Perhaps as we approach the New Year, it’s time to reflect on the progress during the past year the Obama administration has made on educational issues.
We certainly can thank the Obama administration for putting education on the forefront of a national debate that is truly beginning to ask the question, “How do we make our education system more effective?”
Where most of us disagree with this administration is its persistent “Blame-the-teacher” approach to reforming schools. In this culture created by this administration, billionaires have now taken on the job of self-appointed educational experts, and have continued with the Obama administration’s message that demonizes teachers’ unions, and seeks to continue the effort to de-professionalize the teaching profession. All this rhetoric continues to ignore some of the real problems with our American education system: lack of commitment to provide equitable resources for all students in this country.
Bill Gates and Arne Duncan continue to crow the mantra that: “More money will not resolve the problems in our education system.” Perhaps that’s true if you are looking for a cheap solution that only hides or shifts around the symptoms of those problems, like calling for charter schools does.
A lot of people had hope that with the election of our first African-American president, many of these educational inequities would be addressed. Instead, we’ve had a continuation of George W. Bush’s education policy that places testing at the center of everything we do. We’ve had a President who relies more on business leaders and right-wing think tanks for advice on education matters rather than listening to real education experts like Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, and those who spend their lives in schools and in classrooms. And, we’ve had a President who, instead of being open to the criticism of professional educators, only resorted to dismissing them as “for maintaining the status quo.” In sum, this year “We’ve had little change in education that we could believe in.”
I recently stumbled on this video excerpt from the film “Corridor of Shame: Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools.” I realize it’s an old video, but my favorite writer, Pat Conroy, has an introduction at the beginning of this video that I think captures the real problem in public education. I read his autobiographical book The Water Is Wide several years back about his experiences of trying to teach poor kids on Danfuskie Island, and I was moved by his passion to attempt everything he could to reach those kids. But in reality, the gaps in educational resources were often much too great, even for a Davis Guggenheim “Superman” teacher or principal. Pat Conroy states in this video, that he’s afraid “the water’s grown wider” in recent years for these kids in rural schools. I have to agree. With a Presidential administration sidetracked into believing in reforms that totally leave out educators, and ignores the role of poverty in education, that river has turned into an ocean.
Corridor of Shame: Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools