This month, I completed my course requirements to graduate with a double major in Economics and Education, ideally moving forward next fall in a PhD program in Education Policy. Needless to say, my head has been buried in education literature for years, and it is not getting out any time soon.
I maintain the lofty goal of transforming the United States’ education paradigm to reflect an equity-focused, cultural competent system of schooling. Though there are dozens of pathways to achieving this outcome and hundreds of education scholars have been in agreement that equity and cultural competence are priorities for education reform, policymakers continue to produce little change regarding these particular shortcomings in the national education system. For instance, the revolutionary article produced by Gloria Ladson-Billings, “But That’s Just Good Teaching!” has been circulating throughout academia for about two decades, garnering collective support from educators. Yet, there appears to be a gap between these educators and those who design and implement policies. Why does this gap exist? Aren’t policymakers suppose to have the best interests of educators and their respective students in mind?
No. Policymakers, at least on the national level, are inherently political. A majority of policies that are implemented in the U.S. education system are tied to the interests of businesses (privatization via charter schools), renown politicians (value-added assessments via Race to the Top), and dogmatic know-nothings that reallyyyyyy enjoy listening to themselves speak (budget distributions via parent-led school boards). I find that the field of education suffers from the “Just Anybody Can Do It” mentality possessed by a majority of people in this country. Teach For America assumes that affluent liberal arts students can teach in low-income schools. School boards assume that successful CEOs of real estate companies or lawyers can govern the financials of an entire district. The list goes on and on.
However as a student interested in professionalizing teaching, I have found inspiration through particular educationalists, many of which have gained national media attention. Many of these iconic figures rose to fame for their contributions to education research, but several are notorious for their stubbornness and their lack of adherence to the political wills of education reform efforts. Within the platforms of these individuals, I have been inspired as a student, as a teacher and as a researcher. One could say that I have formed my own sort of Dream Team, a fantastical mechanism through which I continue to maintain hope for the arrival of a new, revolutionary education model for the United States.
“You cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do is like a farmer create the conditions under which it will begin to flourish.”
Sir Robinson is actually the first person to inspire me to pursue education as a career, and he did so in two ways: first, recognizing that anyone can make a career out of something they love; and two, opening my mind to the possibility that education is about much more than math, science, reading, test scores, or any specific reform focus. Ken Robinson argues that education is about life. Reform for education is crucial not only because the current system is failing in virtually every measurable way but also because education is the gateway to happiness. Every human being has the right to pursue happiness.
Sir Robinson contributes the vital element of creativity to my Dream Team. Though he is seen largely as an advocate for the arts (which I certainly do not contest), his stance is very different from traditional arts advocacy. The overlapping purposes of the arts and education inspires people to learn about possibilities, understand the alternative reality of possibility and the concretization of possibilities into reality. Robinson serves as the face of the creativity movement, but I also recommend reading Amit Goswami’s Quantum Creativity, many of the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, and Markus and Nurius’s Possible Selves (1980).
“Good dental care doesn’t make you a good student, but if your tooth hurts, it’s hard to be a good student.”
Known for his development of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada has dedicated his career to eliminating the externalities hampering education and a community-based schooling model for replication outside of NYC. Canada is largely a critic of one-size fits all policies that negatively impact youth of color, low-socioeconomic households and traditionally underrepresented students in the classroom. Some of the priorities of HCZ is the education of parents on how to keep students on track in their learning (including what resources are available to them to curtail inherent disadvantages within low-income communities such as access to health care), the mandate of culturally relevant teaching in the classroom and the pipeline system of schooling where students are given access to HCZ resources that extend to their homes, after-school programs and weekends.
Canada’s greatest contribution to the field of education is his push for national recognition that educational success is impacted in and OUT of the schooling context. This fact is often ignored by a majority of policies that are implemented on the national level. Similar to Canada, I aspire to start my own community-based schooling model.
“This is not new stuff. I think when it comes to educational reform we, as Americans, have a short attention span. We are great thinkers and innovators. We have great ideas all the time, but we are poor implementers.”
As a scholar, Ladson-Billings describes much of her career as being spent in the physical classroom, observing teachers and students while also publishing important research regarding multicultural education. As someone who aspires to be a scholar but who is also afraid of the limitations that come with being locked inside the Ivory Towers, I find Ladson-Billings inspiring. Her work is understandable. Her work is revolutionary. Her work is applicable and practical. Though I continue to be disappointed by the lack of adherence to culturally relevant pedagogy across the country (moreover the blatant ignorance of this framework), I have gained much respect for Ladson-Billings’ tenure, and her presence and thoughts on education are vital to any education Dream Team. I recommend reading one of her most notable works: But That’s Just Good Teaching!
“We cannot make major headway in raising student performance and closing the achievement gap until we make progress in closing the teaching gap. That means supporting children equitably outside as well as inside the classroom, creating a profession that is rewarding and well-supported, and designing schools that offer the conditions for both the student and teacher learning that will move American education forward.”
As perhaps the strongest opponent of Teach For America, Darling-Hammond’s research agenda is the most closely aligned with my own: professionalizing teaching. In her book Right to Learn, she outlines the limitations that policies place on a teaching career. In 2005, Darling-Hammond produced research concluding that Teach For America teachers were as effective as uncertified teachers in the classroom, and her work has expanded on this finding for the last decade. In my perspective, her work really captures the effects of short-term solutions, temporary band-aids on the education system and the limited credentials of the teaching profession. Her tact and discernment on teaching is what makes her an asset to the Dream Team.
To be honest, I do not agree with much of the policy promoted by Rhee. I do, however, acknowledge her brilliance in education politics. Rhee is the former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and led the district through a massive overhaul of reform. She fired teachers who she deemed unqualified. She cut unnecessary programming and administrative costs. She raised hell. Michelle will give the Dream Team a nice balance. She has opposite viewpoints from many of the members, but her passion and diligence for change are true assets. Though the other team members are fantastic in their scholarly work, our country needs this fire before it will wake up to see the problems with existing education paradigm.