Are You Screaming to the Rooftops or Singing to the Choir? Neither Will Move Us Forward

This showed up on my feed this morning. In thinking about the heated temperatures today, both in the weather and rhetoric, this was a nice break. How have we come so far apart?

How do we head back to a road where we quit demonizing the other side of an issue and try to come to some solutions we can live with? As beautiful as this choir sounds, it demonstrates my point perfectly this morning, we aren’t listening to each other. We are simply trying to drown the other out. Now in this case, I much prefer both the music and the message, but it won’t solve anything. It won’t change policy, or hearts, or minds. It is simply another day of in our continued struggle to define who we are as a nation when it comes to social issues such as health care, human rights and education. It comes down to where we want to spend our dollars. And that my friends is what makes or stifles change.

Our focus for the summer is to come up with ways to insert civic education and debate into our humanities curriculum, for me that means looking at medieval history with this lens. How did people share their views during that time? How were they condemned? Who were the heroes? Who were the oppressors? I am learning more and more that it depends. Let’s look at it with the focus on the public education debate currently going on in this nation.

Public education is under tremendous pressure for change, both from the students we serve, and the politicians who believe they know better how to educate our youth. In thinking about school choice, vouchers are touted as the latest silver bullet in saving our education system. How do we debate this issue? Well currently the unions are putting millions of dollars into fighting the initiative, where proponents are putting in even more millions into pushing it forward.There are sound bites and rally cries, but I don’t hear anyone addressing the real question, which in my mind is, why we can’t better meet the needs of all our students? And the deeper question I am asking lately, is do we as a country want to educate all our students any more?

Although guided by powerful ideals and even laws to promote and attempt to ensure equal opportunity, American schools still are deeply unequal. If we as educators don’t admit and address this, then we are just as guilty as our critics in not dealing with the reality today.  As historians of education have taught us, children of different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds have traditionally attended different schools. With segregation more prevalent today since the passing of Brown vs. Board of Education, researchers like Lareau and Goyette (2013)  and Bader and Warkentien (2016) are finding that neighborhood schools continue to remain segregated both by ethnicity and race. Parents all want what is best for their children, and are relying on each other to find what they consider the best education possible for their kids. It is why the debate for public, private and charter exist and are so strong. Every parent wants more for their kids than they had themselves. There are pockets of excellence everywhere, and there are great public, private and charter schools. But there are also bad public, private and charter schools and we must address that head on if we are going to make positive change for students.

Education Secretary Betsy Devos just sent a warning to both public and charter schools that all programs are on the table in the review of where funding will go. She and her supporters believe that public funds should be given to the student and their families, which include the option to spend those funds on private schools. Read this latest summary from her visit to a charter school conference last week, it will give you pause as both a public and charter school educator.

When thinking about my concerns about her stance I think the most important consideration, is accountability on where these funds go.  Are we providing accountability measures to receive that funding, what will those measures be, and how will we ensure that ALL kids get access to quality schools? It is concerning to me that the president just signed legislation that cuts accountability measures and teacher training requirements while now trying to open the door to alternative teaching. Providing alternatives that are not of high quality and academic rigor are change for change’s sake, and that serves no one, least of all the kids in the end.

Finally, do we as a nation believe that all kids deserve a quality education, and if what we are doing isn’t providing that are we willing to make the hard changes necessary to make that happen? My concern is are we providing high quality programs that meet individual student needs at the cost of kids learning how to work together in a variety of situations and structures? We don’t grow to work in companies that create great ideas and products by working in isolation, or in isolated thought. Are we at risk of creating spaces where kids are not exposed to a variety of ideas and concepts to become more well rounded and may I dare say tolerant and respectful people? That too is the role of education. There can be no teaching of civil discourse if we continue to further separate our kids from each other.

So what happens next? It isn’t about drowning out the other side, it is about coming together to face the fact our kids need us, our families need us and as a nation we need to address this continued inequity faced by our students. It is important to not scream to the rooftops, or sing to the choir, but learn how to discuss and move forward. We have so much work to do.

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