Schooling and Fairness

Today. Schooling. Other stuff.

For the past 4 years I have been teaching a sociology of education course, and a cross-cultural education course. I think a *lot* about schooling and inequality; and the processes that maintain educational and social inequality.


Today was actually a pretty intense, emotional day. I helped interview applicants for the high school I went to. They had 256 applicants for 50 spots. (Is a public high school, a magnet) It’s a gifted/talented school, but not solely for “identified” gifted kids, also a high priority for economically disadvantaged students. It was a really great experience for me 25 years ago – and has been for many others over the years.


So we’ve got student after student who, when asked what they would change about their middle school, say things about wishing their weren’t so many fights in their school, or that theother ┬ákids actually cared about learning, etc. That there was less noise so they could hear and concentrate and learn.


There were also amazingly bright kids, in a variety of ways, who bubbled over with enthusiasm when they got to talk about the area that they think is most awesome (computers or art or math or music) —– but what I can’t get out of my head are the students who I am afraid for: the ones who seem committed to learning, to education, but who express a real sense that this committment is going to be squashed at the schools where they are. And I want to understand how and why this is.


One kid, in describing both his middle school and the high school where he now is for 9th grade, talked about worrying every time you leave your classroom – what’s going to happen? And the fights and the hassles. And I think: not much has changed since I went to that same middle school. But I got through it – I got out. I skipped 8th grade to go this high school, and was in an environment where it was fine to be smart and to work – because we were all the nerds. And if that hadn’t worked out for me, my family would have had the resources to make *something* else happen for me. I wasn’t going to be squashed by that school environment.


So I’m filled with this renewed love for my high school. Had a long talk with a young woman who graduated from it 3 years ago who seems to have embraced both a love of learning and a commitment to service that makes me sure the place is still doing something right. But I’m also filled with real, on-the-ground, not pie-in-the ivory-tower concern about these other kids —- the 200 who won’t get in. Some will find other good, nurturing places. What will happen to the rest?


I want to make a clear connection between these micro stories and micro processes and the BIGGER political issues right now swirling around our public schools. And those connections are there, believe me. But what is deeply in my heart right now is a worry and a sadness. Again, I met amazing kids today – it was not all glum BY ANY MEANS, but I just kept thinking, as the young woman I worked with said, what will happen to the kids that get the no? Why can’t we make school a safe, nurturing, non-scary place? For all of our kids?

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