Death in Chicago and the American Decline

I’m taking a slight break from revisiting my schooling past to address what just happened in Chicago: Chicago Targets Teen Violence After Teen Brawl (and death). Earlier, in Education Stimulus Package: In Duncan’s Hands, Hope is on a Tightrope, I wrote that,

If the rest of the stimulus package proposed by the President and approved by Congress (the Senate is debating the package) is handled the way Secretary Duncan discussed the $140 billion increase in federal money for education we are in for a difficult ride. Duncan (University of Chicago Laboratory Schools / Harvard) is long on hyperbole, short on any understanding of the challenges facing education.

The recent violence in Chicago demonstrates that at its core the way education has been managed (in Chicago) needs to be revisited since Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 project to improve public schools. Renaissance 2010 converted several failing high schools into smaller specialized schools. The goal was to improve learning and boost test scores. But it forced thousands of students to attend schools farther away from home and across dangerous gang and neighborhood turf boundaries.

Chicago education officials support Renaissance 2010, saying that “deeper” problems promulgated the violence in Chicago that ended the life of a young man. The tragedy in Chicago is a convergence of 2 American tragedies: (1) The Renaissance 2010 project is an ill conceived method of management based ONLY on what Freire has called the “banking system of education,” meaning that Duncan’s concern is solely management, the herding of students and teachers into a hierarchical — and quantifiable — system, rather than thinking about the creation of learning spaces that are both safe and invigorating; and, (2), the ongoing work by the US Government, since the stimulus package, to cut the education budget, which then converges with the decline of support in neighborhoods throughout the country–the South Bronx, Newark’s South Ward, Compton, in LA, and, yes, Chicago.

We cannot address problems in education unless we likewise address problems in our communities — unemployment, health care, and the malaise brought on by hopelessness.

In The Uneducated American, Paul Krugman, writing for The New York Times, says that, “Until now, the results of educational neglect have been gradual — a slow-motion erosion of America’s relative position. But things are about to get much worse, as the economic crisis — its effects exacerbated by the penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that passes for ‘fiscal responsibility’ in Washington — deals a severe blow to education across the board.”

Duncan and Congress are entrenched in a mission to increase efficiency by “busing” students into massive schools focused intensely on standardization, while paying absolutely no attention to the decay that is so evident in some of our communities. Since the Reagan years, the gap between the haves and the have nots has increased. We are now seeing the results of the same old policies that have, through Bush II, ensured that the gap has remained, obvious in the way we’re handling education and health care.

The lack of creativity, the lack of a future looking agenda that taps some of the best thinkers in education, community development and health care means that we’ve not seen the end of this tragic approach. More students will die. Of course, many more students do, perhaps not as dramatically (meaning: getting media attention) as they have in Chicago (last spring, working in Newark’s South Ward, 2 children were shot in a playground — a drive by shooting and the children were collateral damage).

If we don’t take stock of our blindness, we will continue our downward spiral.

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