stephanie jones

Archive for the ‘family-school relations’ Category

Getting Clear about Emotion – Teacher Morale, Crying, and Policy Makers

In discourse, Education Policy, families, family-school relations, feminist work, high-stakes tests, identity, Standing up for Kids, teacher education, Teaching Work on March 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm

What’s all the crying about? Education policy that requires teachers to engage in malpractice – that’s what.

The secret is out, teachers, and you are not the only one crying over the soul-crushing policies in schools.

The first murmurs I heard about teachers in crisis came from a principal several years ago. Teachers were streaming into his office seeking counseling services. Many were taking anti-depressants. Some couldn’t sleep at night, and some were so anxious and stressed they were worried their families would suffer irreparable damage.

Teachers enter the profession to do what is best for the students in front of them and for society at large. They earn degrees, immersed in rigorous study of how and why humans learn, how to individualize instruction, and how to inspire lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.

But individualization, inspiration, and engagement aren’t in current policies, and neither is teachers’ professional knowledge. Instead teachers must follow pacing guides and move on with assignments regardless of whether students are beyond or behind. Anyone can walk into a teacher’s classroom at any moment and evaluate whether the teacher is following the one-size-fits-all program with “fidelity” and “full compliance.”

The choices are soul-crushing: 1) Slow down, teach creatively and get students excited about a topic, but fall behind the pacing guide and receive a poor evaluation and possible humiliation and job loss; or 2) Move on with the pacing guide and ignore students’ pleas for help or their yearning to learn more, and evaluations might be fine, but students suffer.

Most teachers do a little of both, but their no-win situation is devastating.

And when students’ needs aren’t met because teachers are following mandates, they also cry or cry out in other ways.

I’ve witnessed sobbing children in school, crocodile tears streaking cheeks. Their bodies rejecting the relentless mistreatment they receive from impersonal curriculum, strict limitations on socializing and movement, and harsh punishments for child-like behavior. Students reject dehumanization.

When children hold it together at school they often fall apart at home. Yelling, slamming doors, wetting the bed, having bad dreams, begging parents not to send them back to school.

Some parents seek therapy for their children. More parents than ever feel pressured to medicate their children so they can make it through school days. Others make the gut-wrenching decision to pull their children from public schools to protect their dignity, sanity, and souls. Desperate parents choose routes they have never considered: homeschooling, co-op schooling, or when they can afford it, private schooling. But most parents suffer in silence, managing constant family conflict.

And I cry.

When I spend a lot of time in schools I often cry. Each day when I would leave a particular school in New York, I would find a park bench and have a good cry before heading home on the train. I cried for the children because they were so young and vibrant and constrained to desks for seven hours at a time and they were unable to talk during lunch and they were only allowed outside for ten minutes – if at all – and those ten minutes could quickly evaporate into no minutes if the line to the outside door wasn’t straight enough or quiet enough or fast enough. I cried because I witnessed their crocodile tears streaking their cheeks as they sat silently into space.

I also cried for teachers. They were often threatened by administrators  and humiliated in front of their students, they were told at the last minute that no, they wouldn’t be teaching fifth grade like they have in the past two years – they will be teaching kindergarten and they better damn well be happy they at least have a job. They were told to collect data, look at data, analyze data – and any mention of an individual child’s struggle would be interrupted with some line about “data.”

And I cried for myself and every other parent out there who would never want her or his child treated like a number, a digit on a data sheet, a potential deficit to the school’s reputation. I have hugged and consoled countless parents who were crying and suffering in silence when their children weren’t around to see them. Parents who try to support the school’s wishes and tell their children to do what teachers say, but then fall apart in private because they know their children are miserable, sad, depressed, and crying too much over school.

Some people might say that crying is an expression of emotion and that it ought to be kept private. Some might even say crying is a sign of irrationality, of over-sensitivity, of hysteria – all insults used to pathologize women (most teachers and all mothers) for at least a hundred years.

However, teachers, students, and parents are not the only emotional players in the unbearable game of school.

Policy makers are emotional. Punitive policies forcing the impossible combination of rigidity and test-based accountability are produced out of fear, anger, distrust, and arrogance. They are written in an irrational effort to control the bodies that fill schools every day.

But policy makers don’t have to endure the physical and psychological effects of their policies – those of us in schools do.

It’s time to stand in solidarity against mandated dehumanization in one-size-fits-all schooling and against over-emotional policy makers who have a reckless stranglehold on schools. Demand that humanity be returned to teachers, students, and parents who know how to make schools dynamic, inspirational places where everyone can thrive.


Expose them to big houses? Thinking about Upper Middle-Class Bling

In American Dream, anti-bias teaching, communities, discourse, economics and economies, Education Policy, environmental issues, family-school relations, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, poverty, social class on September 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Big houses, fancy sedans, downtown boutiques filled with expensive clothing and shoes, trendy restaurant spots with hard-to-pronounce specials.

Some educators believe that the way to “motivate” working-class or poor students is to expose them to the ways  upper-middle class and wealthy people live their lives. Just let them see what else is “out there,” expose them to the bling (my word, not theirs) acquired through high paychecks, inheritances, good credit loans, and inspired by materialism and consumerism. Bigger and fancier is better – name brand purses, the most expensive imported cars, designer shoes, houses large enough to provide shelter for five families.

I sympathize with people frustrated that children and youth often grow up and find limited opportunities to sustain themselves financially. But this idea of exposing children and youth from “lower income” neighborhoods to the materialistic bling of upper middle-class wealth is more than disturbing.

People suggesting this exposure are often the same folks who demonize mothers who find a way to buy the newest sneakers for their children, or share quick glances of mortification when they see adolescents with gold caps on their teeth, or laugh out loud when a completely rebuilt older American made car slides down the street with the shiny wheels turning and a hip-hop beat thumping from the speakers.

“That’s why those kids grow up and sell drugs,” some people might say, “because they see those sneakers, those gold teeth and chains, those hooped up cars around their neighborhood and they want that bling too.”

Really now?

So you’re telling me that a $100.00 pair of shoes will make a child envious enough to become a drug runner, but showing him a $500,000.00 house will inspire him to stay in school, make good grades, go to college – and act like you?

This is really what we’re talking about folks. Upper middle-class people that say and believe these things are convinced that their own lifestyles (often of opulence and tremendous waste and materialism, though of course not always) are simply better than others’ lives. They secretly – or not so secretly – think that the gold chains and teeth and cars and music and sneakers are ugly, gaudy (is that how you spell gaudy?), disgraceful, “ghetto,” “low-class,” and disgusting. In other words, “Low Brow Bling.”

But that the material goods they acquire and consume are “classy” – pretty, understated, classic, “tasteful,” etc. etc. etc. In other words, “Aspirational Bling.”

We really need to wake up here. Bling is Bling, and using materialistic bling as a lure for supposedly getting kids to stay in school and “be like us, instead of like those people in your community” is the most absurd, classist, self-absorbent, egotistical, naive, ignorant, clueless, contradictory thing I’ve heard of.

Kids will stay in school and engage themselves when they feel like they belong, when they are valued, when they are treated with dignity and respect, when they are given some choice and power over their school experiences, and when they are motivated and inspired by the work they do there.

It’s as simple as that.

No bling required.

In fact, all that upper middle-class bling might just offend and alienate the very students some are trying to inspire and make them work extra hard to get away from anyone who represents it.

I haven’t even gotten to the unsustainability of persistent consumption of bling in the upper classes…but think about this: What if every family in North America had a 3,000 square foot home that required increasing amounts of energy to heat, cool, and water? What if every family in North America bought the newest, fanciest imported car from Europe? And on and on and on….you can see where I’m going with this.

Using one “class’s” Bling as a lure because it is positioned as infinitely better than the working-class or poor community’s Bling is simply unethical.

Encouraging more and more consumption of bigger and costlier things is simply wrong-headed and short-minded.

We have to really think long and hard about what it is we hope children and youth get out of our school systems – and surely it’s more than hoping they are envious enough to become like someone else, or motivated enough to work harder and harder so they can buy bigger and more things.

The American Dream – if there ever was one or ever can be one – must be about more than making yourself like someone else and aiming to buy  “classier” Bling.

a thousand paths to happiness…including one little book

In communities, creativity, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, freedom, great books, institutions, justice, teacher education on June 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm

“There are thousands of paths that lead to happiness, but you have accepted only one. You have not considered other paths because you think that yours is the only one that leads to happiness. You have followed this path with all your might, and so the other paths, the thousands of others, have remained closed to you.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book, you are here: Discovering the magic of the present moment, is such a delightful treat to read and consider and I am enjoying myself immensely each day when I settle in and drink another paragraph of wisdom.

A thousand paths to happiness has me really thinking though, and I couldn’t resist jumping on the computer and pounding out a few lines (one thing that often makes me happy) about this notion and what it might mean to me – at least in this moment.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then all of those thousands of paths should be encouraged and valued and celebrated and shared. In other words, diversity wins again, and not only should we encourage and celebrate diversity, but we should do everything possible to prevent any kind of restrictive ideas that limit possibilities and promote standardization of human beings and life in any way.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then why aren’t we actively teaching children and youth to seek happiness, or better yet to “be free to experience the happiness that just comes to us without our having to seek it” (Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 75). This could move us a long way beyond the false promise of a “good job” so well-advertised throughout every level of education.

If school isn’t about promoting thousands of paths toward happiness, then what is it and why would we want to do something other than teach toward happiness?

Some readers are blowing me off now, huffing and puffing at their screen because they think it’s all fluff to teach happiness – so without going into excessive detail here, I’ll add that working with passion and engaging in intellectual journeys around academic content or in a workplace can be a path to happiness. Don’t worry reader – we’re not going to end up with a society of non- “workers” because everyone is sitting lotus-style in a forest seeking happiness. We might, however, end up with lots of people who refuse to sell their soul and time/life to corporations doing meaningless “work.” Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Has anyone out there ever read a school vision statement that included the words “happy” or “happiness”? I’d love to hear if you have.

And this ‘thousands of paths’ has me thinking of other things regarding “diversity” – we humans are all just different and somehow we keep trying to shove us all into the same-sized box. Just like ecological diversity is imperative to the survival of earth, human diversity is also imperative to the (healthy) survival of the species. While this is not only about the “size” of us humans (it’s also about our lifestyles, family and community structures, livelihoods, homes, interactions, relationships, physical looks, tastes, etc. etc.), diversity in size and shape should also be a consideration. I’m stuck on this a bit because of the recent onslaught of the “Obesity Epidemic” across the country and the fetish we seem to currently have around body measurements, plastic surgery, and the persistent metaphorical and literal chiseling away at natural diversity among bodies.

Just one example –

Body Mass Index (BMI)  and the push for schools to include children’s BMI on report cards even though CDC reports there is no evidence that such actions would change anything about childhood health and/or obesity.

Folks have – and will continue – to debate me that “there is a real obesity epidemic – parents need to know their children’s BMI and what those numbers mean and get control over what their children are eating.” Okay – and what role has school and Corporate America played in this heavy-ing of America’s children? Do we slap some numbers onto a child’s report card and insist that parents do something to change those numbers when kids are at school 7-8 hours a day and have to complete 2 hours of homework between 4pm and the 8pm bedtime? I might be exaggerating a bit in some contexts, and underestimating in others – but this is yet another way to tell parents how they are the individuals to blame for a societal problem that is only exacerbated in schools: over-processed foods are served for breakfast and lunch in cafeterias and recess is non-existent for most children above the age 8 and limited to only 10 minutes for children up to 8 in public schools.

Hmmmmm….schools work harder and harder to get kids to sit still and be quiet for 7 hours at a time preparing for tests and covering standards while only breaking to eat over-processed foods that are high in fat and sodium, then expect the kids to sit at home for 2 more hours at night to do homework and schools are going to “report” children’s BMI to parents so the parents can fix it?

I’m against the use of numbers for nearly everything and BMI is included – I always believe a holistic perspective on a person’s health and lifestyle is much more important than a single number that may be used to determine categories that label and blame and shame people. But let’s pretend for a moment that I accept BMI as some good indicator of a child’s health (even though CDC might argue against that). Perhaps we might allow schools to include the BMI on the report card and demand they also include a specific plan the school will take to ensure the child has access to healthy foods and sufficient exercise and physical play during the day. In other words – the BMI becomes a reflection of the way an institution operates rather than good or poor parenting.

So back to a thousand paths to happiness…

Maybe if we taught children to feel happiness, to see the infinite possibilities for happiness, to see happiness in unexpected places, and to cultivate happiness through mindful practice (including mindful practices of eating), we might find ourselves educating the most diverse, happy, healthy children on earth. What if school’s purpose was to cultivate happiness, peacefulness, contentedness, connectedness? Of course some private schools and home schoolers have been doing this for a long time, but what if public schools put these purposes first and foremost in their work? The possibilities make me smile – and happy.

Keep my kid off the computer…or, “Will computers replace teachers?”

In creativity, Education Policy, family-school relations, Neoliberalism and Education, Standing up for Kids on June 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Are computers replacing teachers already? Read this provocative article and see for yourself.

This is an education issue: the focus on memorization and high-stakes tests aligns nicely with computer-based tasks for kids; but of course most of us hate the focus on low-level “learning” and multiple choice tests that dominate schools today. I don’t want my kid tied to a computer for hours during the day – have you ever watched a kid’s positive energy level and attitude fall to below zero after spending too much time in front of the screen? For all that computer-based technology can offer us in life, it steals much away, including a focus on nature, human contact, creativity in the material world.

Recently a 1st grade teacher told me that her school’s RTI (That’s Response to Intervention) checklist of possibilities for “interventions” for struggling students included a list of 10 possibilities: the first 9 were all computer-based, and what was the 10th possibility? A human-based intervention. ALERT! If your school is naming a teaching/learning interaction as a “human-based intervention” you must know that educational aspirations are not only low, but your job is on the way out the door (and mine’s not far behind).

This is a labor issue: The more number-crunching data-seeking, statistics-acquiring folks get ahold of our education system, the more likely it will be that computers will come to the rescue with standards-based, rigid lessons aligned with tests; multiple-choice tasks to prepare children for test-taking; and repetitive “games” will lure our children into the hypnotic state of screen staring “education.” But guess what? A computer and a few games (and perhaps even the maintenance folks to take care of them…probably housed in India) are cheaper than a knowledgeable, well-educated, creative teacher who can respond individually to each student’s academic, social, and emotional needs. Get a shipment of 1,000 laptops, ipads, or smartphones into a school, set up the children on programs meant to keep them isolated, quiet, and still for hours, and hire a couple folks who don’t know a thing about teaching/learning or the content to walk through rooms filled with hunched over bodies and you’ve got yourself a really cheap way to do school.

But don’t hunch my kid over a high-tech device.

This is a health issue: I know it personally – so those of you who know me have heard this a million times, and you can even an old blog post about it. But here’s the short version – I’m still in physical therapy 2.5 years after experiencing severe pain and depression caused from neck and shoulder injuries caused from hunching over computers writing, reading, sending emails, blogging…well, you get it. For months I couldn’t carry a bag of groceries, wash dishes, or even pick up a skillet. I cried regularly and thought I would even have to find another job. I slept a lot – too much – I couldn’t bear to get out of bed some days. And when I talk to my 20-year-old undergraduates about it, they stare at me with wide eyes and share their stories of stiff fingers, cramped thumbs, numb forearms, aching shoulders, throbbing necks. Our bodies aren’t meant to be hunched over devices such as the one I’m typing on now (doing my best not to hunch, but planning to sign off for the evening very soon). We are ruining our bodies – and I don’t want my kid ruining hers before she is even finished physically growing.

So we need to do the best we can to push the hunching devices and screens (even those over-sized screens hanging in the fronts of many of our classrooms that make kids sit still and stare straight ahead), right back out of the center of education. It’s not only about the centrality of humans interacting in teaching/learning, it’s also about jobs – and thus the economy, and our health.

Listen up Reformers – Parents are looking for something completely different from what you are offering

In communities, creativity, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, high-stakes tests, institutions, NCLB, Standing up for Kids on June 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Here’s a great article by a parent in Philadelphia – ideas I completely agree with and I really hope Reformers are listening.


And here’s a little story of my own:


I pulled my daughter out of public school last year.

It was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in recent history; one I dreamt about, talked incessantly about, and did everything possible to not make the decision I ultimately made. And even though Hayden isn’t in public school right now, I continue to fight (and scream, and blog, and cry, and work) for public education.

Hayden now attends the “Freedom to Grow UNschool” (sounds lovely, huh?), and with one year under our belt, I am so relieved that I did make that decision. Her third grade year, which would have otherwise been overshadowed by the mandatory state test, was incredible. She studied a local park, researched the medieval times and questioned economic inequities reflected in housing and fashion, she planned and carried out a fashion show as a result – from start to finish, she experienced what it was like to edit the school newspaper published once a month, she studied the Mississippi floods, accelerated her understanding of foundational and analytical math, she learned about the Children’s March during the Civil Rights and connected it to civil rights issues today and what children can do to make a difference, she learned how to compost, how to track animals, identify trees, and use some basic survival skills in the wilderness. She painted and constructed and read and danced and wrote and pretended and analyzed and experimented and inquired and sang and laughed and learned the messiness of maintaining a community where everyone is valued even when everyone doesn’t agree with one another.

All in one school year.

And in a school where there is a “no homework” policy.

Her achievements in 3rd grade were remarkable – truly impressive even if I wasn’t her mother:) And I know things would have been entirely different for her and us had we left her in the school she was attending – a Title I school under the stresses of NCLB where the 3rd grade test is all that matters, teachers were required to be “on the same page”, the gifted class is focused on state standards, field trips are rare, recess almost non-existent, and homework every night. During her 2nd grade year she cried on a regular basis; begged us not to take her to school; had nightmares in her sleep; accidents in her pants (!); regularly lost her 10 minute recess for having to use the restroom at the wrong time of day; and learned that school was a place she had to go, but she never expected it to be a place of joy, curiosity, creativity, exploration, and building a foundation of lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.

What State legislators and other Educational Reformers don’t understand is that parents, like us – even the hard-nosed-public-education-is-the-backbone-of-democracy parents, are sick of the education we have been stuck with since the NCLB hammer started pounding on local schools.

We are sick of the small-thinking.

We are sick of the stress.

We are sick of the standards.

We are sick of the essential questions.

We are sick of the pre-tests, the post-tests, the practice-tests, the “real” tests, the awards for tests, the pep rallies for tests, the “how-to-parent-during-state-testing-week” newsletters, the computerized tests, the reading tests, the math tests, the “if you can write it down on a piece of paper we’re gonna test it” test.

We are sick of AYP.

We are sick of homework that brings on tears and resistance and family misery every night.

We are sick of every child being in “intervention” – constantly – to improve test scores. (Yes, every child in my daughter’s school went to “intervention” every single day…what in the hell kind of education are we creating called intervention??!!)

We want schools to belong to us and to our children and we want inspired and compassionate and intellectual teachers to lead us.

We want our teachers to be creative, and inspiring, and spontaneous, and curious – not stressed out because they’re not on the same page or lesson as the teacher next door, or that they might lose their job because the school isn’t meeting AYP, or that their evaluation and salary might be positively or negatively impacted by students’ test scores, or that their lesson plans aren’t in the right format, or that they didn’t get all their pre- and pre/pre- and post- and post/post- testing done in time. I mean with all that stress, who can respond calmly and compassionately to a child sitting in front of you? Or who can jump up and decide that third or fourth graders studying literary uses of the weather need to run outside when it’s raining to see for themselves all the different ways rain could be used in literature as symbolism? Or who has the energy to schedule guest speakers and local field trips during an intensive study of the local economy and how a community can build sustainable practices and promote more equality amongst its citizens when they have mountains of paperwork to complete and more tests to give and prepare to give? (Oh – and sustainable communities isn’t a part of the Standards, so it’s a side-project to begin with, strategically hidden from other teachers and supervisors).

We want our children to love to learn, to read, to question, to analyze, to contemplate, to sing, to perform, to draw, to play, to have friends, to feel like school is a happy and meaningful place to be.

We want our children to have recess. (Yes, we actually believe that children and adolescents need unstructured play time during the day – we prefer not to think of our pride and joy heading into a sweatshop every day).

We want our children to smile. To feel valued. To be perceived as possibility and promise – not as a potential test score.

In short – my family specifically, and lots of families across this country have suffered because of Educational Reform. And we’re sick of it – every single bit of it. Even the incredibly condescending and superficial “family engagement plans” schools now have to have parents sign and return to school each year.

Give back our teachers.

Give back our rights for a well-rounded, rich, high-quality education.

Give back our children’s childhoods.

Give back our family’s sanity.

Listen up Reformers – you are driving us mad, and driving us away. We are looking for something completely different from the menu of options you are serving.







Obama on LGBTQ bullying…and CDC website for LGBTQ youth

In democracy, families, family-school relations, identity, institutions, justice, professional development resources, social action, Standing up for Kids, teacher education resources, Uncategorized on March 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Love this!


Obama’s video message to LGBTQ youth.


And the Center for Disease Control’s website for LGBTQ Health – great resource!

Everyone ready for the slow school movement?

In creativity, Education Policy, environmental issues, family-school relations, justice, NCLB, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, social action, Standing up for Kids, teacher education resources on February 7, 2011 at 12:35 am

Yep – that’s right. I’ve coined a new phrase, or at least I’ve never read or heard this phrase before, but it’s exactly the sense I get when I’m at my daughter’s new school.

It’s slow.

There are no rigid beginnings and ends to anything. The day ebbs and flows with the children’s interest in and commitment to what they’re doing – or what they need to do.

When they need a snack or a drink, they get it.

When they need to move to a different place to be more comfortable, they do it.

When they need to use the restroom, they go.

When they are finished working on their current project or task, they move on.

And they are nice.

When children or adults are talking, they listen – at least mostly – and they respond thoughtfully.

It’s slow.

It’s quite relaxed, actually.

I never get the sense that any of the children or the adults are anxious about time.

They get anxious about other things: how will we make our projects work? When will we get the details about the next fieldtrip? What questions should we ask the University intern who wants to work with us? How can we help one of our friends make better decisions so she or he doesn’t get into physical confrontations with others?

Time – however – is not an anxiety-provoking concept.

Just the opposite of what I always felt in my daughter’s classrooms in the past: we have to go here; we have to cover this; we have to go there; time to line up; time to go in; not enough time to read; not enough time to play; not enough time to talk; not enough time to think: go – go – go – go – go – go – go!

How can one be thoughtful in such a fast-paced place?

How can one grow to consider many different perspectives?

How can one acquire a repertoire of conversational practices?

How can one focus on something so deeply that they truly gain an insight and fully embodied understanding of it that it changes the way they experience the world from then on?

These things happen in my daughter’s new school – a school that doesn’t have “tardies” or “absences” – a school where you can begin dropping off children at 8:15, the community meeting is held at 9:00, but anyone is welcome to arrive whenever it is best for the child’s and family’s schedule or mood that morning.

FYI – I’m no longer Devil Mommy on school mornings.

Yes, I’ve become a better mother because of this slow school approach. I don’t spend my mornings yelling, “Let’s go! You’re going to be late! If you miss the bus you’re in trouble!! Hayden, NOW!”

And guess what? 99% of the time we arrive before the community meeting, and 90% of the time I drop her off at 8:15.

In other words, we manage to get to school in a timely way – but the experience of getting there couldn’t be more different from the time-tied and punishments-based-on-time system. In the fast-school-time-rules-everything-else system that turns me into MONSTERMOMMY and lots of teachers into monster teachers…just because they’re trying to be on time or cover things on time, complete the paperwork faster, and as soon as we try to rush things, children will frustrate us.

A slow school movement could parallel the slow food movement and might:

Assume children are learning all the time, regardless if they are in a formal school or with family members and friends;

Recognize the significant value of informal learning and its links to greater educational goals;

Move at the pace of children and families with built-in flexibility in schedules, routines, responses, education goals, social goals, emotional goals, physical goals;

Provide space for contemplation, deep study, long-term projects, and flexibility;

Focus on place-based learning that emphasizes human and nature relationships through outdoor education and deep academic inquiry;

Aim for a consciousness-raising education that centers all humans’ responsibility for other humans;

Meet the needs of individual children and families through long-term listening and response;

Strive for a holistic education for confident, socially-conscious, generous, contemplative, physically agile, and academic children live mindfully and creatively in the world for the benefit of themselves, others, and the natural world.




Gotta love Susan Ohanian…

In corporations, discourse, Education Policy, family-school relations, government, high-stakes tests, NCLB, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, Standing up for Kids, teacher education resources on February 6, 2011 at 11:54 pm

She’s done it again, and I’m only a couple months late in responding.


Thanks to Gloria for passing this along!

Classism Exposed blog is fabulous…

In American Dream, classism, democracy, discourse, Education Policy, family-school relations, government, politics, poverty, social action, social class, social policy, teacher education resources on November 14, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Check out Paul Gorski’s blog called Classism Exposed.

On Daddy Warbucks Duncan, the growing underclass, and other urgent concerns

In American Dream, classism, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, politics, poverty, prison, social action, social policy, teacher education resources on November 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Thanks to J.E. for sending this!


From Teacher Magazine Living in Dialogue
15629Schools in a Banana Republic
Anthony Cody
November 08, 2010
Nicholas Kristof this week described the economic state of the nation in rather stark terms. Due to the accelerated concentration of wealth, this country is in danger of becoming what is derisively termed a “banana republic.” This term has been used to describe the Central American dictatorships such as Nicaragua and the Honduras, where a handful of families control the wealth, land and economy, while the poor barely get by. Kristof shared statistics that reveal the US has pretty much arrived at a similar situation.
The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976.
C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.
And the tax cuts from the Bush era continue to put billions in their pockets.
How is today’s economy affecting our students?
Rising inequality also led to more divorces, presumably a byproduct of the strains of financial distress.
Mounting evidence suggests that losing a job or a home can rock our identity and savage our self-esteem. Forced moves wrench families from their schools and support networks
Yes, unemployment causes divorce. Unemployment causes tremendous stress. Stress that bubbles over in the homes of those in poverty, unable to keep the lights on, to buy adequate food, to feel safe and secure. These stresses are terrible for children, and for their ability to concentrate and learn in school. In many of our schools we have more than 90% of the children on free and reduced lunch. We have unemployment in excess of 15%, and much higher for African Americans and Latinos. The transfer of wealth we are experiencing will be felt by a whole generation of children, and affect school performance for years to come.
As Stephen Krashen pointed out here recently,
American students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average. The US has the second highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (22.4%, compared to Sweden’s 2.6%) which of course pulls down our overall average. The success of American children who are not in poverty shows that our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.
When the problem of poverty is solved, all children will have the advantages that right now only middle-class children have. This will close the “achievement gap” between children from high and low-income families.
And how will our public institutions be able to respond? All indications are that we are entering a new era of economic austerity. Newly elected congressional representatives believe they have a mandate to “pay as you go,” and cut way back on “discretionary” spending. Most of these policymakers, unfortunately, do not think they have any say over the half of the federal budget that is devoted to military spending, so that is off the table for cuts. And they can’t touch Medicare or Social Security – so actually 85% of the budget will not be touched. But things in that 15% that are considered discretionary are vulnerable, and that includes federal education spending.
This will have a mixed effect. On the one hand, the reduction of discretionary spending will mean the days of Daddy Warbucks Duncan dangling tempting billions before state policy makers to get them to race to adopt his policies may be numbered. This could be a healthy thing, since many of the reforms he has promoted have been bad ideas. On the other hand, Federal dollars provide crucial support to many low-income schools, and if these funds are cut now, at the same time state dollars are dwindling, the results will be devastating. We should be clear that when taxes are cut for the wealthy, and education is cut for the poor, dollars have, in effect, been transferred upwards.
There is one other area of spending that has, up to this point, been immune from cuts – our prison system. As James Carroll pointed out yesterday,
In 1975, there were fewer than 400,000 people locked up in the United States. By 2000, that had grown to 2 million, and by this year to nearly 2.5 million. As the social scientist Glenn C. Loury points out, with 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons 25 percent of all humans behind bars. This effectively created a vibrant shadow economy: American spending on the criminal justice system went from $33 billion in 1980 to $216 billion in 2010 — an increase of 660 percent. Criminal justice is the third largest employer in the country.
In the 1990s, as federal corrections budgets increased by $19 billion, money for housing was cut by $17 billion, “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the poor.’
Most of those 2.5 million Americans lived in poverty, and many of them have children enrolled in our schools. If poverty has a devastating effect, imagine the effect incarceration of a parent has on a child.
The war on poverty has been replaced by a war against the poor.
In states across the nation, there has been a call for more local control of schools. This is a healthy direction when coupled with real democratic control by parents and educators, but there is one big problem with this. Resources are not spread evenly, and some areas are much wealthier than others. Local control cannot always generate the resources the schools need. The ideal of high quality public schools for all has also been greatly undermined by the drive to standardize everyone and punish those with low scores.
How does the extreme concentration of wealth affect our schools? The middle class is being squeezed out of existence. The result is that voters are more reluctant than ever to sacrifice their money to pay for services – and so they want their taxes cut. People in wealthier communities contribute directly to their schools to make sure they have the resources that are needed – as I described in this post last year. Or they simply abandon the public schools and send their children to private schools that charge up to $30,000 a year. Oddly enough, many of these people are willing to spend this sum for their own brains, but balk at such largesse when other people’s children are involved, insisting “money will not improve the schools.” Private schools across the country have class sizes roughly half that of public schools, and per pupil costs that are roughly double, as shown by the School Finance 101 blog.

What sorts of schools exist in banana republics? Highly stratified, just like the society. The very wealthy send their children to private schools of privilege, just as is becoming the norm here. The poor go to schools where they are daily reminded of their inferiority. How many ways do we have to remind our students of their academic inferiority? Could this be an unconscious or sub-rosa part of the high stakes we now attach to test scores? Is this perhaps part of the reason schools, teachers and communities are stigmatized when schools are condemned as failures and dropout factories? Our schools are inevitably mirrors of the society in which they function.
I must add here, lest I be accused of adopting a fatalistic stance, that I believe schools have a powerful role to play in cushioning the blows of poverty, of lifting the aspirations of our students beyond their circumstances. But everywhere in school reform these days we hear of the need for “urgency,” as if the reason that previous generations of educators failed to eliminate the achievement gap was a lackadaisical attitude, or persistent low expectations. Not so. Unfortunately, although schools can make a difference, poverty and a genuine lack of opportunity usually trumps our efforts.
The intense discomfort the “school reformers” have with our low-performing schools may reflect our unwillingness to recognize that yes, we have a growing underclass in the United States. Yes, we have a burgeoning strata of society that no longer can even grasp the bottom rung of the economic ladder. We can blame the schools for this, but the schools did not create this situation, and getting everyone ready for college and careers will not fix it. Only when we get our economy back onto firm ground and restore some balance, so the wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes, and the middle class can survive and prosper, and the poor can truly access the ladder to success, only then will we see hope return to our students and see the gaps in achievement really begin to close.
Special thanks to teacherken for highlighting these issues in his blogs.
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