Friday, November 09, 2007

You Can Take The Kid Outta The Lower Class...

[N.B.: The following originated as a reply to a lede post on My Left Wing, in which the author encouraged folks to wonder what would become of the test scores of ghetto kids from Chicago were suddenly to find themselves in a wealthy suburban school in Plano, Tx.]

I won't say a majority of Murricuns Don't WANT every child to have the same high quality of educational environment. I WILL say, however, that a majority of Murricuns don't CARE if every child has a high-quality educational environment.

Because if they did care, the kids would have those conditions. Jonothan Kozol has documented these situations exhaustively.

I have sat in legislative education-funding committees in two states. My own observatrions, and a LOT of research (see, especially, Joel Spring) State legislatures fund public schools in their states with one thought: what is the least amount necessary to provide the poorest of the poor with the absolute bare minimum of buildings, supplies, and teachers to save face in state-by-state comparisons. They rely on the ability of more affluent communities, or communities with higher tax bases, to supply for their children the advantages that the State cannot or will not afford to those whose resources are not so developed.

So taking the kids from the poor (must I say, "black") Chicago school and bringing them, bag and baggage, to the (need I say, affluent, White) Texas school would have no appreciable effect on the students' performance on tests, because the tests are predicated--normed--on the performance of middle-class/bourgeois kids. Cuz you don't turn into a middle-class/bourgeois kid just by attending a bourgeois/middle-class school.

The only way to ensure that all kids demonstrate proficiency on tests normed to middle-class/bourgeois standards is to raise ALL kids in middle-class/bourgeois homes, with parents who have had and benefited from education, who have expectations of success/advancement in their own histories, who have read and enjoy reading, and have enjoyed the rest of the perqs and privileges of middle-class up-bringing.

I remember in grad school I encountered a statistic which has stuck with me ever since: Student achievement on 'normed' examinations varies directly with the Socio-Economic Status of the parents. The single variable, Parents' SES, accounts for around 70% of ALL variance on within-group measures. One sub-variable accounted for about half that variance: whether the mother had attended ANY institution of higher education.

American Eduction is not all that bad: After 100 years of intensive research, we pretty much know what works (Dewey was right): individual attention, recursive instruction, writing-across-the-curriculum, etc.

But the American School is NOT a Deweyan operation. It is not an instrument of emancipation, or empowerment, or critical thinking, which educators agree should be the telos of the Art. Rather, it is devoted to the proposition that no child (at least, as few as is humanly practicable) should escape the social niche into which she/he was born.

The purpose of 'schooling' (as distinct from 'education') is to supply retro-actively the evidence that supports and rationalizes the decisions made about students long before they ever went to school. That's what 'grades' are for, and that's the only reason for having them.


BlakNo1 said...

Most urban high schools are more like prisons than schools now.

Hecate said...

Jonothan Kozol is one of my heroes.

Woody, Tokin Lib'rul/Rogue Scholar & O'erall Helluvafella said...

blak: See Foucault's "Discipline & Punish." The purpose of both insitutions is to normalize a regime of panoptic surveillance,

hecate: i was reprimanded by my dean at UnivOkla when I put Kozol on a graduate-level syllabus because, she said, he wasn't a ph.d.; imputation being that no one w/OUT one was worth the time of 'serious' grad students.

I'm not all that unhappy to be outta that rat-race...

Anonymous said...

Why would we want all kids to have bourgeois middle-class educations and aspirations? Somebody's got to carry my luggage at the airport. Somebody's got to work at McDonalds.

We can't have an entire nation of corporate attorneys and marketing managers, can we?