Saturday, June 14, 2014

21st Century Public Education. Has a Political Takeover of Curriculum Caused an American Crisis?

I've been reflecting on the term 'humanitarian crisis' ever since I began working with the Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network. In several meetings, I've heard about civil interventions taking place in South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East to rectify crimes, brutality, and genocides. Upon hearing the definition for a humanitarian crisis, however, I began to think more locally. Much of what I hear my colleagues describe from their international experiences parallels what I witness in communities of poverty across the United States every day.

The Humanitarian Coalition defines a crisis with the following headings:

  • Natural Disasters (earthquakes, floods, storms and volcanic eruptions).
  • Man-made Disasters (conflicts, plane and train crashes, fires and industrial accidents).
  • Complex Emergencies (when the effects of a series of events or factors prevent a community from accessing their basic needs, such as water, food, shelter, security or health care).
In the third bullet, I add the basic need for an equitable education. Many in the U.S. live in fear, stress, and within a constant crisis mode. This crisis mode is evident in many of our schools today, especially in urban settings. This is a MAN-MADE (read: political) disaster. Because of zip code apartheid, politics, inequities, and a neo-liberal movement to corporatize American schools, teachers  are constantly in fight or flight mode (as are their students). Resources have been taken from them (and continue to disappear), leadership is in flux, and curricular stability is non-existent. Schools are forced to exist in turmoil through the lack of investment our nation has made into the teaching profession. Instead, teachers are blamed for an inability to make change happen, even when they are given less and less to work with. It's big business. This crisis is caused by those who have and the pointing out the flaws of those who do not. Rather than work from within, they send their troops (read TFA and Charter Schools) who act like saviors and missionaries. The colonialism continues.

Yet, in the last two years suburban and affluent districts have also begun to report similar stress: the onset of teacher evaluations, the abundance of state testing, and the implementation of Common Core State Standards with zero professional development to work through them. Veteran professionals feel the nation's wrath against them. Some are leaving. Many are writing editorials. Some have taken to the streets.

Why aren't we calling this a humanitarian crisis? Aren't we endangering the well-being of school children as a result of ill-informed and massively ignorant decisions being made by makers set on unraveling the infrastructure of our schools? Weren't our schools once the envy of the world?

The same website depicts humanitarian complex emergencies by:
  • extensive violence and loss of life;
  • displacements of populations;
  • widespread damage to societies and economies;
  • the need for large-scale, multi-faceted humanitarian assistance ;
  • the hindrance or prevention of humanitarian assistance by political and military constraints;
  • significant security risks for humanitarian relief workers in some areas.
Since Sandy Hook there's been 74 school shootings. In urban centers, there are school closings announced weekly. Teacher unions are under fire. Communities are destabilized. The school to prison pipeline becomes more a 'matter of fact'. In an age of 'College' and 'Career' readiness, schools are forced to do little else except test and create paranoia. The hedge fund crowd, Bill Gates, David Coleman, etc. provide assistance, but it seems they are financially motivated through an allegiance to Pearson. Superintendents are reliant on Department of Education Commissioners who are hired by State Governors, who create infrastructures that declare, "Do it this way or we won't fund you." In short, we are putting everyone in the United States at risk. We are not meeting the needs of our children.

It's not just urban schools. Well-funded schools, too, are feeling the anarchy. 

I no longer recognize the joy I had as a classroom teacher. I don't see kids asking questions and being curious about their world. I see teachers acting robotically. There is a state of fear in most K-12 buildings. Perhaps this is over-the-top, but I think this is a humanitarian crisis that is occurring across the U.S. It has resulted from 20 years of federal policy. I am Cassandra and Chicken Little. I see the sky falling. I'm reading  and scanning national headlines voraciously for any signs of hope. 

For now, I'm comfortable talking to political leaders about the crisis they created. I have no problem sharing how my future vote will go to he or she who has a plan to fix this. I trusted Obama. But I was wrong. I voted the Democrat line in Connecticut. It resulted in Malloy. The choices made by these  leaders do no represent what I feel are best for America's education system. I continue to be disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece! Cuomo in NY has been Malloy's role model. We need a 3rd way, GOP is no alternative.