Education Opinion

Katrina Nation: Driving Past Public Schools

By Nancy Flanagan — September 26, 2010 2 min read
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Item: Arianna Huffington says the “zeitgeist is calling” America’s public schools.

Item: NBC’s David Nurnberg asks big names to join him for a “very special” panel discussion titled “The Lessons of New Orleans: Does Education Need a Katrina?”

At the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the rebuilt New Orleans school district is an incredible study in the power of resilience and the possibility of starting anew. This panel will examine the advantages to the New Orleans school district of starting over post-Katrina, and whether the lessons learned there can be applied across the country.

Item: Davis Guggenheim has an epiphany about schooling in America while driving past three--count ‘em--public schools to take his kids to the private school where they get the best education money can buy. Money he admits he earns because his union, the Directors’ Guild, demands that entertainers be adequately compensated and their “creative process” protected.

Guggenheim says that his is a “good union.” As opposed to teachers who organize to seek similar control over their working conditions and due process: bad unions. He claims that teachers’ unions “make bad policy” (unions only wish they could control policy). And he says all this with a complete lack of guile. I’m OK (and so is my union); teachers, on the other hand, are not OK.

Maybe we should be turning to John Dewey, instead of the zeitgeist.

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children."

It strikes me that a lot of the Famous People who are “speaking out” on education, capturing the public imagination and crafting these deliciously heart-rending stories--zeitgeisty types--are precisely the people who drive past public schools and other unpleasant realities on the way to their real lives. Pretty much the same way emergency rescue teams and Heckuvajob Brownie went right past the 20,000 miserable human beings huddled in the Superdome, six years ago.

The “advantages” of destroying an entire educational community in a devastating, lethal--and preventable--flood? Really? Shameful.

The only way you could see the ruin of NOLA as an “advantage” is if you were a feckless tourist, driving past the annoying poverty to get to the adult Disneyland part of the city. It’s hard to get past the PR blitz (and disproportionate funding figures) to what’s really going on with charters in the NOLA Recovery School District--but here’s one revealing take, from a Teach for America corps member, no less: All pretense of learning stops when the tests are over.

The capacity of my actual school wasn't going to change, and the achievement gap that I had hypothetically helped close in my two years would go right back to where it was. At best, I was a band aid to a gaping, infected wound."

We need to hear ideas and solutions from people who are working inside our most challenged schools and committed--long term-- to educating kids in poverty. The people who are insisting on human dignity and genuine opportunity, not matching polo shirts and publicly displayed test scores.

Enough with trendy media-driven zeitgeist and drive-by analysis.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.