Kerr-azy Education Solutions
Last week’s stunner was a feeling of agreement with Bob Kerr:
No summits, no rigorous testing of teachers, can restore what has been lost in too many schools — the basic respect for learning and for the place a teacher holds in making good things possible.
Until we can reverse the damage done before some kids even show up for the first day of class, there is little chance that equal opportunity will be the rule in Rhode Island schools.
Of course, disagreement may arise over the symptoms of the “damage done” and would certainly arise over its causes. Some common ground exists:
… at the heart of it all, as always, is the man or woman who prepares a classroom in the morning to welcome students who carry a full load of electronic distractions and social problems through the door. …
Until we know what it’s like to work in an environment where eager participation in class by a student can bring ridicule or worse — where text messaging claims more attention than the mathematical equations on the board — we will only look silly rushing to judgment.
But what to do about those insidious “social problems”? Experience reading Kerr should lead one to expect the usual: welfare programs, subsidized child and health care, affordable housing programs, laws against discrimination, and so on. In short, the parade of policies that have stood the poor in such good stead, the lessons of dependency, and the sense that things not given are not achievable.
If I may be overly simplistic, the guiding principle of this approach is that material circumstances create culture. Conflicting examples of cultures of varying health and wealth, however, suggest that it is not so. Rather, selective acculturation is the wellspring of opportunity. The hope of “yes you can” is incompatible with the pledge of “here you go.” Better to project the message: “this you must.”
The kids don’t “stare and scribble and scratch and fail” because “their only real failing was being born into lousy circumstances.” They’ve been born into circumstances of which most people throughout history would be envious (the classroom being a central emblem). They sabotage their opportunities because trying involves risk. They mock each other’s academic success because if they bring each other down, they can continue to blame the system, the Man, the society for not handing over enough to ensure better circumstances.
And the worst part of the whole scenario is how long that attitude has existed — and been readily identifiable. We’re into decades, now, and unless we adults find within ourselves the confidence to dictate terms of responsibility, we will continue to damn the kids to lives of staring and scribbling and scratching and failing.