Walking into a Barnes & Noble recently I came across a copy of The Nation Magazine. I was immediately drawn to the cover’s top section. “Bernies A+ Education Plan” it read. Its author, Nikhil Goyal, is currently a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and a frequent guest on the biggest (and most liberal) news outlets.
Only a few pages long his piece ended with taking charter schools to task, the dirty capitalist for-profit entities that he says have long been “riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse.” The more than $4 billion forked over to these schools since 1994 he found morally repugnant, a clear breach of the public trust.
Other grave sins of the charter schools include: “lobbying to expand privately managed charters, closing public schools, imposing austerity measures, instituting so-called merit pay for teachers, and undermining teachers’ unions.”
What makes Sanders a noble hero according to Goyal is the former’s declaration to ban for-profit charter schools and “place a moratorium on federal aid for charter expansion until the government conducts a nationwide audit.”
I’m not buying any of it and here’s why:
School Choice: Why Should Only the Wealthy Be Allowed to Choose? : one of the biggest considerations behind any move is the quality of the school system. Moneyed folks can come and go as they please, setting up shop wherever they will be best served economically, educationally and otherwise. It is common sense, really.
Low-income folks do not have that opportunity. Why does the professional political class and the entrenched establishment educational class insist that low income minorities be okay with sending their children to failing local schools? Is the whole system a crude jobs project, allowing otherwise untalented suburbanites to earn a lifelong career complete with the best of benefits and other nice perks?
Heck, if I was hip to the horrible school zoning death sentence of my small city growing up I would have definitely chose an alternative to my crumbling public high school. So would many of my friends and peers.
My No School Choice Experience:
When I attended an inner city school during my Junior year of high school I remember telling my Spanish teacher where I was from. In response, shaking his head in slight disapproval, he immediately said,
“…Yeah, there’s only one high school there…”
I never understood the gravity of his comment then.
But, today, with greater knowledge of the systems’ machinations, an even deeper understanding of the politicized educational structure, not to mention the almost permanent nature of America’s class and economic hierarchy, I can now appreciate his observation.
To an alarming degree, all three of these aforementioned factors were present in my town’s single failing high school.
The wealthy, college educated professional class lived in the wealthier part of my town by the ocean. The poor minorities lived in a handful of neighborhoods. My part of town was overwhelmingly minority. Our schools, no doubt, followed a similar pattern.
The high school, interestingly, was an odd mixture of everything but the nature of the school’s academics was still divided along the same racial, class, and neighborhood lines. You knew who was who and where they were from simply by looking at them. AP classes, honors level classes, academic, basic, and remedial were the varying layers of the school’s stratified structure.
Nothing about the school then, and now, served to challenge these invisible prison bars. If you were at the bottom you got taught and treated as such:
“this kid’s not going anywhere…why bother getting him to understand fine literature…let him use his phone, or worse, punish him by publicly ridiculing him…”
My own “guidance” counselor held me to such denigrating standards. I remember returning to my high school to complete my Senior year and she had absolutely no interest in helping me forge a successful final year, let alone a solid post-high school career trajectory. Academically, I was a bad student, sure, wallowing with the rest of the kids in my neighborhood who simply weren’t cut out as “college material.”
Never mind that I would later, by an act of God I must emphatically state, go on to graduate from college with honors.
Still, the school industrial complex doesn’t have the time, nor the personnel available, to help students with finding their path in life–academic-related or not. It only has time for the conformist, goody-too-shoo types with parents involved enough to hold these folks accountable.
I look back in utter disgust when I think of the many kids in my neighborhood who were utterly failed by these so-called expert educators. You have these kids running in circles, taking hundreds of classes to memorize facts and take silly exams, graduate them every passing year, and they come out functionally illiterate?
“Oh, we know what is best for Juan and Julio. Certainly Tyrone is better left for us to tinker with…”
My educational experience, looking back, felt like a horrible social scientific experiment gone wrong:
Round up all the poor black and brown kids from fatherless homes, send them to a brick building for eight hours a day to be babysat by white suburban mothers with whom they share no cultural, racial, social, religious bond, keep them there for 12 years as they barely learn anything, release them at 18 years for a world they never even got an iota of an understanding of as they were so far removed from it, and then hold them to the same level of competence, education and understanding as their more affluent peers on the other side of the tracks who did in fact have the all of the social, economic, and class privileges at their disposal and see what happens in the next five years and one to two generations later…
This was my town, my neighborhood, my inescapable lot in life upon “graduation.”
Indeed, such is the present reality in many parts of urban America: failed minority kids wondering what the heck happened, incapable of understanding what happened to them, their community, and their “education.”
The place they went to learn for the past 18 years did, as measured by career prospects and income level, virtually nothing. Meanwhile, the “other kids” from the other part of town seem to being doing quite well.
SCHOOL CHOICE IS NEEDED NOW, NOT LATER: it doesn’t take an institutionalized building to grant educational ascendance; it takes wise people who see the need to help out the younger and the less advantaged. I am of the opinion that illuminating conversations with an older, wiser, more educated adult can do more for a student than 18 years of a mediocre needless education. It’s called Mentorship; it’s been around for a while.
Instead of the insistence that students be housed for eight hours a day like cattle how about encouraging real world involvement with the people, sights, sounds, and things around them? How many more students today would benefit from such a hands-on experience? Better to be trained for a job, illuminated for an idea that later turns into a thriving career, than overeducated with theories of no practical utility.
Again, I speak for the world that I come from–urban America. Complicated theories, the Western Canon, you name it, is fine and all, if the student shows interest and career aspirations for such knowledge. My goodness, it is only one click away. The problem is not information. It is finding a way to facilitate experiences that make the lightbulb go off, that ignite the fire for true lifelong learning, the types of interactions that leave lasting impressions…..
WE Learn through Imitation: how did the great writers of the past learn the craft? Imitation. Refined manners, artistic talent, musical ingenuity, athletic prowess, social graciousness–it comes down to observation and imitation. Doing, not reading. Practicing, not regurgitating, daring to think and act, not being told what to do, when, and how. The poor peasant boy who ascends to the throne–does playing by the rules and being dictated to open up such an opportunity? Of course not.
The best way to put it is how one genius I admire put it: Dare to “be the writer of your own script, not the actor in somebody else’s play!”
Mandating that the poorest and most vulnerable be content with attending failing public schools that do more to extend adolescence, perpetuate the same economic, racial, and class divisions is a glaring example of what top-down control begets: more top-down control.
In the face of stats proving parental acceptance, outstanding student performance, social and economic mobility, school choice – and all of its entrepreneurial, free-marketed underpinnings – is needed most by the world I come from without question.
I just think we need to think outside of the box, literally and metaphorically. We need to come up with ways to personalize education outside of its rigid antiquated academic structure and involve students with all of the modern wonders and complexities of life.
When I think of school choice, my idealistic sensibilities think of complete freedom and customization. One day you sit for a lecture, the other you travel, the next you apprentice somewhere.
Mass confusion and pandemonium, right?
That’s life. Why not make education as most lifelike as possible with all the unpredictability, risk-taking, and danger it throws at us each and every day? Why not embrace this inevitable fact of life from an earlier age? We stubbornly become realists only after stubbornly denying fundamental facets of life and human nature.
Again, establishment educators need not consider what I speak of. These are my ramblings, after all. But even in this I think my thoughts are touching on something real and profound, hidden deep in every human heart and imagination–that is, our longing for raw, unencumbered freedom to do and be.
The machinations of corporate life is slowly finding an alternative; the drudgery of industrial schooling is likewise being challenged at the core.
Being exposed and competition that makes one unnecessary is what keeps the gatekeepers up at night.
Politicians certainly have to cater to their base. That is all Bernie is doing with his tough education talk. He knows who will support him. The guy could care less about “educational equality.” He’s had his day, made his money, gained significant power, raised his kids and told them the truth on how things work. What he’s doing and saying is not surprising.
HE’S A POLITICIAN.
The implications of what he speaks on and promises are the tangible things he and his co will never truly understand the impact of. As he appeals to more and more young people with his other ambitious educational goal of forgiving student loan debt, these are among the things that make “Crazy Bernie” a bit more difficult to write off.