Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Problem of Schooling Isn't About Schools

Interesting article today in the New York Times about efforts to create integrated collections of wrap-around services to support schools. As I've argued earlier on this blog, there is a lot of evidence, perhaps most comprehensively described in Richard Rothstein's Class and Schools and in Jean Anyon's Radical Possibilities that many of the key problems of schools are really not the direct result of the schools.

This is not the old argument partly resulting from the Coleman Report that there is something "wrong" with poor families, although some of what the NYT article notes implies this. Instead a key issue is simply that poor kids don't get the kinds of social and material supports that privileged kids do. These include very basic things like poor nutrition, the fact that poor kids often have little or no access to dental care. And the families of poor kids simply don't provide the kinds of entree to middle-class aspects of culture that privileged families do.

However, while all of this is important, the core argument of the article is still faulty. It assumes that if poor kids learn better, this will give them access to better jobs. But as I've noted earlier, and as Anyon describes (PDF), education does not create jobs. On the margins, this can be quite effective. But as a mass solution, it is unlikely to fundamentally change the situation of people trapped in central city areas without jobs for a range of reasons.

The article talks about Geoffry Canada's work. His Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun struck me as one of the most profound works about the challenges of growing up in the inner city that I have read in a long time, and I look forward to looking at the book by the author of the NYT article on his broader work.

Of course, this all brings me back to the need to generate power to make the changes that the article describes. Simply electing Obama will not make this happen. For two reasons which I describe in a pair of posts at Open Left:

In Obama and the Crucial Difference Between Campaign and Community Organizing I show that Obama is not actually teaching people how to do community organizing to generate power, but instead teaching a particular approach to campaigning. Thus, he is not spreading effective skills for making these changes happen.

In The Crucial Difference Between Electoral Politics and Movement Building I discuss why the effort to elect Obama is little or nothing like a Movement, and how his efforts to centralize the campaign effort (by eliminating independent 527s, for example) actually reduces its resemblance to a movement.

Which brings us back to education. If we really want changes to happen that are likely to work better than all the work we have done for decades to improve inner city schools, then we need to rethink fundamentally what it means to support change around schools and education and the social situation of poverty in the United States. We need to think about how our work can contribute to the empowerment of others, instead of thinking so much about essentially utopian visions of pedagogical change.

As I've noted, we probably won't do this. But we shouldn't expect much to change if we don't.

1 comment:

Jeanne from Michigan said...

I agree that our educational system is in a crisis right now and we need to be open to the discussions that are going on. I'm watching a live webcast from The Aspen Institute's National Education Summit www.aspeninstitute.org/urgentcall. It looks like they have a great agenda of speakers as well as some very meaningful open discussions with the participants to seek consensous on ways to move forward together for the sake our children's future.