, shaking finger at tax-payer funded public schools in the first place? Does it really help to round up all the riff-raff and get people complaining? We will see what Dr. Wiegand says.

Obviously, there is a time and a place to disclose, or even uncover, the chinks in the armor, the weakest link, as long as the intent is to patch it up and make it stronger. On the flip side, there is also a time and a place to acknowledge all the many awesome accomplishments and positive direction, as long as it is not used to whitewash a rotting interior. Having said that, let us take a look at a few things.

On the “Pro” side, Stephanie Stuart (Unit 4 Community Relations), and Lynn Peisker before her, has done an excellent job of highlighting many positives; if you watch the Unit 4 website, the Unit 4 Facebook page or the twitter feed, you will find a frequent stream of recognitions, awards, certificates and accomplishments. Just today Dr. Taylor was recognized for receiving the McKinley Foundation Social Justice Award. Stephanie always collects success stories that are going on each school, as evident at each board meeting during “Recognitions”. Stephanie also co-hosted a “twitter chat” last week; the transcript is a little challenging to follow, but you can see how she (and Dr. Wiegand) interacted with various “chatters”.

On the “Con” side, there are lingering trust issues, a mixture of perception and reality at play. Depending on your perspective, there are a number of sub-issues beneath that. One is Discipline; there is a lot of inequality and residual (institutional) racism that is challenging for us to deal with, as we the community are so divided in many ways (racially, culturally, economically, politically, etc). Another biggie is Finances, since so many of us don’t really understand the big picture (let alone the nuances); with rampant corruption at the State level and ever increasing taxes with little to absolutely zero accountability, the onslaught of regressive taxes is not helping to build any confidence.

 

My point in all this is that anything you read or watch on tv must be taken with a grain of salt (even here, gosh, especially here! *grin*). Go form your own opinions. Are schools really failing? Are they awesome? When you explore for yourself and talk to others, you will probably find that the public schools work for some people and not so well for others. Chuck Jackson stood up at the February 11th board meeting and said we need to find ways to make schools work for all children (at least, as much as possible). So when we critique the schools (hopefully it does not come across as complaining), our intent is to improve, to patch up those little holes. Some of you have spoken up and conveyed some of the big problems in our system. That’s good. Let us keep looking for problems with the intent of eliminating them.

 

And now the tough part. If all I ever do is blog, it’s all just hot air. It doesn’t really get much done. So let us move into a “doing” phase. Chuck Jackson, Bill Vavrik and I are going to plan a couple charrettes (I use the word loosely – some of you have intimate experience with the real thing so please go easy on us). Basically we want to introduce a topic or two and physically brainstorm ways to resolve those issues. One example we are kicking around is to expand on what DeJong-Richter is doing. We have received a couple of suggestions (hat tip to Pattsi), and I really like the idea of just getting a couple blown up maps, mark out the present schools with Monopoly buildings, and start marking up ideas for new locations. If I can, I would love to add an overlay for things like population density, ses diversity and forecasted age and/or building trends. It’s a tactile exercise, to start doing something besides just talking.

 

One last note about “doing”. I had a really good talk with board member Jamar Brown a weekend or two ago. We talked about discipline issues and how some kids really just need some strong role models in their lives. When I mentioned mixed-income housing, he made a very good point about how that in and of itself doesn’t fix the root issue; his observation is that the “well-off” folks tend to gradually move away. I confess, that’s what I did. So Jamar raises a very strong but very challenging idea for us – what if those with more “social capital” moved back into those neighborhoods that are struggling? Or even if we did not move back, what if we just hung out with the folks there more frequently. It comes down to forming relationships and getting to know people. This has the dual benefit of eating away at institutionalized racism but also reinforcing a realistic picture of people. “You just gotta do it.”

 

Don’t let the media form your opinions for you (that goes for what you read here as well); not everything you have heard is wrong, but you won’t know until you verify. Go meet some folks and get to know them. In the eternal words of Sue Grey, “Shut up and listen“. 🙂 If you have or see a problem, don’t give up but see it through to the end.

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2 Responses to ““Everything You’ve Heard about Failing Schools is Wrong.””

  1. pattsi Says:

    My first question has to do with putting your comments into the context of what DIane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol write.


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