The public school system in the United States needs serious overhauling, if this country is going to compete in the global marketplace of ideas. We can adopt the language of our president, taken from the prophetic utterance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the fierce urgency of now.” In the spring of this year, the burgeoning group, the Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism (CVCUR), organized the community read/discussion of professor and attorney Ms. Michelle Alexander’s book: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Fortunately, Alexander was able to visit with us at the conclusion of the sessions and to encourage us to persist in our efforts to challenge the criminal justice system’s maltreatment of African Americans and other people of color. That work continues.
These categories of people are disproportionately and adversely represented in the major indices of life chances in this country. Specific areas of concern, in addition to criminal justice, are: housing, health care, economic development, political empowerment, and education. While members of CVCUR have not abandoned efforts to address and redress massive incarceration, they feel there is a pressing need for pay attention to other areas of enormous racial disparities in our society. Consequently, the next topic of communal analysis and action is education.
In order to sharpen our examination of the U.S. educational system and our endeavors to improve it for future generations, we selected the text—upon the suggestion of Ms. Cheryl Faries—of the foremost researcher of contemporary K-12 schools, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, namely, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. The book discussion starts on September 6 and continues until every two weeks until November 29, 2011.
My role in this book discussion is twofold. First, I will provide one-page summaries of the current chapters of each session to help jog the memories of those who are reading the book as well as to inform those unable to read the chapters about the contents therein. Second, I will write a blog based on some aspect of the book and/or discussion that piques my interest or sparks me to explore. Hopefully, these entries will serve to provoke thoughts and to elicit suggestions of what needs to be done to forge a more equitable educational environment for contemporary underserved students.
Of course, Darling-Hammond has not investigated our local school districts. She offers substantive insights into the amelioration of educational institutions that we can contour to our specific circumstances. The goal of these sessions, according to the leadership of CVCUR, is not to put down the administration and teaching staff of the community schools; rather, it is to honor the positive, criticize the negative, and propose alternative approaches to improve and make more just the current state of affairs. Because of her busy schedule, Darling-Hammond is unable physically to visit this area. It may be possible for her to come to us via satellite, and that option is being explored at this moment. An update on this possibility is forthcoming.
Ultimately, the purpose of this important dialogue is to develop action items for members of the community to pursue. Moreover, certain of those components will be selected for the CVCUR’s legislative agenda and shared with city, county, and state officials. Hence, this book discussion is not glossed-over exercise in futility. Instead, it is a serious attempt not only to identify the root causes of educational failures, but also to take concerted action to make constructive, institutional changes.
We live in an exciting time; for many are beginning to recognize that our national educational product is lagging behind a number of other countries’. We are at the threshold of technical and technological advances that will enable us to help our schools do a better job of retaining students and of heightened understanding of learning styles and environments that will direct us to the best practices of superlative academic achievement and civic engagement. As Martin Luther King, Jr., stated upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” The urgency is now and the enhancement of our K-12 school system is within our grasp.