Anti-intellectualism Is Killing America

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Reposted from Psychology Today:

America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

In considering the senseless loss of nine lives in Charleston, of course racism jumps out as the main issue. But isn’t ignorance at the root of racism? And it’s true that the bloodshed is a reflection of America’s violent, gun-crazed culture, but it is only our aversion to reason as a society that has allowed violence to define the culture. Rational public policy, including policies that allow reasonable restraints on gun access, simply isn’t possible without an informed, engaged, and rationally thinking public.

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Teens, Tech & Racism

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Reposted from USA Today:

The most racially diverse generation in American history works hard to see race as just another attribute, no more important than the cut of a friend’s clothes or the music she likes. But the real world keeps intruding, as it has the past few weeks with angry protests over the racially charged deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in nearby Staten Island, N.Y. “As a generation, we don’t acknowledge color, but we know that the race problem is still there,” says 16-year-old Nailah Richards, an African-American student at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn. “We don’t really pay attention to it, but we know it’s there.” Nailah is one of the Millennials, the 87 million Americans born between 1982 and 2001. They are defined by opinion surveys as racially open-minded and struggling to be “post-racial.”

Many young people still see the USA’s intractable problems as rooted in race. In a May 2012 report, Race Forward: the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that “a large majority” of young people in the Los Angeles area believed race and racism still mattered significantly — particularly as they relate to education, criminal justice and employment. In follow-up sessions in five cities in early 2012, the center found that “racial justice” was the most significant interest among young people. “Do I feel like I live in a post-racial society?” asks Izabelle. “Not at all. Not at all.” The borders of school districts often produce segregated schools as a byproduct of neighborhood segregation, and students are placed in classrooms and on academic tracks based on test scores that often correlate with socioeconomic status.

Social divisions, including racial divisions, “are not disappearing simply because people have access to technology,” researcher Danah Boyd says. “Tools that enable communication do not sweep away distrust, hatred and prejudice.” The mere existence of new technology “neither creates nor magically solves cultural problems. In fact, their construction typically reinforces existing social divisions.” For instance, when she sat down to look at the Facebook profile of a white 17-year-old girl at a private East Coast high school, boyd found that though her school recruited students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, most of those who had left comments on the student’s profile were white. “Teens go online to hang out with their friends,” she wrote, “and given the segregation of American society, their friends are quite likely to be of the same race, class, and cultural background.”

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Is Free & Equitable “Public” Education a Myth?

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Reposted from Salon:

The gap in the mathematical abilities of American kids, by income, is one of widest among the 65 countries participating in the Program for International Student Achievement. On their reading skills, children from high-income families score 110 points higher, on average, than those from poor families. This is about the same disparity that exists between average test scores in the United States as a whole and Tunisia. The achievement gap between poor kids and wealthy kids isn’t mainly about race. In fact, the racial achievement gap has been narrowing. It’s a reflection of the nation’s widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed, and the nation’s increasing residential segregation by income.

As we segregate by income into different communities, schools in lower-income areas have fewer resources than ever. The result is widening disparities in funding per pupil, to the direct disadvantage of poor kids. The wealthiest highest-spending districts are now providing about twice as much funding per student as are the lowest-spending districts, according to a federal advisory commission report. In some states, such as California, the ratio is more than three to one. What are called a “public schools” in many of America’s wealthy communities aren’t really “public” at all. In effect, they’re private schools, whose tuition is hidden away in the purchase price of upscale homes there, and in the corresponding property taxes.

Rather than pay extra taxes that would go to poorer districts, many parents in upscale communities have quietly shifted their financial support to tax-deductible “parent’s foundations” designed to enhance their own schools. About 12 percent of the more than 14,000 school districts across America are funded in part by such foundations. They’re paying for everything from a new school auditorium (Bowie, Maryland) to a high-tech weather station and language-arts program (Newton, MA). “Parents’ foundations,” observed the Wall Street Journal, “are visible evidence of parents’ efforts to reconnect their money to their kids.” And not, it should have been noted, to kids in another community, who are likely to be poorer.

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Better Schools for a Better Society

TNTP New Orleans

Reposted from the TNTP Blog:

We come to our work at TNTP with the belief that schools can and must be a powerful lever of change in this country. We know how much of a difference schools can make in the lives of children, especially children living in poverty. I know it because I’ve lived it personally, growing up as the child of immigrants in California. That’s why we do what we do.

But as we’ve been reminded all too frequently these days, improving schools alone is not enough. Those of us working for better schools aren’t doing so as an end in itself. We are not naïve enough to think that a better education alone for kids of color is going to bring equity and justice. My friend Bryonn Bain, a fellow Columbia graduate, has written about the different rules men of color live by every day. Like Bain, we know that an education does not guarantee you will be afforded equal rights. That is why we see our work as part of a larger effort to promote opportunity, equality, justice and democracy. As long as these injustices continue, and wherever communities are torn apart by mistrust and lives are lost, then this larger effort is failing too. We all have so much more work to do.

And so we can’t stay silent when we see other institutions in this country sending the message that some lives matter less than others. The right response to institutional indifference of any kind—in our education system, our justice system, or in any other institution that is supposed to serve and protect us as citizens—is outrage. Outrage, and a call to action: We need the Justice Department to investigate and right these miscarriages of justice. We need to change how our law enforcement officers are trained and the cultures they work in. We need to examine the legal standards for the use of force. And we need to continue the national dialogue that’s been sparked by these events, about the very real consequences of racism and inequality in the lives of so many Americans. These may not be “education issues” per se, but for all of us who work to build a more just, more equal nation, they are our issues.

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Seriously, Why Are You Still In Education?

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This past week I shared “The Silence of Education Reformers on Ferguson is Deafening” on my blog, Actualization. In this piece, Rishawn Biddle provides insight I don’t have, and it’s kept me thinking throughout Thanksgiving weekend. The issues are ours for the advocating: poverty, equity, access, opportunity. Why are our reform voices not being heard above the clamor and strife of recent events? Not that it’s pleasant or easy. No one relishes staring down racism, confronting poverty and calling out injustice. But this is the cancer eating away at society. Either we fight it aggressively or accept a terminal diagnosis.

To beat it, we need a new kind of leadership in education; educators who have a seriousness of mind and commitment of purpose to push the profession past where it’s stuck. Not the ed-celebrities currently beating their drums in the name of education reform; they are neither leaders nor reformers. Their primary interest is self-interest…keeping their following coming back for more. Sure they are willing to rabble rouse against popular targets like government policy and state spending. But where are their calls to take down poverty, instead of politicians and programs? The reality is they have no incentive to speak up on behalf of society’s powerless and disenfranchised.

You and I, on the other hand, are invested in people: children, parents, extended families, communities and countries. We got into this profession to touch individual lives and to touch the future. We believe in making a difference, not just by what we say but by what we do. It’s time to take this to the next level and expand teacher roles. Meet students on their turf instead of waiting for them to come to us. Work with community agencies to provide for children’s needs. Make a difference before they ever enter the classroom.

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If our current leaders are silent on race, poverty and injustice, where are they leading us…and is it where we want to go? This is our mission in today’s quickly-changing world: preparing successive generations for a future they can’t see and we won’t know. Our efforts to accomplish this in a culture of fear, ignorance, poverty and hatred have been, and will continue to be, less than successful.

Within education, issues like standards, assessment, achievement, technology and funding can be defined and addressed. But the challenges of the society we serve are deep-seated and not so easily contained. They require the kind of faith in humanity that got us into education in the first place. Here’s what we can do:

  • Speak up and be heard on the issue of poverty and how it permeates every major challenge we face in education and in society.
  • Support one another in addressing poverty in our schools so that all children can learn and be successful.
  • Upgrade our schools to be centers of hope in every community, no matter where students and families come from or how well-prepared they are to walk into our classrooms.

The past year, a group of committed New York educator-leaders initiated a statewide conversation on poverty, with tremendous interest and participation by empire state educators. I have watched first-hand as they’ve brought educators together to immerse them in simulations, share experiences and insights, and identify strategies that help children from poverty succeed. If these educator-leaders can make this happen in a state weighed down in bureaucracy and politics, surely the rest of us can, too.

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What if we craft one national agenda, without all the politics and prejudice, where everyone cares and contributes, and all the fears and excuses and labels and cop-outs are eradicated instead of people’s hopes and dreams, so that the only thing no longer tolerated is intolerance? We’ll need to leave our fears and frustrations behind and devote our energy to deeper thinking and courageous action to make it happen.

There are no curricula, tests, technologies or instructional innovations that can accomplish this. There are no ed-celebs or politician-reformers who can do the work for us. And there are all kinds of forces working against us, most notably racism, fear and ignorance. If these facts are all you need to know to walk away, then walk. Seriously, why are you still in education? On the other hand, if you know in your heart that nothing is going to get better until you step up, then we need you to lead from wherever you find yourself in your current position.

A month ago there was a huge outcry from educators reacting to a Time magazine story on “the war on teacher tenure” including a cover image of a gavel coming down on a perceived “rotten apple.” Anger and indignation flowed for weeks about the disrespect the magazine showed our profession….all directed at a story written to sell copies. Are we that conditioned by the media that we believe that anything that is said, good or bad, deserves our energy and attention? The story was inconsequential: those who agreed with what it had to say had formed their opinions long before they began reading, and those who know better weren’t swayed.

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Let’s get real. If we focus that kind of passion on the fight against racism, poverty and injustice, Time and everyone else will stop and take notice. The only people worthy of our time and energy are those who roll up their sleeves and work with us. And the more people who join us us in our mission, the more influence and capacity we will have to make change. Can we make it happen? Is it within us? I believe it is. Can we afford to fail?

The challenges we face are not insurmountable. These social conflicts and divides have been put in place fairly recently in history. We have the wherewithal to level the landscape and build new pathways and connections, understanding that there are no shortcuts. It’s going to be messy and it’s going to be hard, but we can do this. We must do this, for children everywhere.

The work begins with open, honest dialog; our voices resonating with those who live in poverty and despair. And from that dialog, we can begin isolating and destroying the pathologies that have allowed this societal cancer to become so pervasive and so resistant to treatment. Access. Equity. Opportunity. We have to get started.

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