Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fixing schools because we can't fix the real problems

Did you catch Charles Blow's piece in the weekend NY Times featuring this chart? The chart is aptly titled "Bottom of the Heap" and makes clear that when it comes to the concept of the "just society," the United States does not make the grade. The US ranks 27th among 31 developed nations in measures of intergenerational justice (poverty prevention, child poverty, senior citizen poverty, income inequality, pre-primary education and health rating). Our senior citizens are not at the bottom of the barrel (thank you, Medicare and Social Security), our health rating is higher than Mexico and the former Eastern Bloc countries (something to brag about?), and we spend nearly as much as Finland on pre-primary education (not as good as it sounds since we're still in the next to the last quintile), but the other ratings are truly terrible.

As I was studying this chart I was reminded that inequality is not born and nurtured in our schools; it is deeply woven into American society. It is created by adults and sustained by adults -- and it should be up to adults to talk openly and respectfully about what kind of social fabric we want to weave and wear. Instead we talk about equity vs. excellence (a false dichotomy if there ever was one) and ask that we fix what ails society through high quality schooling.

I am all for high quality schooling for all our children -- and we need to mobilize every person and every resource in that effort not because it solves inequality but because education is good -- for students, for communities, for economic interests. But I can't help but think that those who consider themselves "new reformers" of public schools are fixing schools because they just don't know how to fix any of our real societal problems.

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