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Re: Who's Responsible for This Mess?
How about this for a truthful soundbite? "As the rich show us every
day, it takes money to educate a child well. Look at how much they
spend on private schools. As for public school children, it takes
PUBLIC money. That's why the rich should give back some of their
obscene, and unneeded, wealth to educate our children well. Tax the
rich!" Too long?
At 12:42 PM 1/22/2006, you wrote:
Phrases like "vouchers take money away from public schools" are
incomplete and -- ultimately -- inadequate. But they are necessary.
I'm a big fan of George Lakoff and take his strategies to heart when
I communicate publicly. The phrase "vouchers take money away from
public schools" is meant to rally the troops, i.e., give those
already committed to public schools a powerful rejoinder to people
who talk about "school choice" and "tuition tax credits that benefit
needy children." These latter phrases are smoke screens for one
thing: privatizing public schools. Democrats and progressives
typically have policy debates with Republicans and conservatives by
launching into rational recitations of the facts while their
counterparts hurl back one-liners like "tax relief" and "No Child
Left Behind." So, for Democrats and progressives to be successful in
public policy debates that are reduced to sound bites in the media,
we have to learn from conservatives and make our message compact and powerful.
As to the fact that the phrase "vouchers take money away from public
schools" conceals underlying problems with parents of at-risk
children and does not speak to the perception that public schools
are dysfunctional, I would say that there are much more systemic,
causal factors at play in the dysfunction of both American society
and American public schools that very few people are openly
acknowledging. However, since Hurricane Katrina, much of the
attention of the country has turned to the elephant in the room -- poverty.
At the heart of the great debate about poverty between conservatives
and progressives is the very simple yet very powerful disagreement
that people are either completely in charge of themselves or they
are completely controlled by forces outside of their control. I
think most people, when asked to reflect, would conclude that it's a
little of both. In fact, I think most politicians would even argue
that it's both. And yet, when it comes to formulating public policy,
these sensible people line up and start shouting ideological
one-liners at each other. Because we have a conservative political
machine in place, we are getting one side of the argument more than
we are getting the other (when and if we do get it at all). Katrina
raised the issue again and gave Democrats a chance to tell their
story about poverty, but because their story was so ideological and
so political, it quickly faded from view.
I believe that there is a way to talk about educational reform that
does not devolve into ideology when it comes time to discuss the
root problem of education, i.e, poverty. Policies need to be
formulated that recognize that -- paradoxically -- individuals are
both totally responsible for themselves and totally shaped by their
environments. However, it's important to point out that policies
cannot be formulated that make people be more responsible for
themselves. But it's also important to point out that policies HAVE
been formulated that punish people -- mostly poor people -- for NOT
being responsible for themselves. This, for me, is a moral and
ethical dilemma, but it's also a practical dilemma: does punishing
people for being "irresponsible" work? Is it effective? Does it
achieve what it sets out to achieve, i.e., does punishing
"irresponsible" people make them become more responsible? For me,
the answer is no, it doesn't.
So if it doesn't work, then why do we do it? And what, if anything, can work?
To begin with, we need to address the educational achievement gap by
doing the following:
1. smaller class sizes at every level
2. comprehensive social services so no child has to go without food,
shelter, medicine, and dental care
3. adequate prenatal care and postnatal follow-up so children reach
school age healthy
4. free, high-quality, universal pre-K that is developmentally appropriate
5. parent education for young parents
6. comprehensive job training and placement for parents at a real living wage
7. universal healthcare coverage for all Americans, especially the
poor and "working poor"
8. free, high-quality onsite child-care or free transportation to
and from child-care facilities to make it possible for parents to
work and raise children
9. high-quality training and ongoing professional development for
elementary teachers in reading instruction (not drill-and-kill phonics)
10. high-quality training and ongoing professional development for
all teachers in classroom-based formative assessment
All of these proposals speak to the most important environmental
factors that shape success and failure in our country, not just in
school but in life overall. Then comes what I call my leap of faith.
Ready? I take it as a matter of faith that, if these environmental
factors were addressed and that material suffering were ameloriated,
people would be motivated to take responsibility for their lives.
How do I know this? I don't. But it occurs to me that if people live
in misery, they themselves will be miserable. It's hard to want to
be responsible for what you are told is your own self-induced,
self-created misery. But if people live with their basic needs met,
there's a greater likelihood that people will not only be able to
take responsibility for their lives, but they'll also want to.
Missouri State Coordinator
Assessment Reform Network, The National Center for Fair and Open
Transform Education (blog) -