Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How is Education a Civil Rights Issue?

"Education is also the civil rights issue of our generation." -Sec. Education Arne Duncan

I have been thinking lately about this statement and how it might be applied. Traditional schools greatly favor a concrete-sequential learning modality. Most teachers are concrete-sequentialists. Most of our kids who do not do well in school are not concrete-sequential learners. Knowing about the kind of school Ariel is (the school in Chicago that Duncan founded), could this statement signal a new view of students with non concrete-sequential learning modalities as being repressed or underprivileged under traditional school systems?

There has been a lot of ire lately in the edublogosphere about the appointment of Duncan. Gary Stager and others, who I respect greatly, view Duncan's appointment as another four years of the Bush education policy. The argument centers around the support for charter schools like KIPP, the support for performance based pay, union busting, and standards based testing. I have to respectfully disagree.

Yes, the Obama administration supports charter schools. No, not all charter schools are KIPP. KIPP schools have come under the microscope lately and have been recognized as a scale ready solution for kids in poor neighborhoods. However, the attempt by KIPP teachers, who have reportedly been overworked, to unionize has met much Resistance and has gotten messy. The problem is the administration's support for these schools has to some been seen as the only type of charter school they support. There are three things that keep me cautiously optimistic and unconvinced that the writing on the wall spells "KIPP":

  1. Earlier this month the Obama's visited Capital City Public Charter School, a progressive charter school in the DC area. There the president said, "This kind of innovative an example of how all our schools should be."
  2. The Obamas send their girls to a private school that operates under a progressive philosophy.
  3. Ariel Community Academy, the school Arne Duncan founded in Chicago, follows the same progressive philosophy. The following are excerpts from the Principal's message on the school's website:
"The role of the teacher is to assist and advise the student, actively participating and contributing to their learning in order to expand and discover the society they live in and share experiences together."

"[S]tudents should be aware of their own multiple intelligences and utilize a wide variety of abilities to demonstrate what they have learned."

"The design of the curriculum is purposefully broad in order to provide the teacher with many options for planning and implementing individualized, small group, and whole group instruction."

So, could this kind of stated support for progressive education coupled with Duncan's statement about civil rights mean that students who learn differently will now be seen as being unnecessarily repressed? I surely hope so. This is a silent epidemic in our country and one that is being exposed by the largely unpopular No Child Left Behind and the increased spotlight on our nation's dropout rate (National Average is 33%).

This is a difficult problem to draw light to because most educators (most educators are concrete-sequential learners) don't see the problem as a civil rights issue. They can't from their current perspective. "The Color of Fear" is a documentary that brilliantly and effectively explains the problems of privilege and prejudice as they relate to race. Watch this excerpt of the film and every time you hear the word "White" replace it with the word "Concrete-Sequential."

What do you think? Is learning modality a civil rights issue?

Could it be that the writing on the wall is not "KIPP" but rather "Choice"?

Do you think I am way off base and Duncan's is viewing civil rights as it has historically been defined (that of Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Religion, etc)?


Aaron Smith said...

Civil rights are those rights that everyone has (or should have) regardless of ... well ... pretty much everything.

In today's schools the "best" education (defining "best" as the highest grades) goes to students skilled at sitting quietly for 45 minutes and filling in little bubbles on a standardized test form, but there's so much do disagree with there I don't know where to start.

Suffice to say giving students a poorer experience in school because their learning style is different is just as wrong as doing that because their ethnicity or religion is different.

Do I think it's a civil rights issue? Yes. Do I agree with everything Arne Duncan believes in? No. But to address that issue I think I'll have to write my own blog post.

dzukor said...

Interesting point Carl. I have really mixed feelings on this. I agree that all students deserve a good education. I also agree that our schools need to do a better job of teaching to different learning styles. It would be interesting to let students pick a school based on modality. However, in general, I'm not a fan of separating students out. I like different personaliites, backgrounds, learning styles, etc... to learn from each other. That being said, our schools are not doing a good job of allowing for this. I commend you for looking for new ways and ideas to improve education. I'd love to see it work!