Universal Public Education is the Canary in the American Coal Mine

The single greatest challenge to contemporary society, in my opinion, is the failure of Americans to create an effective public education system that provides every American child with a reasonable foundation of knowledge and skills needed to pursue happiness. Note that I am not suggesting America has an obligation to provide happiness, just the obligation to provide the knowledge and skills needed to pursue it. Universal Public Education is how America has attempted to provide the foundation of happiness for over a century, but it is now the canary in the American coal mine of equality, and if Conservatives—the Army of Liberty—have their way, the canary will soon be breathing its last breath. (See The War between Equality and Individual Freedom)

My immigrant great grandparents came to this country to access equal opportunity for their children, and millions of other immigrants did the same. My grandparents and parents were provided equality of opportunity thanks to the Progressive emphasis on Universal Public Education, but today, millions of poor children are being denied the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills needed to pursue the American Dream. This is not the result of overt policy; rather, it is an insidious denial born of a belief among too many white Americans that poverty cannot be overcome because it is an inevitability that results from inherent deficiencies of people of color.

The treacherous effect of this manifestation of white dominance is a lack of societal commitment to create a cadre of teachers and administrators who have the knowledge and skills and belief in the capacity of all kids to learn, which are essential for kids’ success in America’s Have-not schools.

Educators in Have-not schools must be proficient in the application of practices that have been identified as best practices, either by the juried work of academicians or by the careful study and replication of practices identified by teacher peers. Politicians must show equal proficiency in the wise and equitable distribution of funding: not the Progressive practice of throwing money at educational fads and shiny buildings, or the elimination of money that Conservatives divert to their advantaged children under the guise of vouchers, charters and religious schools, but the funds needed to implement tried and true emotional support and instructional best practices. Policy makers must target funds to support training in best practices and to provide the resources needed to implement them.

Another substantial change that must occur is the way training is perceived by the typical American educator. In my experience, most see training as an elective experience: “I’ll apply the practice if it makes sense to me.” This is contrary to my experience in business where, if a company provides training, which is costly, it is an unquestioned given that every trainee is expected to implement whatever it is they are trained to do. Further, educational managers’ usual actions often reveal their lack of commitment and even lack of comprehension regarding what teachers are expected to do, which creates a climate in which teachers cannot be adequately supported or held accountable for the fidelity of implementation.

With sufficient political support and will, sufficient individual commitment on the part of administrators and teachers, and training in essential knowledge and pedagogical skills, educators in Have-not schools can lead students to success by overcoming the following key challenges:

  • Disruption of the educational process by traumatized students
  • Low Teacher Expectations
  • Lack of educator knowledge of motivation theory
  • Lack of educator understanding of the alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  • Failure to apply known best practices
  • The totally inappropriate use of standardized testing to evaluate student achievement and teacher effectiveness

I intend to focus on each of the above topics in future posts and have begun to explore teacher expectations and motivation theory in earlier posts.

Please note that I have not blamed parents, violent neighborhoods, or poverty for the failure of students in Have-not schools to meet expectations. These things do not preclude student success, but they do make student achievement far, far, far more difficult than the efforts required of our colleagues in schools of the Haves. One reason is because the percentage of poor children suffering from Toxic Shock (trauma) is far higher than the proportion of traumatized students found in schools populated by Haves. The disruption of the educational process by traumatized students, and the strategies needed to address this challenge, will be the focus of a future post.

The canary is not yet dead, but if it dies, America, as white advantaged America thinks it to be, will die soon after, overcome by its suffocating blanket of privilege.

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