Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MLK Day and the Content of One's Character

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963.

Judge one by the content of one's character. I've met few in my life who wouldn't agree to that simple measurement as a standard for the society in which they live.

In many ways we are close. Generational change has drastically reduced racial discrimination. A generation that grew up with it being acceptable, right and proper for the fist half of their lives, my parents generation, is dying and leaving the scene.

My generation grew up with integration as the norm and black people, and others of 'dissimilar' origins, performing in society as a norm.

But further progress is stymied.

Our inability to exercise our will as a society to set and hold accountable our key normative societal engine of education is breeding a generation of people who when judged by the content of their character will be found lacking.

William Blackwood, a Yale and Georgetown educated high school teacher in a suburban Southwest Atlanta school district recently wrote a letter to the editor in which he calls his school an education “ghetto.”

Disassimilation and disintegration have occurred. He refers to the suburb as "hyper-segregated." He asserts that "Many young people from this area will have difficulty acclimating themselves into the mainstream."

"[the school administration]...embody a cumbersome and inconsequential discipline system whose hallmark is the repeated failure to respond effectively to transgressions that, elsewhere, would beget serious action."

"...a system that employs more non-teaching personnel than it does teachers. This dysfunctional jobs-creation program is complicit in the invidious perpetuation of the hugely disenfranchising notion that black students are to be taught in a special way."

"A teacher is supposed to appeal to “multiple intelligences” in a manner that will produce a “differentiated” classroom. I have been told to do “raps” with students and to appeal to their “kinesthetic intelligence.” Collaborative “group work” is proffered as a means of classroom management and instruction. Game-like activities feature prominently in jury-rigged, “research-based” pedagogical approaches. Not only should the teacher minimize interaction with the students during such activities, but more emphasis should be placed on “effort” than on whether the material is mastered. “Instructional change coaches” and other emissaries from the massive central bureaucracy offer up these putative insights and vet the classroom for the presence of such utterly meaningless items as “word walls” and “instructional boards.”

Instead of dwelling on basics like epistemology, rhetoric, and heuristics, DeKalb administrators talk around the conspicuous numbers of high-school students who suffer from varying degrees of illiteracy and innumeracy. These students remain alienated from the fundamental function of any solid education – the inculcation of critical thinking via reflective interaction with a competent authority figure able and willing to guide them through various tasks in a sensible manner."

"When a majority of...students fail to succeed in college and, indeed, would be hard pressed to pass the military’s basic-skills examination, it is surprising that the military’s successful model of using serious remediation coupled with consequential discipline goes unmentioned while dubious educational “theories” are touted over and over."

"Getto" is a word whose etymology goes back to European Jewry’s experience of isolation and separation from the surrounding community. That is what we're creating here.

Blackwood goes on, "Far too many graduates of this system face a steep, uphill struggle in an economy buffeted by transnational competition that presupposes a high level of basic education. The failure to acquire such an education today has a clear consequence: long-term unemployment, which, in turn, breeds social ills..."

"Barack Obama’s inauguration two years ago stands as a powerful testimony to the significance of education. South DeKalb once stood out as a symbol of black middle-class prosperity."

"Now, far too many African-American students there are being denied the chance to use education as a way to access opportunity. It will prove to be a cruel irony of history if the election of the country’s first black President coincided with the rise of a disconnected and undereducated population consigned to a far-flung area on the easily ignored edges of a major metropolitan area."

Accurate Reality: Our inability to exercise our will as a society to set and hold accountable our key normative societal engine of education is breeding a generation of people who when judged by the content of their character will be found lacking. This will create failure a large number of people who fail to acquire an education. This has clear consequences: long-term unemployment, which, in turn, breeds social ills. Our decision to let government control the licensing of teachers, which has bred an eduction establishment, and the unionization of such positions which has driven out all performance management creates the environment Blackwood describes. We must change the way this works. Either by changing the existing system of educating, training, hiring, and managing teachers and manging schools, or by creating a realistic alternative to the existing infrastructure by funding alternatives, such as charter schools.

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