One of the ways in which we turn on each other is to blame someone else for our problems. Natural as this may be, blaming schools for a lack of education in this country misses an essential point about those schools—they are an accurate reflection of us and the communities they serve.
I often see movies with schools in the background and can pick out where I am in the movie. Last night the head of Starbucks announced he was running for President on 60 Minutes and they showed the school he grew up in. Although you might guess he was from Seattle, the school was a New York City school from its look. As they announced it was in Brooklyn, my correct guess reinforced this idea that our schools look like us.
When I was in college a speech coach for our summer rep company asked us to walk across the stage and say a few lines from our Shakespeare play. As I spoke, she said, “you are from NYC, upper east side, perhaps in the 70s.” She did this for every one of us! This is both the exact location of where I come from and also the demographic I share with other students from my location. We are New Yorkers and it has had a profound effect on me and my education. In fact, the schools I am from reflect who I am, who my friends were, and what my neighborhood was.
Home is First School
The School will never replace the home as the primary schooling institution. Think of the power and the influence parents have on a child’s education. From the beginning, we attune ourselves to our parent’s ideas of what to look for, what danger is out there, and how to have fun. But the single most important education we get from parents is to learn what they think is important to learn about.
Safety, Food, Warmth
So it is no surprise that students learn how and what parents do to achieve safety, food and warmth. After learning these essential truths, comes learning the truths of who parents like and dislike. Finally, we learn who is ok to hang out with and who should be avoided. This early imprinting comes with us as we enter formal education and we try out these ideas in our schools. We may draw different conclusions, but we start with what our parents give us. The schools are where we confirm and disconfirm our parents’ education.
Learning in Schools
So when you are looking for someone to blame about your child’s education, grab a mirror! Although schools do this better or worse, they are a true and accurate reflection of you and your community. If you under-fund them, they will not even do the things you will try to count on them to do. If you segregate them, they will teach segregation. If you don’t hire good teachers only a few students learn well. If you don’t pay teachers well, it builds resentment for you and your community. If you don’t build the best schools you can afford, the schools will be an accurate reflection of what you care about, but not an effective educator of your child.