Students Are Children, Not Statistics
It’s back to school time, which means we all should prepare ourselves for an onslaught of new opinions on everything education-related. Whether the loudest voices are talking about helpful or harmful things is up in the air, but an open dialogue about education is what we need for any effective changes to happen. Bringing attention to any issues that you come across may not give an immediate solution, but at least it starts to get people thinking. I think that one of the biggest causes for most – if not all – conflicts in life starts with ignorance, and the best way to drive out ignorance is through education.
That being said, my attention has recently been brought to a number of education-related stories that were a bit concerning for one reason: the conclusion I could draw from them was a lack of actual children being featured as children.
In my attempts to keep up with politics, I’ve read about more potential candidates’ plans on education reform including ideas like free community college, student loan refinancing, more/less funding for charter schools, reducing federal government involvement, and so on. A quick Google search will get you hours of declarative statements, soundbites, and promises. But it’s still a little soon (and frankly there are just too many potential candidates) to fully delve into the pros and cons of all the issues here. Also, politicians as a whole commonly use issues like education in a general sense as a platform or a bullet point rather than using it to inspire, so no surprises there.
I’ve also seen more articles highlighting the disparity between white and minority students’ advantages and disadvantages when it comes to receiving a quality education, mainly due to a difference in disciplinary action. White students are more likely to receive treatment and specialized attention for being disruptive, whereas black/minority students are more likely to receive suspensions or put in detention centers – the school-to-prison pipeline. This ever-expanding practice is garnering more attention (as it should), but not for reasons that have to do with solving the problem just yet. However, it is good to hear more and more people realizing the inherent racism that still exists in this country and how it affects lives in multiple ways – again, attention and education can drive out ignorance.
One specific story you also may have heard about recently was a critique on one charter school’s method of teacher reform, the No-Nonsense Nurturer Program (which sounds like an oxymoron in my opinion). A teacher likened herself to basically becoming a robot in the classroom to reportedly increase productivity, but instead felt more like she was alienating herself and her students be becoming less personable. The NNN program itself sounds like a way to teach teachers how to teach by having them all use the exact same method, much like computer programming. But one of the best things I remember about my school career was how different my teachers were in approaching their particular subjects, and inspiring excitement in their students with their own enthusiasm (the good teachers, anyway).
Bringing in my main point, in reading all of these articles and hearing these stories it was easy to get caught up in the politics and policies of it all. Even though I’m glad that education reform is finally showing signs of gaining importance in the general public, even I am guilty of forgetting sometimes that when we talk about schools and education, we tend to forget the end-game. I use the words “students” and “children” interchangeably when I write, but sometimes I fail to remember that students are children, adolescents, teens, and young adults. It’s easy to depersonalize the school experience when talking about it in broad terms.
With regards to the upcoming election, it feels like certain candidates are running purely on statistics, and are relying on numbers to drive their point. I don’t expect them to all make future speeches in school libraries and kiss babies and all that, but I do hope that people remember the faces behind those statistics too.
About the school-to-prison pipeline, people seem to forget that the students acting out are all children, regardless of race. All people, especially children, have moments where the feel frustrated by something. The difference between child and adult frustrations is that adults are expected to know how to handle themselves, whereas children are still learning how to be people. They don’t understand all the implications of their actions yet, so we have to remember to treat them accordingly, which is exactly what the “pipeline” does not.
And about the story of the No-Nonsense Nurturing Program, well, you can’t exactly nurture someone if you’re not allowed to relate to them on a personal level, so how can you help a child if you can’t show excitement for their achievements?
This could all be a result of media filtering, my inability to see the students as children in all my researching. And this isn’t to say that there aren’t people and organizations out there who are advocating for children’s education purely for the sake of the children. But it is important to always remember who we’re fighting for when we talk about change for the future.