It’s that time of year―fresh backpacks are being packed, new school clothes at the ready. It’s Back to School!
Yet, for many kids, there is a sense of dread. Not for the usual reasons like leaving the carefree summer days behind, but because their schools are not places of joy and learning. For too many kids in this country, school fails to be a place that inspires, ignites excitement about learning or to be a safe space. We all know about the great differences between wealthy suburban schools compared with cash-strapped “inner-city” schools.
None of this is new.
What continues to shock me is our lack of outrage about it. When people talk about the state of public schools they usually fall into one of two camps: resignation over the immensity of the problem or a blame-the-victim mentality. Both reactions are cop-outs.
What I believe has been missing in the school reform debate is not an expressed lack of desire for conditions to be better. What is missing is a conversation about the implicit and tacit reasons that we are committed to keeping things just as they are.
For example, we are committed to under-paying teachers and therefore not inspiring the best and brightest to purse teaching as a long-term career. We are committed to dramatic income inequality which do not set children up for success because their basic needs go unmet. We are committed to the mythology of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” instead of seeing ourselves as our brothers’ keeper. We are more committed to lavishing as much care, attention, advantage and resources on our own children rather than thinking of other people’s children as our children. We are deeply committed to the idea that if you are poor in America, it’s indicative of a personal failing rather than institutional racism and inequality in the system.
So, as we send our young people off to schools that are charged with making them better, more educated people, how many schools are living up to that responsibility? And why aren’t we all pissed off at how many fall far short of the mark?