Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Breaking Heart, or Stories of School Reform.

My heart is breaking today.

The person who tells me what to do, told me what to do: another endless pile of paperwork with an endless stream of check-off boxes.

No, she didn’t just tell me to do them, she said, “If you don’t, the person above all of us will come in and insult you in front of your students and then fire you.”

So, this is what we’ve been reduced to?
Endless Administrivia.

As far as I can see in my neighborhood high school in Philadelphia, everyone has been running around like mad for the past week about a minor type of writing program they want us to institute, as if this one thing is the new silver bullet for our schools.

As if it will somehow solve the educational inequity and entrenched poverty and generational illiteracy that truly plagues our students.

Again, I ask, is this what we’ve been reduced to?

Believing that if we just tweak a rubric, enforce more paperwork, hunt for some ever-elusive ‘accountability protocol,’ that we will somehow Fix Our Schools.

I don’t know if anyone else notices, but our country is facing some of the most severe problems we’ve seen in several lifetimes. People’s debt has soared, jobs are nowhere to be found, elected officials slash one social service after another, mass incarceration rates are skyrocketing, and the already extreme gap between rich and poor people continues to increase by the day.

At the same time, any teacher will tell you that students are coming to them with fewer hard academic skills, a decreased ability to deal with their emotions, and an incredible lack of critical thinking or analytical ability.

And the best thing anyone running the School District can think of is to force all of its teachers to fill out more paperwork?

Of course my heart is breaking.

This isn’t education. This is busywork. And very consuming, depleting busywork at that.

Where is the space for real conversations about the purpose of education in our students’ lives, for the future of our city?

Where is the encouragement to move our curriculum and pedagogy to be more engaging, relevant, student-centered?

Where is the mentoring for educators to improve the ways we make learning whole, the ways we ask powerful questions, the ways we craft a day?

Where is the fierce belief that we can all move ourselves toward a new world in which we are liberated and free, equipped with the skills and strategies needed to solve the problems that life presents us?

Nowhere, as far as I can tell. Just broken hearts and broken promises and broken-down schools that get turned over to private managers.

It is not too much to demand that our schools fundamentally change to meet the needs of our changing society.
It is possible.

But, what I’m realizing today, what I’ve been working for years to not say out loud, is that it may not be possible inside of a top-heavy District with endless mandates and no true direction.

So, today my heart is breaking, because I want to believe so fully in the potential of the neighborhood school where I work. But not under these conditions. Not under this lack of vision. Not inside these threats.

I want to be an educator in a school that is fully funded, has a liberatory mission, distributes decision-making through true local governance, and ensures curricular autonomy.

Don’t you?

Then, how can we get there? I’m ready.