My kids are upstairs pretending to learn. My wife and I know they aren’t engaged. Their teachers range from earnest to weird. The most challenging parts of their curriculum also seem to be the parts where they get the least direct instruction (and where we as parents feel the least energetic about teaching).
And, with that as my backdrop, I so damn tired of seeing headlines about the remote learning “disaster” and the resulting stress parents face.
Times are difficult for children and families, especially those already at the margins, or those with exceptional needs. Got it.
Tell us something we don’t know.
Which is why I get life from stories like this one from Tina Rosenberg (co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network) about two programs that highlight a way of helping parents and students stand their tallest during a tough time.
The first program, Philadelphia-based Springboard Collaborative, prepares and supports parents to be literacy warriors for their children. This is important because experts worry students who are losing classroom instruction will fall behind in reading, and that will affect other areas of their learning.
Whereas educational paternalism has too often attempted to educate children in spite of their parents, Springboard starts with the child’s first teacher as the most key ally.
The second program couldn’t be farther from Philly, but it may be more compelling because of the challenge it addresses. Young 1ove in Botswana, Africa, as you will see from this blurb below, examples exactly the ingenuity we need to address the toughest social and educational problems.
In Botswana, on March 18, the government announced it was closing schools. Over the next 72 hours, an organization called Young 1ove (that’s “love” with a numeral 1 instead of a letter “l,” as in “one love”) that works with the Ministry of Basic Education scrambled to collect phone numbers from students in third, fourth and fifth grades all over the country. Young 1ove’s staff ended up with 7,550 phone numbers — and no plan for what to do with them.
They knew that whatever they did would use phones. The vast majority of Botswanans have no access to the internet, no computer, no smartphone. But most households do have basic mobile phones.
Kids could get classes on Botswana TV and radio while at home. But many students quickly gave them up, or never started. “They think the teachers are too fast for them,” said Marea Bathuleng, whose children are 9 and 10.
Seeing their children struggle was a shock for many parents. “Parents didn’t really know the progress of the student,” said Ms. Tlhalerwa. “But when they realized the student couldn’t do addition, they became hands-on.”
The program’s biggest challenge is that cell coverage in rural areas is spotty or nonexistent. Edith Morena, a facilitator, said that another issue was parental patience. “They scold the students if they can’t get what they were supposed to do. Many said they can’t watch the students struggle with something as easy as adding problems.”
“A third of the students in grade five can’t do subtraction,” said Noam Angrist, an American who co-founded Young 1ove along with Moitshepi Matsheng, who leads the government’s National Youth Council. “And that was before schools closed. Now they’re learning almost nothing. They could be losing learning. A small intervention makes a big difference.”
Mr. Angrist, Ms. Matsheng and other researchers found that after four weeks, participants substantially improved their math skills — the group that could do no math at all was cut in half. At that point, Young 1ove began sending students problems keyed to their level, so further gains could be larger.
“Schools everywhere talk about remote education on the internet and Zoom, but didn’t have the mind-set that it could actually be done through SMS and phone calls,” Ms. Tlhalerwa said, referring to text messages. “This is very cheap, and we can reach out to everyone, even in remote areas. As much as the pandemic has brought a lot of negativity, it also brought something new.”
I often wonder why the global poverty-fighting community find so many novel ways to educate children in the poorest countries, while here in America, where obesity reigns supreme, we can’t seem to get our pants on each morning.
On a final note, as headline writers dramatize and politicize the remote learning challenges nonwhite poor kids are facing, and they insinuate we are virtually hopeless until government schools reopen, there are some culturally-affirming, FUBU-styled innovations on the horizon.
The most promising I’ve seen so far is Recontruction.us, an “unapologetically Black” platform that offers African-American families a “personal, world-class education at home.”
We also have to push officials who lord over public resources to support a new continuum of learning opportunities for children besides reopening schools that weren’t great before the pandemic. In this lane we need action to create smaller, more viable learning opportunities for a variety of students.
In a world where headlines tell we’re doomed until government saves us, I prefer to listen to Rosenberg, Springboard, Young 1ove, and Reconstruction. It’s not that I underestimate the magnitude of our challenges. Obviously, the abrupt curtailing of government schooling is letting us down. We’re swamped as parents.
That said, what’s better, whining or winning?
Forget your kids, schools and their staff are what matter most
So many of you parents are selfishly focusing on whether your children will get an education during this global pandemic. Have you forgotten the bigger issues facing us?
For one, do you even consider the incredible difficulty public schools and their public employees are facing?
I think you need reminding and I found just the people to help. Deb Henton is executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators and Kirk Schneidawind is executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association. Together they’ve written a piece for the Star Tribune saying “now, more than ever, public schools need all of us to stand with them, regardless of where we sit on the political spectrum.”
Sounds kinda authoritarian for my tastes, but who am I but a taxpayer.
The they go heavy on offering us a history lesson to make their case:
Public schools have been in our country longer than we’ve been the United States of America. The first free public school opened in Boston in 1635. Some colonies created laws requiring schools for towns of a certain size, but early efforts were sporadic and disjointed.
Yes, the first “public” school in America, Boston Latin, is also the oldest still in operation. It was exclusively for boys only until 1972, and today it’s the model of everything progressive public school supporters say a school should be.
Just kidding. It’s the opposite of that. It doesn’t take “all-comers” as the public school boosters like to say their prized schools do. In fact, it admits students on the basis of high-stakes standardized test scores in the way that the boosters claim private schools and charters do. Even worse, to up their chances of getting their children in, parents seek out test prep programs. Remember, test prep is bad. Except when the affluent do it.
All of that is kinda funny for America’s most long-standing model of “public” education, is it not?
Back to the history lesson from the Strib writers:
“Framers of the Constitution believed in public education for all children. Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had vastly different political views, but they shared a belief that publicly funded public schools were a cornerstone of our democracy. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams.”
Good stuff here. I wonder why they didn’t add the part about Thomas Jefferson – Mr. Cornerstone of Democracy – also saying this:
“I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. … This unfortunate difference of color, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.”
He also said Blacks were biologically predisposed to smell bad, have sex without passion, endure suffering more eagerly, being cognitively incapable of sensing danger, and “in reason much inferior…in imagination … dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”
Continuing with our public school officials:
Horace Mann is credited with developing a more coherent system of public schooling in the 1800s. While many did not agree with him, his six principles for public schools prevailed: 1) The public should not remain ignorant; 2) public education should be paid for, controlled and sustained by an interested public; 3) such education will be best provided in schools that are inclusive of children from all backgrounds; 4) this education must be nonsectarian; 5) this education must be taught by the spirit, methods and discipline of a free society; and 6) this education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.
Is this a bad time to mention that Mann, the father of public education, homeschooled his three kids while lecturing everyone else about the virtues of public education (thus, starting the trend of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do fauxgressivism)?
And, getting to the point of this emotive missive, they say:
This is not the first time a curve ball has been thrown at our public schools. Our schools have weathered world wars, past epidemics and natural disasters. They are creative, responsive and — most important — open to every single student who comes knocking.
We need our public schools, and they need us. Strong public schools truly do make strong communities. It will take all of us, whether through words or deeds, to support our public schools in these trying times. Public schools are the great equalizer, the hub of our communities, there for us in good times and in bad. Working together, we can keep our public schools strong — so when this crisis ends, they will still be there, ready for whatever comes next.
The jist? Ask not what your nearly $800 billion in education spending can do for your kids, but what your kids’ per pupil income can do for the pensions, positions, and programs of the system that has failed them for decades.
That said, this isn’t a call to be misanthropic, to do away with care about the common good, or to break down the need for social interdependence that makes us a country. My being flip here isn’t an endorsement of virtuous selfishness, but a call for parental reason in the face of appeals from the state to deprioritize your first duties.
As intelligent beings commissioned by God to be immovable guardians of your children’s best interests, you should know that it’s strong families, not schools, that make for strong communities and a strong nation. And you can only be a strong family if you attend without fail to the unique needs of your kids, not the gross politics of public employees who are forever vested in their public education boondoggle.
Inga Cotton: Putting parents in power!
Inga Cotton (@SACharterMoms) has brought new life to the idea of parent advocacy by using practical information about local schools as a way of influencing the educational choices families make. Knowing from her own experience that the needs of children can vary widely from home to home, Inga has made it her mission to help others find the best possible learning conditions – whether that is public, private, or home schooling.
Starting in 2012, Inga launched a mom blog to explain her journey and help others. Today that blog has grown in to a successful nonprofit – San Antonio Charter Moms – that has a robust website and an amazing app for finding schools.
She joined our Education Is Power broadcast to discuss work with us!
Here is the podcast:
and here we are on YouTube!
I don’t think calling me ‘Uncle Tom’ means what you think it does?
Last week, spurred by a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog, I wrote about the unproductive narrative developing among traditional education boosters who are stoking fear about the supposed evil conspiracies behind online learning, ed-tech, and nontraditional education. COVID-19 is forcing on millions families, students, and educators to adapt quickly to a “new normal,” and it seems to me the usual debates about school reform are entirely bootless now.
Perhaps my arrow shot at those I see as public-schools-or-bust “cultists” inspired a retort from a retired teacher in California wrote a piece that placed me, my colleagues, and our network of parents and educators into an elaborate billionaire conspiracy to ruin an faultless public education system, staffed with indisputably virtuous and effective teachers and stocked with excellent pedagogical capacities, that works equally well for everyone regardless of class, race, or history.
The teacher, Tom Ultican, shared his post through Twitter and tagged members of Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education who breathlessly crowed over his shoddy work. To make it saucy he added this: “Uncle Tom Stewart spews neoliberal billionaire ideology and hate for public schools at Bloomberg’s Project Propaganda.”
None of the tagged co-signers said anything about the fact that Ultican, a white male who is presumably educated enough to teaching high school students, should have attended enough cultural competence trainings in his career to understand using the Uncle Tom slur against any black person is morally subterranean.
It’s weird that these are the people we must battle to gain the freedom to learn for our kids. TheUtlican’s, Ravitch’s, and their racially redundant network of age-similar and privileged peddlers of an overly precious nostalgia about their public schools. As people demanding reform, change, and choice, we threaten their beloved system, and that pushes them to lazily bypass the dignity of reasoned exchange, and, instead, slide into the expediency of stereotyping.
When we disagree with their old-school labor theology they marginalize, discount, and attempt to cancel us. They pull our 990’s, misread them, and attack our funders, our salaries, and our contracts. They ask to speak to the manager and try to get us fired (Karen is alive and well in education and her phone is already on 5G). They bird-dog superintendents, harass school board members, and attack even the most gentle reform-positive participants in Facebook groups.
And, the only people of color they celebrate are those who read all the red letters in the teachers’ union hymnal. For those of us claiming the promise public education is a check that keeps returning to us for “insufficient funds,” Ravitchins reserve their most backward tropes that include the greedy pimp, the shameless sellout, the uppity negro, the coonish minstrel, or an illicit combination of all those anti-black figments of the white imagination.
I’d prefer they just call us niggers and move on.
When Ultican calls me an “Uncle Tom” I forgive him for making my African ancestry an issue in his disagreement. I can’t forgive him as an educator for attempting to use Uncle Tom as a slur when in fact he means Sambo, the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic book Uncle Tom’s Cabin who beat Tom to death when his “master” demanded he do so.
In a comment on Ravitch’s blog he responded to exposing his racism with this:
I am sorry to have hurt your feelings but I don’t see how labeling you an Uncle Tom is racist. Uncle Tom is the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He is seen variously as a ground-breaking humanistic African-American slave, one who uses non-resistance and gives his life to protect others who have escaped from slavery and as being inappropriately subservient to white slaveholders. This is how Uncle Tom became a derogatory epithet for an exceedingly subservient person, particularly one aware of their own lower-class status based on race.
This incoherent and ahistorical rebuttal is supposed to spare him. It doesn’t. It alarms the part of me that wants teachers before my kids who posses a stronger command of history and its classic texts. In my view, true educators should be better than this. They should continuously educate through their engagement in and out of classrooms. Their publicly shared “analysis” should make people smarter, more informed, better able to critically consider the life they live and to grow intellectually.
Are we to believe that when Ultican called me “Uncle Tom Stewart” and claimed that I’m working for the white masters, he really meant to call me a “ground-breaking humanistic African-American slave” – like that’s somehow better? Should we assume he meant to compare me to Rev. Josiah Henson, the pious and principled real life individual who inspired Stowe’s character Tom and the noble character in her story who preferred to lose his life at the end of a slaver’s whip rather than turn in two enslaved black women, who had escaped from the plantation, as Stowe’s story says?
If so, fine. The real Uncle Tom would have probably agreed with me when I say our families should decide when, where, and how our children learn (and this includes families using public funding to educate their children).
He would probably agree that historically marginalized people have a longstanding special interest in self-determining what constitutes an education for our children, and we have every right to seek alternatives to the public schools that have harmed them over generations. Any proposal that limits families to inferior educational opportunities or blocks marginalized families from nontraditional schools is a nonstarter for me.
History’s real Uncle Tom, said this about his life’s purpose: “One absorbing purpose occupied my soul – to gain freedom, self-assertion, and deliverance from the cruel caprices and fortunes of dissolute tyrants.”
I’ll abide by that wonderful and inspiring mission regardless of how many night-riding overseers and Sambos the public education plantation send to collect me.
We can disagree on the best way for black families to educate their children. What you’re not going to do is discount my advocacy with racial slurs.
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