Stakeholders and educators who advocate for the common core standards often neglect the needs of students at-risk of dropping out who are, primarily, minority, poor, and urban students. This is a special population that requires unique and varied resources, accordingly. For example, schools can provide safe spaces for learning and explorations on a myriad of topics (Leadbetter and Way, 1996; Selman, 2007). More and more, scholars are finding that schools should take a comprehensive approach to addressing students’ strengths and weaknesses (Canada, 2012; Bangs et al., 2010). This is not a direct expense but it does cost time, resources, personnel, and takes great skill. No matter how many strategies, processes, and/or procedures, without understanding and caring, schools will continue to be ineffective for at-risk students.
In the Douglas Harper dictionary (2010), the word education* is derived from the 15th century Latin word educationem or educare which means to bring up, to rear, to educate. With the common schools of the 19th century, educators asked how to educate a vast population, what to teach, who will do it, and what the work will mean (Tyack, 2007). We still ask these questions today, mainly because we haven’t satisfactorily answered them for ALL students. The way we answer these questions says a lot about who we are—and what we want to become.
The reasons education matters in our society should be a reflection of what we want students to learn. Most educators, business, and legislators want students to develop into responsible and civil adults. Yet, the difference in our own upbringing and education… was that someone cared! It was not the millions of dollars invested in schools; but, a teacher, principal, coach, or secretary cared about how you or I learned. These educators were not micro-managers with little projects to do; but, pushed you or I to learn as much as possible. Most importantly, these educators let you or I learn to use our imagination.
I will pose this question, if education is to develop students, then why is there a lack of conversation among educators about the needs of students and caring in schools?
In his book, Why School, Mike Rose (2009) used personal narratives to illustrate education as caring instead of a checklist of things to know and do. Education is a venture that should include: critical thinking, problem-solving, global awareness, exploration and experimentation, discovery and innovation, interdisciplinary. More importantly, it should delve into issues of life, love, and loss.
How can students be prepared for the 21st Century world if there are not exposed to all of these ways of learning?
Rose (2009) states “There’s not much public discussion of achievement that includes curiosity, reflectiveness, imagination, or a willingness to take a chance, to blunder. Consider how little we hear about intellect, aesthetics, joy, courage, creativity, civility, understanding.” He goes on to say, “If we abstract out of education policy a profile of the American student in our time it would be this: a young person being prepared for the world of work, measured regularly, trained to demonstrate on a particular kind of test a particular kind of knowledge. This is not Jefferson’s citizen-in-the-making. And in my experience most parents of a wide range of backgrounds, though they want their children to develop basic skills and be prepared for work, want much more.”
In these quotes Rose is refusing to accept the current rhetoric of governance and social stability that surrounds the field of education. In his work, he pushes against common reform beliefs and arguments about public schools, showing teachers and students in a more inclusive, positive, and hopeful light. I also want to challenge the notion that it’s simply a link between education and economic mobility. For me, my loved ones, and most of my friends, it’s more than a paycheck. It’s giving back to youth and a community that needs it.
Education is for educators who love and respect students and want to reclaim the developmental and transformational rhetoric around public school, the work of teaching and learning, and—more generally—what counts as intelligence.
It is the current national education agenda that the US is lagging behind in education, due to the failures of public schools (Ravitch, 2011; Rose, 2009). Therefore, the government has intervened with legislation that has mandated actions and measures to raise standardized test scores (Ravitch, 2011; Rose, 2009). One suggestion is that the government could also go one more step and mandate moral education in our schools. Unfortunately, most of the public would argue that the government would overstep its boundaries by legislating policies on caring and moral education in schools. Yet, it is the same public that argues that the educational system is at fault for the lack of moral education among students and not finding the best practices of student achievement.
One insight that I got from Ravitch’s book (2011), The Life and Death of the Great American School System, as a country we have to face that there are NO BEST PRACTICES for each country, each state, each school district. This is especially true because all are not equal. Yet, over and over again, research finds that it is teachers expectations that GREATLY affects student achievement especially among minority students (Delpit, 1995; Ogbu, 1994; Ogbu, 2004).
As I stated earlier, educators must invest in schools as a developmentally protective environment. A place of not only physical but psychological and emotional safety and healing… we need safe spaces for our children. We have begun to understand the challenges facing students when it comes to bullying. However, it shouldn’t take a bullying or shooting incident to be a catalyst for being concerned about the well-being of our students. Students need a place to be understood and a place to connect to others, gain social support, and offer hope in these challenging times. As educators and as the public, we need to start the conversations on caring in our schools so that everyone has the potential to develop into the civil and democratic adults that we can be proud of.
P.S. I urge all of you to put the educare back into education.
* educate. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 09, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/educate