Sunday, September 04, 2011

My Grandmother and Yours, Or Why We Must Take School Reform Personally

Replying to Ravitch's email in which she called for greater civility, RiShawn Biddle sent this powerful, intensely personal essay, which concludes:


For me, this isn't just some bloodless public policy discussion. The young men and women being condemned to poverty and prison look just like I did when I was a child. They look just like my grandmother in her youth. They look like my nephew, my niece and my young cousins — and the children my wife and I will have one day.  These are kids who are told every day, in word and deed, by teachers and principals who don't belong in schools, that they can never amount to anything. And I am incensed every time I consider how hard it is even for middle-class black and Latino families such as mine to ensure that our children are taught by high-quality teachers and get rigorous, college preparatory curricula — and furious when I think about kids in the poorest communities who are forced to attend failure factories because many of us continue to defend a failed, amoral vision.

And it is personal because each day, I listen to men and women, who look just like my grandmother looked as a young parent, who struggle each and every day with principals who ignore them, laggard teachers who condescend them, and adults all around more concerned with preserving influence than with helping their children succeed. After listening to their stories — and listening to those of their children — there is no way to not take this personally.

This writer isn't just pulling this out of the air. Martin Luther King was as willing to challenge segregationists publicly and by name as he was willing to play nice. The Founding Fathers were among the sharpest-tongued men that ever lived, challenging an actual monarch. As with every movement in the past, there will be a need to have harsh, hard, conversations in which we hold men and women accountable for defending ideas that are indefensible.

This doesn't mean going after the personal lives of people or calling people nasty names. When it comes to discussions in Congressional hearings and in public policy meetings, the bloodless language is quite appropriate. One should choose words carefully, not carelessly, and sometimes, say or write nothing at all. And should all shake hands and say hello, and even, be able to socialize on occasion, without rancor; we are civil human beings, not savages, and besides, you can't move people to your side if you call them out and behave like a boor all at the same time. But it does mean calling people on the carpet for the mismatch between their ideals and their practices, especially when they don't want to acknowledge it.

Certainly we must be thoughtful about our rhetoric. But, as Arthur Koestler would say, one should advocate furiously, ruthlessly, or don't bother. When 150 young men and women drop out each our into economic and social despair, the school reform movement has to take the waste of these lives personally — and offer rhetoric to match. Or, in short, think about your grandmother and about how every child looked like she once did.


My Grandmother and Yours, Or Why We Must Take School Reform Personally

By RiShawn Biddle
Aug. 13, 2011

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