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Letter | Beware of education reformers
About a year ago I saw Geoffrey Canada speak at the University of Washington. He is the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. He is prominently featured in the film “Waiting for Superman.” He challenged me as an educator to change the way I think about education and its problems.
In his speech, he said that the real problem with education is that everyone tacks like sailboats on Lake Washington, maniacally moving from the new silver bullet to new silver bullet seemingly pushed by the fickleness of the wind, hoping to solve the education problem in one go. He is right.
For every new problem in education there is a carpetbagger willing to write a book, go on a speech tour, set up a PAC with the word “alliance” or “kids” in the title, all to raise millions of dollars to throw simplistic solutions at ever-complicated problems to no avail.
Beware of these “visionaries.” What they have to sell may be good for your child but not your neighbor’s child, and usually plays fast and loose with data. The people who lose in these grand plans are usually the poor, the underprivileged, people of color, teachers and us.
I don’t have any answers to what ails the education system. What I do know is that people, from individuals to large groups, can and do make a difference. In fact, the system is rife with people who make a difference, everyday, in the lives of our children.
As with anything, the first step in solving something is to know the problem fully, to see it from every angle, and to get informed from the most trusted sources available. The problems with education are complex beyond measure. Any solutions must consist of myriad solutions, from various perspectives.
Linda Darling-Hammond is no carpet-bagger. Currently working out of Stanford University, she is probably the single most important educational voice of our time. She is our generation’s John Dewey. Her work is well-reasoned, well-regarded and extremely well-researched. She was Obama’s second choice to be the secretary of education.
Darling-Hammond wrote an encyclopedic book on the current state of education called “The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future.” If you really want to know what is wrong with education and what to do about it from a leader in the field, read this book.
She makes no attempt to simplify the problem or offer simplistic solutions to make our education system better. However, she offers complex and far-reaching knowledge — knowledge that will empower us as a community to work for better solutions for our children’s schools.
Just, fair and equitable education reform does not come easy and is not simple. Individually, we can do something. We can get informed. Then we can talk to others about what we know and create networks.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am the parent of a Bellevue student, and I care deeply about education. Let’s talk.