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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Teaching in a New Paradigm

Teachers are going to have to come to the realization that we are teaching in a new paradigm. The calls for teachers to be accountable for their students' academic progress, regardless of where the students are in their intellectual abilities, regardless of how much home support the students have, regardless of the socio-economic environment in which the students live, are becoming more and more insistent.

We no longer control the narrative about schools. Our insistence that accountability must be a shared responsibility is being drowned out by those who insist that we show immediate and measurable results for our instruction. Any attempt to call attention to the myriad of other factors involved in the educational process of our students are dismissed as an attempt on our part to avoid responsibility for our actions.

The fact that students, particularly those in urban schools, fail to perform well academically is taken as being self-evident. And where there is failure, there must be blame. And since teachers are the ones who are most responsibile for education, they are responsible for the failure. Or so the current narrative goes.

I do find it curious that when educational and political pundits tell their stories about "failing schools" their examples are nearly always urban schools. Few tell tales about the "failure" of suburban or even rural schools. Inner-city students are the one's "Waiting for Superman" to come save their from being "crippled" by bad schools, burned out teachers, and those horrible teacher unions.

In other words, those students who lives are most crippled by poverty, crime, racism, and other forms of injustice, are the "victims" of public education.

The truth of the matter is that our students are victims of a systemic failure, a failure of our political and economic system to provide for them the means by which they can realize their full human potential. They not only are short-changed in their schools, they also are victimized by inadequate health care, unequal justice in the courts, poor housing, crumbling infrastructure, lack of job opportunities, and all the social ills that attend poverty like drugs, crime and violence.

Our students are burdened by our failure to realize the American promise of "justice for all." Any true solution to the problem of education must occur as a part of our broader attempt to realize true justice, not merely justice of opportunity, but geniune social justice, including justice of enablement and empowerment. If students have little prospect of a meaningful and dignified life after school, then how can we expect them to take advantage of the educational opportunites school provides?

The New Paradigm the United States of America needs to be promoting, the narrative all Americans need to be telling is story a fully nation where "justice for all" is more than a rote mantra said during The Pledge of Allegiance. Our story must be one of justice.

1 comment:

alex.montgomeryiii said...

Excellent comments. As a child of the public education system of the US I agree with everything you said. Growing up in Montgomery County MD public schools which crossed all soci-economics areas. That school systems is always in the top tier of school systems. I understand that being next to the seat of our governmnet helps( more money from people with higher salaries), they also have a very strong teachers union. The unions and the adminstration work together for the betterment of the students. Not perfect but it works. Public schools work if everyone is held accountable for thier actions. However accountability has become like a four letter word in recent time. (another topic I am sure) Keep up the great work Lynn.