Simply, I believe all children can learn. I believe low-income children of color can learn when they have great teachers who believe in them, and treat them with the same passion, enthusiasm and intellectual rigor that they would treat their own children. And I believe in the skill and will of teachers, provided they are given the opportunity to teach, learn and lead as true professionals. I believe in John Dewey’s insight that learning in the process of living is the deepest form of freedom. In a nation that aspires to democracy, that’s what education is primarily for: the cultivation of freedom within society.
I want to believe that Mr. Cody believes this same truth about students, yet in each post he carefully marshals an assortment of facts and statistics which seems to suggest that he believes that children living in poverty cannot learn and that until the status quo changes we should lower our expectations for poor children.
—Irvin Scott, Gates Foundation concluding a five part exchange with Anthony Cody
This quote reflects the sentiment of many so-called education reformers, that they believe all children can learn, and those who oppose and question their policies and say that poverty matters in student achievement don’t. While this was a gently delivered rebuke, it is a really harsh over-simplification of how those of us who question using education “reform” as the sole means to address poverty and the achievement gap see things.
I’m not going to shove words in Anthony’s mouth, like Mr. Scott has done. Instead I’m going to offer how I see this, and folks are welcome to chime in with their point of view.
When “reformers” say they believe all kids can learn, what they are saying is, “I believe all kids can learn a set of standards based solely on their chronological age, within a finite time-frame, by using a common version of curriculum and instructional methods, as measured by a single standardized test.” Gates has shown their beliefs in that in this series of posts and their actions. For example, the repeated use of the word “achievement” to mean test scores, their recent actions to identify “best methods” in teaching to promulgate throughout the profession like cookie cutters, and their support of a version of common core that will lead to vertical alignment (monopolies) of curriculum providers with testing providers. I do not believe in this school of thought. Here is what I do believe:
- I believe that all children can learn a variety of skills, tasks, and ideas but not at the same pace or with the same tools, and teacher inputs. They should be developmentally appropriate for the individual child, not just the average child in their age cohort.
- I believe that there will ALWAYS be successful students in high poverty schools that perform as well as students at schools serving fewer children in poverty, there will just be fewer of them for reasons not just beyond my control as an educator, but beyond their control, and their family and community’s control.
- I believe that students in poverty face a number of factors that will cause them as a whole to not perform as well as non-poverty peers on curriculum and tests designed for middle-class children.
- I believe that trying to solve poverty through education alone is like giving a camp of starving refugees fishing poles when they are living in the middle of a desert wasteland. It’s unproductive and wasteful. It’s not just that it doesn’t solve the underlying problem, it’s blind and deaf to the conditions on the ground that will guarantee failure.
These factors are real, and saying you believe in John Dewey does not stop the effects of endemic exposure to lead in Oakland, where I started teaching and Anthony had his career. This cannot be overcome by a “great” teacher (whatever that means). Although his tone was neutral, the implications of Mr. Scott’s argument are appalling.
Photo Credit: Caution Sign and Arrow by mrjoro, on Flickr