Given that Loyola and Tulane are next door neighbors and operate on the same schedule, it comes as little surprise that both Alex and I were simultaneously swamped with work and removed from the blogosphere. Apologies to you faithful readers who were left in the dark all week until we could get back on track. Here’s what I got:
Last week, a close friend sent me the link to an article published in the Fall ’91 issue of the now out-of-print Whole Earth Review. Entitled “The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher,” the article is one of many works by activist and former schoolteacher John Taylor Gatto. Infused with sarcasm and seething with irony, Gatto takes readers through his six main theses on American schooling and then offers two proposals on how the problems might be remedied. Those two propositions include mass home schooling or the institution of a free market system composed of small, de-institutionalized schools.
Now, I understand that 1991 was a long time ago and so you might be asking if any of what he says is relevant. Reading this in 2010, I am admittedly uncomfortable with a number of his views and do not think many, if any, of my past teachers would agree with him on several points. However, from the perspective of someone invested in equity in education, I find his “solution” of a free market public school system comparable to today’s school choice and charter school movement, and that concerns me because I feel that both Gatto’s remedies could only further divide communities and increase societal segregation, and that is partially observed in the schools today.
There is a lot to be said on charter schools and school choice policies, and I am not going to even attempt to get into that conversation now. But the article did get me thinking about how inequity in schooling might largely be a product of the sort of self-segregation that happens when dominant groups are able to manipulate the system to divert desirable students and resources to certain schools, and then push other students away. As Jonathan Kozol talks about in his book The Shame of the Nation, it is no secret that many white, middle-class families are able to use the school system, including school choice policies, to create homogeneous, well-funded schools and then keep “undesirable” students (poor minority children) out of them. Whereas the former have the time and expendable resources to devote to heckling with school boards and school administrators to get their way, minority families don’t and so their children end up at schools of last resort. And so the cycle of inequity continues.
Of course, school choice and charter schools did not necessarily create this whole situation. De facto school segregation existed before when families simply choose to attend their neighborhood schools and those neighborhoods were largely segregated anyways. However, I must ask now if the push for new charter schools and revamped school choice policies could further exacerbate the problem. Last week at the forum about black education in New Orleans, Roslyn Smith, president of the Treme Charter School Association, suggested that school choice is no different now than when it was first introduced years ago: a good idea but only beneficial to those with power, money, and influence who know the system and can use it to their advantage. That would seem to automatically exclude marginalized minorities who could benefit most from those policies if they could only get their foot in the door. But alas, between school choice and charter schools imbued with the power to exclude those they do not want, those students still remain outside the system and left behind. It would appear then that these policies are not equitable and may further entrench inequity.
So do charter schools and school choice policies perpetuate segregation? Quite possibly. Could they be reworked to be more inclusive? I don’t see why not. But in the meantime, I think that Mr. Gatto may want to reconsider his free market public school system suggestion since it seems to have a negative impact on schooling at the present time. Feel free to share any additional thoughts you might have!