Saturday, April 19, 2008

The system, not the school, is the problem

Paulo Freire comments on the oppressor tactic of "dividing and ruling."

One of the characteristics of oppressive cultural action which is almost never perceived by the dedicated but naive professionals who are involved is the emphasis on a focalized view of problems rather than on seeing them as dimensions of a totality. In "community development" projects the more a region or area is broken down into "local communities," without the study of these communities both as totalities in themselves and as part of another totality...the more alienation is intensified. And the more alienated people are, the easier it is to divide them and keep them divided. (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

In their new book, Keeping the Promise, the Center for Community Change focuses on the need to view the problems in the education system as a totality rather than individual failing schools:

The prevailing emphasis on individualistic solutions to collective challenges is nowhere more evident than in our public schools. All of us are dismayed and angry about the state of public education in our poorest communities. But the response of policy-makers and conservative advocates has too often been to offer individual families a way out, rather than to acknowledge that we must solve this problem collectively. The experiences of all children in the nation’s public schools (and on our streets) are intertwined. When we are satisfied because some schools are doing well, or when we offer individual students the “choice” to attend high-performing schools, we pull up the ladder of opportunity and deny success to millions of others. We must demand a collective re-commitment to public education. We must do it together. And we must do it soon.

Community Values in Public Education

The American public still strongly supports our historic tradition of public education. There is wide and deep support for public schools as a place – perhaps the place – where children and adults engage as one community, learn from each other and rise
collectively. There are many components to an education system that is truly structured for the common good:

  • school funding must not rely on local property wealth but instead on what children need to succeed. All schools must be funded to meet those needs;

  • public schools must provide universal access to students. Communities support well-funded neighborhood schools, to which all children in a geographic community are entitled enrollment. Students should be allowed to
    “choose” among specialized curricula or programs within a public school district, but there must always be a good school in their neighborhood that will guarantee access.

  • public schools should be melting pots, where children with different backgrounds can learn from and with each other. Children must be seen as resources, not “consumers” or “problems.”

  • parents and teachers must sit at decision-making tables, and must be part of school governance. Parents are not “consumers” but full partners. Teachers are not factory workers, to be penalized based on their “production rates.” They are and should be supported as, professionals.

  • schools should never be out-sourced to for-profit management corporations. Public dollars for educating our children should not line the pockets of entrepreneurs.

    In our campaign for Community Values, we must demand that public schools be fully supported by our collective resources. It is time to stop asking some communities to get by with less than the full riches our nation can offer. We must demand policies that connect us together, and an end to structures that isolate and separate.

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