Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apatheid Education in America

So recently returning from SA I thought I was beginning to have a handle on the depth and lasting impact of apartheid policies. But leave it to Jonathan Kozol to present a major paradigm shift.

Kozol is a huge advocate for connecting with students and sharing their narratives as pure witnesses to the public school system to impact policy and analysis. This is the first full length text I have read by him but I am already really taken with this approach. Too often in education policy it seems that those making recommendations and implementing new practices are removed from the day to day of public education in the US.

While I want to provide solid analysis of the text I would be remiss to not acknowledge my personal biases and initial reactions as well. It's frustrating to recognize that I have been buying into the narrative about America being segregated by class rather than race today. These statistics alone snapped me out of that glossed over perception:
"In the district that included P.S. 65, there were 11,000 children in the elementary schools and middle schools in 1997. Of these 11,000, only 25 were white, a segregation rate of 99.8%. Two tenths of one percentage point now marked the difference between legally enforced apartheid in the South of 1954 and the socially and economically enforced apartheid in this New York City neighborhood.

A certain level of cross-sectional analysis is absolutely required to understand the segregation of the public school system. There is also a strong connection across sectors and access to resources including but not limited to just education. Kozol highlights the severe impact of the lack of inter-racial social interactions. His work in the Bronx during the 80s also sheds some light on how a lack of access to healthcare and information created a rapid spread of HIV that affected many mothers and children.

Ronald Regan and I have never seen eye to eye on policy and he strikes again in Kozol's reflections, the social policy of the Regan Administration essentially reverted the progress that integrated public education had made in the previous decade. A Harvard Study comissioned as part of the Civil Rights Project notes that during the past 25 years "there has been no significant leadership towards the goal of creating a successfully integrated society built on integrated schools and neighborhoods"

It appears that it is local groups, faithbased or otherwise, that continue to work the hardest to create small opportunities for integration. For every well-intentioned effort on the local level, unfortunately, there seems to be efforts on the national level (federal policy, supreme court decisions, etc.) that are occurring without consideration for the impact of segregated schools. This trend does not exclude the latest waves of education reform. Kozol points out that the two largest educational innovation of the past 2 decades, standards-based reform and school choice, completely disregard the impact of racial segregation.

While this initial insight presents more questions than answers, I'm optimistic about Kozol's perspective gained through first hand research in schools around the country.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The reality of budget cuts

As many of you know I've been working with a group of students from around Boston to advocate for full funding to programs like AmeriCorps, CityYear, and TFA that are in danger of major cuts. These programs are so important now more than ever, they provide opportunity for young people to serve their communities and have a profound impact on underserved children across the country. I came across this article today and was reminded how vital it is that we ensure state level funding for education and mentoring programs as well

Here's an excerpt;

"The cuts in education will disproportionately hurt those Pennsylvanians who can least afford it. Basic education cuts mean the lower and middle classes would either bear the brunt of local property tax increases or suffer a lower quality education due to underfunded public schools.

The reductions in higher education would make a college education much less affordable to all and would put it completely out of reach for many. Those with substantial wealth will be least affected because they can afford to send their children to private schools.

America has always stood for opportunity. That opportunity has been based on broad access to a good-quality education as a means for individuals to work hard and to improve their circumstances. Corbett’s budget is a direct attack on this fundamental American principle. His approach moves the United States toward a society with fixed economic classes and threatens to destroy the American way of life".

Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2011/03/16/2585311/corbett-attacking-american-ideal.html#ixzz1GlmBz7Z9

interesting how strong the 'American Dream' ideology is...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Resilence and optimism in South Africa

Just returned from 10 days in the beautiful country of South Africa and my head is spinning! It's hard to believe that I could feel so at home half way around the world. Of course being able to make art and work with beautiful preschoolers creates a nice comfort zone but there was more to it than that. One of the most refreshing things I found in SA was the recognition that democracy is an imperfect work in progress. While we proudly promote our democratic structure in the US, we are miles away from the thoughtful reflection shared in SA. The dialogue is more open, and there is a stronger will to admit mistakes of the past and work for change. Of course I'm always the idealistic one here but the hope and transformation was palpable, even when we were working in the townships where resources and opportunity are hard to come by.

I had the chance to speak to many people about access to education. One powerful conversation was with Dorothy Garcia, one of the directors of ArtAidsArt. She has been working in Khayelitscha for 12 years now. She shared how the dialogue and perspective about education has shifted. While access to education is still barred by school fees, uniform fees, transportation expenses, etc. conversation in the township has shifted. The women we worked with expressed a strong desire for their daughters to become lawyers, teachers, and the first female President of South Africa. While the barriers to opportunity, economic mobility, and education are still significant, this noticeable shift in perception is promising. It reflects a shifting set of priorities and a concerted effort to provide a better future.

As my research about the myth of the American Dream has indicated, a vision of mobility is not always a reality. Regardless, culture has a huge impact on policy and development priorities. The optimism of moms and children alike in South Africa should inspire all of us to evaluate the profound opportunity that comes with access to education.