March 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
In February of 2010, Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at TED, said that, “Innovation is hard because it means doing something that people don’t find doing very easy… It means challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious. The great problem for reform or transformation is the tyranny of common sense.” Sir Robinson then goes on to say that, “Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. At the heart of our challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence…Human flourishing,” he says, “is not a mechanical process, it’s an organic process and you cannot predict the outcome of human development…It’s not about scaling a new solution, it’s about creating a movement in education in which people develop their own solutions but with external support based on a personalized curriculum.” Sir Ken Robinson is not calling for change, rather he’s calling for revolution — an Education Revolution.
All evidence in the US suggests that, in practice, Plessy v Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court ruling of “separate but equal” – meaning, the acceptance of a dual system of education – is more appealing to the dominant class.
A “separate but equal” education system restricts access to social mobility; it strengthens a hierarchical socioeconomic system controlled by few. The gains of the Civil Rights Movement are long forgotten in education. Privileged African Americans along with white Americans have given up the struggle for integration, receiving undeniable benefits from private academies. “Separate but equal” has become a rationale for a dual system in American society – the privileged succeed and the underprivileged must find what works, though always one step behind. We then call attention to the infrequent victories coming out of challenged communities, but we never bring up the obvious: the lack of adherence to Brown v the Board of Education.
Our schools mirror our communities. Without changes to our communities, without emphasis on the family, however we define family, there can be no change in Education. Thus, we need an Education Revolution that begins with a revolution in our communities, particularly in the most impoverished.
In our tendency to sacrifice a large swatch of our population primarily along racial lines — and class lines, too, especially when we speak of environmental racism — recent scientific research in genetics point to factors contributing to disease and behavioral disorders among minorities, especially African Americans.
Christopher W. Kuzawa and Elizabeth Sweet, from the Department of Anthropology, Northwester Univeristy, Evanston, Illinois, in their article “Epigenetics and the Embodiment of Race: Developmental Origins of US Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Health,” suggest that, “There is extensive evidence for a social origin to prematurity and low birth weight in African Americans, reflecting pathways such as the effects of discrimination on maternal stress physiology … [T] here is now a strong rationale to consider developmental and epigenetic mechanisms as links between early life environmental factors like maternal stress during pregnancy and adult race-based health disparities in diseases like hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease.”
Knowing what we now know, are we slowly killing certain populations in the US, namely African Americans and poor communities because we fail to see the benefits of integration? And when we realize that close to 1 in 3 Black men are in US prisons, does this not beg us to conclude that this approach to community destruction is systematic? How do we narrow the achievement gap?
Randy L. Jirtle, Department of Radiology Oncology, Duke University Medical Center, Durnham, North Carolina, and Michael K. Skinner, Center for Reproductive Biology, School of Molecular Biosciences, Washington State University, Pullman, in “Environmental Epigenomics and Disease Susceptibility” say that, “Epidemiological evidence increasingly suggests that environmental exposures early in development have a role in susceptibility to disease in later life. In addition, some of these environmental effects seem to be passed on through subsequent generations.”
We exist in two Americas divided by access to opportunity. These harsh divisions eliminate the benefits of diversity. Scott E. Page, in The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, says that, “Diversity and ability complement one another: the better the individual fruits, the better the fruit basket, and the better the other fruit, the better the apple … We should encourage people to think differently … These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.” ( see Scott E. Page’s lecture)
If the answer is diversity, why are our communities segregated, our schools separate and unequal? The answer is simple: education focused on enlightenment is dangerous. An enlightened citizen questions, challenges the status quo, and seeks alternatives. Education, today, is not about change, rather it’s about ensuring that we maintain the systems of production — supply and demand; power is thus balanced, meaning that a vertical society is maintained — some succeed and live well, others sustain those lives, and hopelessly aspire to something better through state lotteries and get rich quick schemes, such as those that lead to the mortgage crisis that affected mostly people of color and helped bring our economy to its knees. But we’ve not learned and the distance between the haves and the have nots is increasing.
As bell hooks says, in Teaching to Transgress, “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.” To educate — and to be educated — is the “practice of freedom.” Since this is so, then closing down some classrooms, eliminating teachers , and destroying unions that support and protect them, ensure that we live in a divided country. And if we look at who benefits from this division, we see that only those on the top of the socioeconomic ladder benefit. In poor communities, families are destroyed, first and foremost, because this keeps the prison industrial complex healthy and an informed citizenry poor. We’ve not moved far from the psychology of racism that comes from slavery.