I really worry about public education, y’all.  I honestly don’t believe that we’ll ever be able to make efficient and effective decisions about the direction that schools should take primarily because everyone in the general public thinks they know what it takes to serve our students.

That false transparency—the assumption that nonprofessionals truly understand the challenges faced by public schools because of their own experiences as parents and/or students—results in the kind of thinking I found in the comment section of this article debating the future of schools in my own county.

Here’s a sample of a commonly held misconception about education.  I’ve bolded the thinking that has me the most concerned:

Sounds like Wake county education board has got a lot of people stirred up. I for one think busing is a waste of money when it is done for the sake of integration which this is all about. If all schools get the same monies (so much per student) and the teachers all meet the same qualifications education quality should be the same everywhere. If a student wants to learn they have the opportunity…Schools are for education not social reform.

Posted by dohickey, December 15, 2009

No offense to Mr(s). Dohickey, but to believe that distributing resources equally to schools serving affluent students—who have enrichment experiences beyond school and access to the tools that make learning easier—and schools serving students who live in poverty will result in the same outcomes borders on the illogical!

The fact of the matter is that students living in poverty have a set of unique challenges that have to be addressed before learning can even take place.  Some are homeless and are more concerned about finding their next meal than they are in memorizing Moh’s scale of hardness.  Others have to set their homework aside in order to take care of younger siblings while moms and dads work second and third jobs.  Still more live in unsafe neighborhoods where gang violence can be all-consuming.

And while I agree that schools shouldn’t be a tool for social reform, teachers who work in high poverty schools have to sift through social wreckage before they can effectively teach.  Even in the most challenging school that I’ve ever worked—where a whopping 30% of my students came from disadvantaged homes—the work was difficult.

Students who were so far behind in the curriculum that they couldn’t keep up with basic tasks slowed down instruction for everyone.  Scrounging for pencils, pens and backpacks for the kids in my class became a part time job.  I spent hours trying to get my students help from school resource officers and guidance counselors.  I felt like I was teaching with one hand tied behind my back—and I know that my students were definitely at a disadvantage when compared to the students in the suburban school where I teach today.

Need more proof that students who live in poverty need more than their “fair share” of a community’s resources in order to be able to succeed?  Then check out this blog post that I wrote a few years ago, sharing the first person account of a teacher working in a high poverty building or poke through this policy document, where North Carolina’s most accomplished teachers reflect on what it will take to recruit teachers to high poverty buildings.

The problem is that most Mr(s). Dohickies won’t ever truly work to understand what it takes for schools to succeed.  Instead, they’ll throw pot-shots from the peanut gallery based on their own flawed understandings of how schools work.

And that’s why teachers need to step forward and lead.  Until we raise our voices and paint accurate pictures of what life is really like in our classrooms, we’ll be forced to wrestle with an underinformed populus who advocates for underinformed policies.

Talk about a recipie for disaster.

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