What we call education is usually no more than training. We are so busy operating schools we have lost sight of learning. We mostly participate in certification mills, institutions founded on notions of control and discipline, lifeless and joyless places where people serve time and master a few basic skills on their way to a plain piece of paper that justifies and sanctions the whole affair. Sometimes, these places are merely mindless, and sometimes they are expressly malevolent.
[The standards movement is] well intentioned to raise standards, but the mistake it makes is that it fails to recognize that education is not a mechanical impersonal process that can improved by tweaking standards and regularly testing. . . . It’s a human process. It’s real people going through the system and whether the system takes into account who they are, what engages them, isn’t incidental. It is the core of what education is.
By the time [kids] are educated I want them to come out knowing what they are personally good at and interested in, what their strengths are and where they might like to go after school. I want them to feel confident that they can face the challenges that life will throw at them and they can begin to make their way to become productive members of the community.
I try to be bipartisan but former Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin has talked with me for years about the damage that testing is doing to children.
I’m glad there are so many educators here; I always feel safer in a room of teachers!
Teachers have been taking quite a beating lately. In many states they’ve become a scapegoat for all of the evils and injustices of society. But teachers are my heroes.
Teachers, particularly those who teach in our most disadvantaged communities, need to be protected.
I said to an African-American Boston minister after the Philadelphia disappearances, “How can I be of use?” He said, “You’ve had a wonderful education. I’d like you to put it to use for our children.”
The city department of education sent me out as a substitute. My first day was in kindergarten. I was absolutely terrified! Ultimately I survived. I’ve been working with low-income children, mostly Black and Hispanic, ever since. I’m currently working with children, families, and schools in the South Bronx in New York City.
I’ve written several books about those children. The sum of it all is that, almost everywhere I go, those funding inequalities are still with us. It’s sad that there is such thing as a ‘poor school’ in America, the wealthiest nation on Earth.
The rich districts can go way above foundational funding. In wealthy neighborhoods in cities, parents are holding fundraisers that earn as much as $1 million in a single night to add to their school’s budget.
Poverty is poverty, whether in cities or rural areas. The traumatic effects apply to children everywhere. But for minority children in concentrated neighborhoods of poverty, it goes to new levels.
We see hyper-segregation of Black and Hispanic children in every city, large or small. Textbooks sugar coat realities a bit. The media does this too. They indicate that racial isolation is primarily a thing of the past. In reality the very opposite is true. These children are more isolated intellectually and separated physically than any time since 1968.
Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, white politicians who have never lifted a finger to solve inequity and segregation visit some urban school and give their version of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. I still believe that Brown v. Bd. of Education was essentially correct. Isolation sends terrible messages to our youth.
Langston Hughes’ poem, What happens to a dream deferred? I was in Baltimore 8 days ago.
There’s another kind of inequality: rich preschool education. I ask kindergarten teachers in impoverished neighborhoods how many of their children have had real, developmental pre-K for a couple of years beforehand (the kind that wealthy or middle class kids get). They say maybe 40%. The most exclusive pre-Ks in New York City cost $35,000 per child. They’re known as the ‘Baby Ivys.’ There’s not even a pretense at meritocracy.
When test scores come out, guess who does well and guess who gets blamed?
Could we take the billions of dollars that are going to testing companies and put it into rich, developmental pre-K? This should be a rich entitlement of childhood here in America, along with necessary wrap-around services. Instead of castigating poor parents, help them get the skills they need.
Virtually every sector of the population has to take standardized exams. Like in other states, here in Iowa high stakes exams start in 3rd grade. In wealthy neighborhoods in New York, there are strong parent movements to opt out their kids from the exams. The wealthy parents aren’t scared, but the poor people are.
In affluent communities, standardized testing takes a lesser toll. The kids easily score fairly well. Parents aren’t frightened of the test. Their concern is whether their children get into their first choice of college.
Principals of poor schools are the ones that are running scared. Teachers are obliged to write on the board the specific skill (and number) that they’re teaching. In New York City, it’s very prescriptive. Poor schools are told not to wander too far from the standards, there’s little time for student questions and critical thinking. “Curiosity is nice, but it’s not going to be tested.” Neither will delighted learning, which may indeed be a distraction. Delight and curiosity can get you way off track from the standards.
Endless, run-on sentences full of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ – second graders are almost as good as William Faulkner – at the end, there’s usually hidden treasure and good teachers know how to unlock that. Test-driven teachers usually cut them off and they never reach the hidden treasure.
Once we lock a child’s spirit into silent stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity.
Teachers in these schools are usually told they have to teach reading from standardized materials. Not all of these books are bad. I’m not a fanatic hippie type who thinks that phonics are a form of oppression. Neither are phonics the cure to all of the ills of society (e.g., the lady I met that I now call the Phonics Fanatic of Phoenix!). I hate the emphasis that many urban teachers have to place on decoding, not on the content of what they’re reading (e.g., scripted teaching methods). What happens to many of these children is that they lose the beauty of reading real books, books that are a joy to read. The only reason to read is for the joy it gives you, not to get a number plastered on your forehead. I majored in Elizabethan poetry. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse is right up there with Hamlet!
Learning for its own sake, immersing oneself into the joy and beauty of learning… in many inner-city and/or test-driven schools, this is being lost. There’s no time for orchestra or school plays (but there is in suburban schools). For poor kids who have less aesthetic beauty in their physical neighborhood, we owe it to them to have art and music in school.
Many teachers in poor schools are warriors for justice. They represent the best of America.
If you do teach in those neighborhoods, don’t assume that children are empty vessels waiting to be filled. Bring out the beauty that’s in their souls. Let their dreams and longings be the starting point for lesson plans, not something that’s cordoned off or relegated to 20-minute enrichment.
There’s usually a reason that parents can’t come to school, they’re dealing with their own chaos. Instead of demonizing them, find a way to reach them.
Children need beauty in their lives. Other than their family, the teacher is the only adult in their lives that’s around regularly. If you don’t give them happiness, who will?
“Mr. Kozol, the whole schools is talking about how quietly your children file down the hallways.” – our way of subverting the system so they would leave us alone and we could have fun without being bothered
Teachers often are afraid in poor neighborhoods. In 25 years, I’ve never been touched. I think it’s more psychological than physical. I think it’s the fear of those communities’ suffering and the challenge to their conscience.
Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) may have been the biggest hero that kids have ever had. He was a wonderful listener to children. He went with me to the South Bronx. On the #6 train in NYC, it’s only about seven stops from the richest to the poorest neighborhood in the city. Sanitation workers embraced him. Children said ‘welcome to my neighborhood, Mr. Rogers.’
The dreams and innocence of children will outlive us all. Life goes fast, my friends, use it well.
Issues we used to consider secondary or tertiary (religion, language, ethnicity) have become primary
Two fundamental shifts
The Latino Boom, 1993-2008 (plus smaller populations of Bosnians and other refugees)
Today = Microplurality
many smaller, ethnically and linguistically distinct populations
e.g., 50 langages at Marshalltown HS, 100+ languages in Des Moines Public Schools
180 estimated languages in Iowa now
1990 = only a few Latinos; in 25-30 years, maybe over 400,000 (~12% of total)
One-third of Iowa counties reached their peak population in 1900; another one-third in 1950 or so
Iowa overall v. Latino median age difference = 15.4 years
Brain drain – we lose about half of our college graduates to other states
Birth rates in Iowa are less than 2.0; need 2.1 to replace the existing population
Four impacts on population = birth rates, death rates, length of life, migration (we have no idea what this will look like)
African-American population (including African refugees)
2020 = 125,000; 2040 = 185,000+
Asian / Pacific Islander population
2020 = 75,000; 2040 = 110,000+
Native-American population will stay fairly stable (but they’re incredibly diverse; numerous tribal affiliations)
2020 = 11,000; 2040 = 13,000
Growing non-Latino populations in the Heartland
Southeast Asia (Hmong, Vietnamese, Burmese, etc.), East Asia (Chinese), former Soviet Union, ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Israel and East Coast), African (Sudan, Somalia), Central Pacific (Marshall Islands, Paulau), Ukrainian Pentecostals, Bhutanese from Nepali refugee camps, African-Americans from Chicago and Detroit, Iraqi refugees, and many more…
Iowans take pride in their acceptance of refugees – we have the only state-level office dedicated to refugee resettlement?
Sponsorship of refugees dropped to an absolute trickle after 9/11
African refugees are pouring into our state – usually they are secondary migrants (first stop was another U.S. location)
This is a legal workforce
In many districts, multiple languages but they only have a small handful of children that speak each language
We have labor vacuums – most local kids aren’t going to pack meat or eggs
Many people think that educating a child is akin to filling a cup. Open heads and pour in knowledge, skills, and virtues. This metaphor is seductive because it calls on deeply-held stereotypes that paint poor and minority children as not having enough drive and smarts.
But the original meaning of education is “to draw out,” not to “fill up.” . . . [we] need to create classrooms that draw out what students already have inside them. Often times, current performance underestimates potential.
[We need to address] the dearth of opportunities for teenage students to feel like [they are] respected and valued in the asylum-like settings of many middle and high schools
[We need to address] curricula that prioritize busy work over reflective thinking that awakens students’ curiosity