Going Local: Activism For Education

Commenting on my recent post “Having Your Cake and Eating it Too” one reader posted a link to an article on the A Good Day Teaching Blog entitled Why Don’t Liberals Really Like Poor Children?. The crux of the linked article can be summed up in one statement.  The author states that liberal parents “believe that the children deserve a good education, they just don’t want poor children sitting next to their kids in a public school.”

I think the key point here is that there is a difference between liberal/progressive values and outright activism.  Advocating school reform is progressive.  Sending my kid to our local public school is activism.  Not only that, it is activism by proxy in that my kid is the one making the commitment to the cause, not me.  I am willing to be an activist for some causes.  I am not willing to donate my child’s education to a cause.  Speaking for myself, this is not about racism.  The biggest problem that I have with most affluent school districts is lack of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity.  In that way, urban schools are more attractive to me.  Yes, there may be some awkward moments when meeting parents from a difference economic strata, but that’s life.  I embrace it.  My issue is about educational quality pure and simple.

I have spoken to many folks over the last several months about ‘going local’ for eduction, both in my community (Chestnut Hill) and in others like Fairmount, West Philly, Center City, Queen Village/Bella Vista and Mount Airy.  In these Philadelphia neighborhoods where the trend is that affluent students from progressive families go to private schools, the cause is compelling.  Get more local kids to go the the public school and you raise the educational quality of that public school.  It is an attractive idea, to be sure.  I just don’t see it getting a strong foothold without real school reforms that make the public schools more attractive across the board to other parents.  I will vote for every candidate, sign any petition, donate money to causes that I think will improve our educational system in Philadelphia and nationally.  I don’t think sending my kid to a local school will have any real impact because I won’t be joined by many of my peers, not without changes.  That is not to say that I won’t be choosing my own local public school, it is just that the ‘going local’ cause won’t be the reason, it will be a side benefit at best or just a  non issue.


5 Responses to “Going Local: Activism For Education”

  1. Astompa Says:

    I understand your view and pretty much agree with you when it comes down to making the decision for your own child.

    The question that blog post raises for me is how to think about to what extent it’s morally right to ask that children go to a school in order to make that school better. Is a school good no matter who goes there, or is who goes to the school what makes it a good school? Is it right to ask, say, smart well behaved kids, to go to a school in order to make that school better for the other kids? Is it right to recruit for racial diversity so that kids get to “experience diversity?” Should schools have some mix of socioeconomic diversity, and if so what is the right mix and how do you get it?

    You put the idea this way: “Get more local kids to go the the public school and you raise the educational quality of that public school.” If that’s true, then why do these schools need “educational reforms” in order to get the local kids to go there? All the local kids have to do is simply go there in order to make it a better school.

    Although race may not play a central role for you individually, I think if we look closer there is a kind of societal racism that is going on. Something that disturbs me about philly public schools is that if you look closely at the test scores, it seems that some of the schools are fine if you are white, but if you are black kid dropped into those same schools, you would not do as well. This is the black-white achievement gap, and it’s a big problem. But if a white kid could go to a public school and do fine, then maybe your kid being there would do no harm to your kid, but at the same time you might be helping by being there.
    Isn’t that what diversity should be about? I’m not even sure. What do you think?

  2. Len Lipkin Says:

    Schools need to make changes to get the kids to go there simply to create a baseline attraction to the school. It’s a catch-22, to be sure, but you need to make some base improvements to attract families, which create more improvements, which attracts more families. “Reform” may be too radical a word. Maybe it just means having some exceptional teachers, a special grant, a great principal, or something of that ilk. The fact is most parents don’t want to be trendsetters–they will be more willing to send their kids to a school if their neighbors are doing it, but to get to that point the school has to make itself more attractive.

    The achievement gap is certainly something that deserves more exploration. I’m sure there is research on this out there, but I am not familiar with it. What does the research show would be the impact on the white kid and the black kid in the situation that you describe? Feel free to submit a story on the topic if you are so inclined.

  3. Astompa Says:

    I’m not sure what the impact would be. I guess you’d have to look at performance in multiracial schools versus performance in schools that are mostly all minority. The research seems to suggest that the gap can be narrowed with good teachers and high expectations.

  4. Keith Newman Says:

    You can read my four point plan to fix public schools now at http://www.electkeithnewman.com
    The links on the webiste will provide plenty of information as to how we can erase the academic achievement gap which has more to do with socio-economics than it does with race.

    As for the link to the Chicago Charter School, why do you think so many here advocate for small schools?

    Nationally Charter Schools do not outperform public schools. In most large cities such as Philadelphia the opposite is true. But kids don’t get picked in the lottery unless they have engaged parents. Kids don’t stay at charter schools unless they toe the line and meet expectations. Thus charter schools are magnet schools in disguise, not the salvation of our educational system.

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