"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Thursday, April 07, 2011

uncommonly misinformed

today, as i was preparing for a lunch-time interview with a charter school in New York, i discovered that said charter school organization is currently mis-appropriating the name of Horace Mann to perpetuate an idea of education he would have fundamentally opposed.

the charter organization says on their website (in their history section, no less!):
Playing on Horace Mann's notion of the "common school," and born of the fact that too many of today's educational institutions steer toward mediocrity, Uncommon was founded to create more uncommon schools - uncommonly good, extraordinary, autonomous, and distinctive.
Mann's idea of the common school was not common in the sense of "mediocre," but in the sense of community. Mann believed, and i agree, that the school should be a public space, that the school is central to community life and longevity. furthermore, and this is key, Mann maintained that the most important purpose of the school, the great purpose underlying the establishment of a public education system, was to strive for social harmony, through acting as "the great equalizer" of social inequalities and injustices. what makes this so ironic is that Mann believed, in order for schools to achieve this great social purpose, that schools should be sponsored and participated in by an interested public, and that this public interest in the education of its citizens would profoundly benefit both the educational system and society. this meant, in Mann's time, that the school system should be sustained, paid for and controlled by an interested public. Mann was, after all, known as the "father of American public education." this, however, is contrary to the practices of charter schools, who take public funds away from public school systems, put them toward schools where the teachers are not allowed to unionize, and students are plucked from the masses to constitute a "lucky" elite that will now have the chance to try for college educations.* all this in addition to undermining the public school systems, minimizing the problems of education to one of "mismanagement" and offering an alternative that supplants a longterm solution.

granted, i applaud the efforts of the charter school movements to create upward mobility among impoverished communities by giving them a track towards college educations, but i have to ask myself, when i read things like this, if 1) they are perhaps placing too much credo in the difference a college education will make. after all, more college graduates are finishing their degrees only to find themselves just as jobless as before, and higher education is increasingly undervalued and over-expected. 2) this reflects a problem i detect with lots of these education reform movements (cf. TFA): they seem to think that a lack of quality educational opportunities is the only problem plaguing an impoverished community (or, is it that it's the easiest problem to get recent college grads to commit to?) but everyone knows that poverty and lack of education and crime and etc. are SOCIETAL problems that need sweeping societal reforms in order to address. in a way, these problems are worsened when we delude ourselves into thinking that they are simple problems a few good teachers working in isolation can make go away. and certainly the process of devaluing and demonizing the public school system as a failed trap doesn't help matters, because how are we ever going to invest any care, attention and money into reforming our schools if we keep building new charter schools?

needless to say, i probably won't be working for them. because i don't have much confidence in our educational philosophies being aligned, for one, but also because they might find this before i have the chance to interview, in which case i think they'll know how i feel.

*is it just me, or is there something extremely weird and disturbing about randomly selecting a few students from a community to participate in a better education while others in the community get left behind. Blue Eyes versus Brown Eyes, anyone?

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