Those d***ed middle class values
Well, at our district we are entering year four of talking about raising achievement of minority students.
Do not think for one minute that I am kidding when I say:
First we listened to outside people read us really bad poetry. We listened to painfully cliched free verse with no internal meter, imagery, or intellectual or emotional heft beyond bathos (which can be fun to those who are looking for it) about sad-eyed puppies left out in thunderstorms and birdies with broken wings and acrostics spelling out "I CAN" down the left-hand margin. And then there's that R. Kelly song-- don't make me relive that. Those of us with a brain were then treated to these presenters then providing literary analysis of this treacle, too, since it was obviously so very deep that we just didn't get it on our own.
Then we spent six months (that's nearly an entire school year to you) trying to figure out what kind of communities made up our school. We spent four and a half of those months basically defining our characteristics.
Then we were told by more outside consultants that if we just loved our students really really hard that they would all achieve. And therefore, since they weren't achieving, we must not love them. So we needed to own up to the fact that we were all cold-hearted bastards who were not "child-centered" and either come to Jesus or leave the profession before we scarred someone for life.
Now, we are told that we should stop trying to impose "white" middle class values upon our students-- that's the problem, yeah.
Now, I have several responses to all of this:
One, when are we going to realize that it takes two to tango, and at least effort on both the parts of students and teachers not to mention parents to provide the opportunity for an education. Note I did not say "provide an education." Because no one is "provided an education." Would that it were so simple as to just pry open some heads and pour some knowledge in. How wonderfully easy that would be! But it's not. A student can sit in the most sparkly, well-apportioned classroom in the world, with a teacher with a Ph.D in her subject and empathy oozing from every pore, and if that student is not willing or able to tune in and spend some energy manipulating the content being presented, he or she might as well try to strap on a helmet and pads and claim to be Tony Romo just because he or she watched ESPN's Sports Center.
But more to the current, transitory point, before we veer off into yet another direction, is this one question that I would like to ask the people who claim that the imposition of middle class values (I will leave aside the "white" part for a moment) is the cause of all our problems:
Just where do you think you are?
You are in a school. The entire purpose of public education in this country is to instill so-called "middle class" values. Let us first figure out just what "middle class" values are, or at least are supposed to be. In an ideal world, this is what schools should teach:
1. Show up on time.
2. Follow directions.
3. Work for what you get. The world doesn't "owe" you anything.
4. Take responsibility for your actions.
5. Practice, study, sweat: this is required for improvement.
6. If you want more money, you need more skills and more knowledge.
7. Take those skills and knowledge and then go out and find a way to use them.
Now, notice I said "in an ideal world." Unfortunately, schools mirror society, which is another thing no one seems to get. But, as someone who has been in the working class and is now in the middle class, I can tell you that, rather than being a force for oppression, the above are the way out. Of course, they aren't easy. They require effort. They require personal responsibility. They require patience. They do not provide instant gratification.
I refuse to submit to the thesis that these are somehow evil concepts that are somehow prima facie racist. I don't believe that middle class values are "white," either, since that idea is related to the claim that minority kids who seek academic achievement are "acting white."
The crisis in our schools comes from the fact that education is denigrated as useless. Education is misunderstood as something that should be easy. Education is thought to be something that is provided to you.
No one seems to understand that education requires self-transformation, which is the most useful thing in the world, the hardest thing in the world, and can only be done by you.