Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The poverty-education myth (lie) that won't @#$%^&*( die: children can't achieve academic success because they are poor

It takes an entire village to raise a childImage: on the bulletin board at the entrance of the auditorium at Jefferson Junior High School, Washington, DC.

I am so f*ing tired of the myth touted by purported school reform efforts targeting teachers and unions whereby they argue that people who disagree with them believe that poor children can't learn.

That's such a f*ing lie that I almost can't see straight.

There's an example of the argument in today's Examiner, in the column by Jonetta Rose Barras, "Investing in Children."  The column, a good one, is about a book by former DC Councilmember Kevin Chavous, which provides 10 case studies of impoverished children who did get support and succeeded. 

Getting support is the f*ing point.

Not to ignore poverty, but to recognize and acknowledge it and respond with assistance, support, programming, etc., to the extent that it is needed, rather than to demonize the children or the teachers.

The current reform efforts focus on firing teachers and demonizing teachers rather than building systems that deliver support and programming in various ways, to: students; families; teachers; schools; and principals; and reforming the development process for new teachers so that they can succeed in trying circumstances (e.g., "To Train Teachers, a New Lesson Plan" from the Wall Street Journal).

When people challenge the prevailing approach to "educational reform," they are accused of believing that impoverished children can't learn. (It's not unlike the Jane Jacobs anecdote in Death and Life of Great American Cities, when people justify demolition of neighborhoods through urban renewal as a way "to get rid of the rats." She said, if you want to get rid of the rats, focus on that directly. You don't need to demolish neighborhoods to do it.)

From the column:

The stories debunk the popular myth that some children can't achieve academic success because of their socio-economic or familial circumstances. Ronnie certainly defied that fiction.

Ronnie and presumably all of the other children (now adults) highlighted in the book, got special attention, from other people in his/her family, other adults, and/or by teachers and other school personnel.

Virtually all of the examples of charter school success, like KIPP or Basis or the Harlem Children's Zone are in fact examples of recognizing the need for assistance and programming and providing it, in a systematic and structured approach rather than one-off fashion.

A systematic and structured approach helps all children.  One-off efforts assist a handful of children, while the others are ignored.

The f*ing point is to restructure schooling to acknowledge poverty and provide this kind of assistance in a structured and systematic fashion.

And you don't need charter schools to do it.  Although it is damning that for the most part, inner city school systems are unable to self-reform without an external stimulus.

P.S.  for the record, while I was seemingly middle class, I had a chaotic childhood until I was about 12 years old.  Schooling-learning-libraries-books were my refuges.  I was fortunate that I was intelligent and yes, that motivated some adults to make a special effort to help me.

(But one teacher resented it and frankly that terrible experience--because my cursive writing sucked she graded me down 1.5 to 2 grades on all my assignments--I still remember today although it was about 45 years ago.  Although maybe I should thank her for starting me on the path of learning how to think for myself.  I knew the answers weren't wrong and that the physical quality of the writing didn't matter all that much.)

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