Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Problems - Poverty & Crime

According to writer and teacher Pamela Kripke:

I think that Michael Bloomberg could put an air conditioning repair man in the chancellor's seat. Or a neuroscientist. Or, frankly, a university president. It doesn't much matter, and here is why: They do not know Miguel. Or Maria. They are just too far away. They do not know that these kids' survival, right now, is not derived from brilliant test scores or good grades, even. Or, the allocation of money from one place to another.

Today, if my students find their way to Room 146 with some peace, they are a success. If they make it into the building without a security guard hollering at them because their shirts are untucked, they are a success. If an assistant principal doesn't suspend them because their ID cards aren't hanging on their necks, well, it has been a marvelous school experience. If they can forget for 50 minutes that their brothers are in jail for selling cocaine at an elementary school, they are doing okay.

This public school district is not terribly different from other large urban machines, where kids are passed along without proper skills, ex-cops parade detention-goers through the campus like a prison work gang, and poorly paid teachers learn on Tuesday what a flawed curriculum says they need to teach on Wednesday, maybe.

An account worth reading. And a valuable perspective completely lost on people like Bill Gates. Consider this:

Of course, administrators will have you think the place is Choate Rosemary Hall, what with "Pre-AP" classes (entrance criteria: compatible scheduling, not academic ability) and college posters plastered on corridor walls. Work hard, go to Princeton. Dally amongst the Ivy. Aspiration is good, except when the goal is so utterly unreachable. Then, it is a tease, a reminder that the cycle is not nearly broken, that only 43 percent of students will graduate from high school, that repeat teenage pregnancy in this city is the highest in the country, that kids are not allowed to take home textbooks because the principal believes they won't come back.

In order to fix the schools, as is the common parlance, the Bloombergs and Blacks need to fix the kids. First. But this would require a tectonic shift in philosophy, from penal to uplifting, from frenetic to calm, from dictate to reality. For there to be any hope for true achievement, these kids need to feel safe, respected and secure before prepositional phrases and periodic tables can penetrate their bodies and brains. They need social workers and psychologists in every classroom, and teachers who resist screaming at children even when administrators tell them to. They need longer classes and fewer subjects each day. They need physical exercise, even if they can't afford the $10 for the mandatory check-up. The need hugs and cookies, yes, at 13. They need people to listen when they are told, finally, that their father was killed in a drug deal, not a car crash.

Then, perhaps, they can learn to write a paragraph. Or dream about a place like Princeton.

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