Friday, September 17, 2010

For Labor Day: School Should Be a Child’s First Job

Peter Meyer mostly disagrees with Pedro Noguera:

…I was looking forward to reading Pedro Noguera's New York Daily News essay from a few days ago, in part because Whitney Tilson said he "mostly" agreed with it.

I read it and mostly disagree. You don't have to know much about education to see the flaws in the veteran educator's arguments.  At the outset, his description of the two sides (always beware someone says there are two sides to an argument) in the "ongoing debate…about how to teach poor children" is a set-up. He characterizes one side (his) as arguing that

[W]e must address the wide variety of social issues (like poor health and nutrition, mobility, inadequate preparation for school, etc.) that tend to be associated with poverty.

Who is "we" and are they for solving poverty before or after creating a school?  It's a big part of the debate.

…What some of us have long known is that public schools were started mainly to educate the poor.  And the only reason poverty is a predictor of bad academic achievement results is that educators like Noguera have made it so.  Instead of schools as tools of liberation, we have made them into great houses of mirrors, reflecting back on students the environment they come from.

Perhaps the most troubling statement in Noguera's essay is this: "And schools alone – not even the very best schools – cannot erase the effects of poverty."

I'm not sure where he's been, but Noguera has not only missed the dozens of success stories – thousands, if you're counting just the kids who have entered school poor and emerged poor but educated and ready for college – from our growing charter school movement, but decades of success from inner city private schools like the ones run by Catholics.

I'm reminded of a real estate developer I met at a conference of urban planners I attended several years ago.  He was in his 70s and had been building low-income housing in poor neighborhoods for many of those years. "We used to think," he said that if we cleaned up the neighborhood and gave people a decent place to live, then the schools would improve.  I now realize that you have to fix the schools first."

Clearly, this is a more nuanced discussion than that quote – or Noguera's essay – suggests.  But until we recognize that education is education and that poverty is poverty, we're not going to fix our schools or enrich our population.

As Whitney Tilson writes, the danger of Noguera's argument, which, unfortunately, has been the winning one for most of the last fifty years, is that it is used "as an excuse for many schools' utter failure to set high standards and properly educate students."


For Labor Day: School Should Be a Child's First Job

By Peter Meyer 09/06/2010

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