Do we need structural reform in public education? That’s been an engaging topic of discussion on LinkedIn this week. The general consensus is “yes” but the prescriptions don’t add up to much.
The robust conversation follows two disheartening media reports this week. On May 14, Teach for America teacher Eli Hagar wrote a piece about racial segregation in the Mississippi Delta’s schools. A day earlier, a giant article about the re-segregation of New York City schools occupied more than two pages of the Sunday New York Times. These are painful, powerful stories to read and I urge you to take a look if you haven’t yet.
But if we listen carefully, American public school teachers are giving us an even more powerful and alarming message: Our social fiber needs structural reform.
We at VIVA Teachers believe passionately that classroom teachers are the voice of authority in public education. I also think that public schools are the canary in the coal mine for American civic society. And, the warning bells are ringing loudly.
The Massachusetts Teachers’ Union is currently partnering on a VIVA Idea Exchange about the state’s troubling achievement gap, especially in those many cities that aren’t Boston. Chicago’s VIVA Teachers had all kinds of wisdom about how to broaden the narrow lives experienced by too many children in Chicago. Even in Minnesota, teachers point over and over again to the need for a new kind of cultural literacy amongst principals and teachers.
The common thread: Our country is as segregated as it ever was. We haven’t yet reached that mountain top.
A New Dialogue Needed
We can, and should, celebrate the end to the worst ugliness of violent racism, prejudice and discrimination that was part of the bedrock of our country through the 1960s. The heroism of those who stood their ground against injustice inspires me everyday and is an example we should all heed.
But, take a look in our schools. We are not providing every student a fair or equal opportunity to learn. Sure, there are probably some really lousy teachers out there. And fewer amazingly gifted teachers than we all wish for.
But, the problem isn’t teachers. The problem is us. We tolerate division, inequity and yes, racism, way too often. Maybe now we tolerate it by refusing to acknowledge inequity rather than through outright hostility. But the ill results are the same. Exactly the same.
So, let’s open a new kind of dialogue with teachers, amongst the most important public servants in our country (and I’m NOT just being rhetorical here). Let’s talk about how we can use our education system to overcome racism and prejudice, not just perpetuate it with a different strategy. That’s what VIVA is here to do. Join us.