February 16, 2012
Of course we all know that the crumbling Education System in America is but a microcosm, (if you choose to regard education in such a manner), of the general state of daily life for the 99%. The latest mind-numbing statistics on poverty, “One out of every two Americans are currently living either in poverty or near poverty,” just does not jibe with the American Dream. Check out this link: Tavis and Cornel’s Solution to Poverty. We must ask ourselves how we have allowed this level of extreme disparity to grow and blossom, unchecked and what that means for the future of education, and therefore the kind of societies we can expect to find ourselves living in. I often wonder what the ultra-wealthy 1% see when they think of the future of their children and grandchildren, living in a society surrounded by the majority of starving, uneducated desperate people. I imagine a scenario akin to a scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which Cate Blanchett’s evil, self-righteous character is dangling in mid-air, frantically clasping onto a vine in an effort to avoid being eaten alive by a swarm of ravenous giant fire ants….
The current thinking behind several of the educational/social reform initiatives on the table, such as the “Race to the Top Initiative,” frighteningly follow a “corporate” structure of success, and are engineered to ultimately create a powerless, non-union labor force, basically compliant worker bees. It is a bit sinister really, to think that the “best and the brightest” whom President Obama called in to help draft education reforms, are the very heads of corporations that rake in the money and actually benefit as the rest of the country sinks deeper into despair. The companies need workers and they have conveniently pointed the finger of blame away from themselves for the painful poverty levels across the country and at teachers unions and the teachers themselves for the lack of education, found in seriously impoverished schools. This initiative dangles the carrot of federal funds in the face of school districts, promising that money will be doled out to those districts whose students score well on tests. And those that don’t fare so well, risk a reduction in teacher pay, lost jobs, even school closures. That should really help…shut down overpopulated schools in poor, more often than not non-white neighborhoods. Hmmm, once again, forcing the race card and basically saying that imposing a competitive business model on educators will be the stimulant to bring about a quick turn around in the quality of education. BIG problem with that picture!
When I think back on my own education, I am fully aware of how fortunate I was. I was an extremely shy, math-challenged little girl with a cirque-d-soleil fantasy world going on in my head during most of my classes, and actually during most of my waking hours. I knew that I was a bit different than other kids in my class at a fairly early age, had difficulty making friends, and was pretty content to keep to myself for most of my early educational years. I could have easily fallen through the cracks. I was fortunate in that I went to school in the Beverly Hills public $chool $ystem where we had well-paid teachers, enough desks for everyone–– our classrooms were definitely not over-crowded. Our teachers knew our names, actually had time to engage with each of us on a regular basis, and had the possibility to sense and relate to those of us that thought “outside the box.” The faculty was given the ability and leeway to develop creative lesson plans which they felt would be the most engaging and stimulating in order to meet the educational requirements passed down by the Board of Education. We had a pretty wide ranging, and well-rounded curriculum, even in elementary school, which at the time ranged from 2nd-through 8th grade. It kept things interesting and stimulated different parts of our brains. In High School, we had the luxury of “elective” courses in subjects that were of interest to us: Advanced Art, Drama, Music and Language, etc. Sounds like education Nirvana, right?
But please don’t get me wrong, all of us were not model students, and all teachers were not engaged, creative educators, and not all principals were without their own peculiarities. And my minor bumps along the way are not comparable to the daily problems and pains faced by students and educators living and working in poverty. But I just try and imagine what it would have been like if those same heavy-handed consequences were imposed on my teachers and all of us that did not fare so well on standardized tests. I had an elementary school principal that ran around with a tape measure, measuring from the top of our white Nancy Sinatra-Beetle Boots to the bottom of our hem-lines, who sent me directly home from school when he determined that my skirt was “too short,” forcing me to miss an important test. I also had an angry, mean, frustrated ego-maniac of an art teacher that made me cry in front of the class, telling me that my work was horrible, and ultimately gave me a barely passing grade. In high school I had a math teacher that had anxiety attacks during class, mostly brought on by a particular group of unruly boys bent on tormenting him. This teacher had to stop talking, sit down at his desk located in the front of the class, remove an empty brown-paper lunch bag from his bottom drawer, breathe into it, then pour himself a thermos cup full of milk and eat a banana before resuming our lesson, while we all sat there in silent witness. No wonder I have a math block.
Quaint anecdotes, but can you imagine the circumstances that teachers face today, being held accountable for, and then rewarded or punished based on their classroom test scores? Tests, which occur at such alarmingly rising rates, that they squeeze out any time for creative and retentive teaching and learning, and teachers merit as educators being judged on the slightest variance in test scores. My poor anxiety-ridden math teacher would have been out on the street, trying to find a job at 59.
Teachers working in atmospheres of racial inequality and poverty, where many students come to school and stay hungry, too poor to have breakfast or lunch. Children who bring the emotional issues of their lives at home, forged by the daily struggle to survive: absent parents, violence, food insecurity and no emotional support systems. Classrooms where the teachers compete with clandestine cell phones streaming just about everything, and rampant text messaging. Oh yes, and drugs and alcohol, but those aren’t new. Whew. Despite all that, there are wonderful teachers handicapped by these injustices, who find engaged and creative ways to do their job. Gee, let’s come up with a system that punishes these circumstances rather than funnels funds their way to improve and support the teachers.
Well, sometimes enough is just enough. The cards are all on the table now; the agenda is not hidden. So when I think about the current state of affairs in education reform, I am left with only one conclusion. The best way to change all of this is to organize, and continue to create movements, taking the necessary risks to break the status quo in order to take back our lives and change the future of generations to come. We have to make parents aware that these problems did not happen overnight, they are the result of centuries of economic and racial inequality, and the gap is growing wider by the day. And the only way to affect change in corporate governments is to have the courage to follow the lead of some of those brave enough to unite in an effort to effect political change.
The strong and committed Wisconsin Teachers Unions did just that, by initiating and leading a protest against the “Budget Repair Bill” which asked for major cuts to social programs, and the removal of all collective bargaining rights for public sector workers statewide. Governor Scott Walker, who is currently facing possible impeachment, threatened to send in the National Guard to fill the gaps left by state workers who dared to protest. This grew into a fight for a democratic way of life, and has become a historically ground-breaking movement. For an enlightening look at the power in unity, view this trailer for the upcoming documentary film “We Are Wisconsin“.
Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: firstname.lastname@example.org