Monday, August 24, 2015

Daddy Knows Best: From Hurricane Katrina to Your Neighborhood School

Paternalism is an ideal that is historically ingrained in the fabric of our great country. Most often, it was used to justify slavery. In this view, slaves were lowly beings that were not intelligent enough to care for themselves, understand higher reasoning or logic. Therefore, slave masters were essentially saving their lives by providing them with food, shelter, religion, and in return, slaves offered their liberty, bodies, safety, and children.

We are just a little over a century since Emancipation, (I know, it seemed like it would be hundreds of years ago); rights have been granted, and some signed into law, schools are desegregated, and people of color now have a seat at the table... Well most tables.

Victims of Hurricane Katrina argue with National Guard Troops as they try to get on buses headed to Houston on Sept. 1, 2005.(Photo by Willie Allen Jr./St. Petersburg Times via ZUMA Wire)
August 23rd, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina formed. When Katrina hit landfall in New Orleans, LA (NOLA), it was deemed one of America's greatest tragedies.  An immense amount of resources has been invested into the city since then, in an effort to revitalize the local economy as well as the schools.

Prior to the storm, Orleans Parish School Board, (the former entity of public schools in NOLA), was largely populated by public schools and union teachers. After the storm, the Recovery School District was enacted to jumpstart the system, and various education management organizations took over the schools. Now, all of NOLA schools are charters. You will find that the majority of teachers there are young, white, idealistic, recent college graduates, whereas, before the storm, many were unionized Black, experienced teachers.

The school district has implemented new systems that allow parents to choose the school their child will attend, versus the attendance zone regulation pre-Katrina. However, this is the extent to which parents have a choice in school decision making. Those decisions are left to the non-profit board of directors and the CEO or principal. This lack of autonomy that parents and their children are missing out on hurts them in the long run. They are provided a prepackaged education, very often, 'one size fits all', and have absolutely no say in it. Someone else, of obvious more aptitude and discernment makes those decisions. The effects of this eerily paternalistic form of education can be seen in the young men and women who pass through these schools and join the work force.

In April I visited NOLA, imbibed in the culture, music, food, history, as well as spoke to the people who live there. Largely, all of the service workers, between restaurants, hotels, tours, etc, were Black. I asked one young man, who was in his early 20s, what can people aspire to be here? He stated that getting a job in the hotels is what is considered doing well. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was in a 3rd world country.

There is danger in this form of paternalistic education. Quite simply, the emphasis on test preparation and instruction on "college and career ready" standards, does not give room to teaching self-efficacy, exploration of personal interests, nor alternative/non-traditional paths towards success. Using or finding your voice is simply not impressed upon. And in this day in age of mass economic, racial, and political oppression, this is exactly what our children need, not just in New Orleans, but everywhere. But Daddy knows best.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

After the Laughs...

This post was inspired by "Key & Peele's" Teaching Center video. If you have not viewed it, I highly recommend you to do so before further reading.

I find it interesting that the rest of the world, except most powers that be, understand, respect, and agree that the work teachers do is undervalued and they are underpaid. Key & Peele liken the realm of teaching and learning to that of the popular world of sports. As ESPN Sports Center details the latest in all major sports, the Teaching Center does the same. It provides the viewer with a synopsis of results from the teaching draft, a looming Union strike in Chicago, a highly sought out English teacher's decision to take her talents from Ohio to New York, and various highlights of the day, showcasing rockstar teachers from around the nation.

In our classrooms, we encourage good behavior and offer incentives in return. Wouldn't it be great to be featured on ESPN for not only teaching one of the most difficult CCSS, but executing it with 75% mastery? On Sports Center, rarely are athletes' major snafus reported on, the purpose of this platform is to celebrate athletes' agility, not hinder or shame them. It appears that over the years, competitive play rules have been adapted to promote freer, uninterrupted play on behalf of the players, all in an effort to make more points.

If you're an avid basketball fan, you'll know that over the years, the NBA Commission, as well as the NCAA Men Basketball, has adjusted offensive foul rules to promote more free and open play among the players. This way, offensive players can more easily shoot shots, without unnecessary intervention from the opposition. This came at a time when the average points scored per game were at an all-time low. Are you getting where I'm going?

Where is our "free play" card?  I'm not certain about your school, but results from this years' PARCC assessments were less than desirable. Even prior to test administration, instructing students on how to properly input an open response answer on both paper and computer based assessments was quite onerous.  It was once said by a student said, "It's like they want us to fail." My point here is not to lament the woes of testing, (I've done that, 'Tis the Season :)), but to juxtapose when and how our work is highlighted, compared to that of athletes. While both athletes and teachers operate under rules that have been created by a governing body, those for athletes, and in this case, basketball players, have allowed them to express their talent with flexibility, freedom, and creativity. For us, not so much. So often do I hear from colleagues that "they've taken the fun out of it". The professionalism of the profession is challenged, and more is expected with less. Yet even still, we are committed to our students and try the best we can.

Chances are, there will never be a Teaching Channel live on primetime television. But our work is nonetheless crucial to the sustainability and functioning of the present and future society. In no other profession are you allowed to have such a grave impact on the future. Understand without you, there would be no doctors, firefighters, nor police officers to save lives. Your strategies and objectives must be more intentional and gentle than the hands of an open heart surgeon. Though you may not be featured on cable television, continue to play as if the world were watching.