Sunday, April 14, 2013

Geometry, continued

Who knew I had this much to say? This is a post for my good friends, Rebecca (a physician assistant in East Palo Alto) and Alix (education researcher at in Menlo Park), with whom I discussed the geometry issue and more while we passed a water polo ball around this morning. I have such amazing friends. 

Dear Rebecca and Alix,

Thank you so much for your thoughts this morning on creating a culture that truly values--with its actions--education for everyone. I've been thinking about our conversation all day.

That's what pisses me off about the whole geometry thing--it's not about improving education. It's not about making schools better in any real way. It's about improving already privileged kids' chances to become more privileged. The futures of Los Altos School District kids will not be affected by whether or not they are on a BC or an AB Calculus track. They'll go to 4-year colleges and get white collar jobs regardless of whether or not they take geometry in 8th grade. It's ridiculous to get upset about options in AP Calc, considering the options faced by families in, say, Alviso or East Palo Alto. That said, I can't blame those parents for demanding what they think is best for their children.

So much has to do with ownership--with taking responsibility, with feeling entitled to the best education available. Intrinsic motivation starts with ownership, right? And a path toward mastery, and one other thing I forget. That's why the overprivileged families keep asking for more, more, more--because they feel entitled to more, and they are happy to shoulder the burden of getting it if it's not offered. On the flip side, maybe that's why underprivileged families stay that way--they don't feel entitled to the best, they don't know how to get it, and maybe they don't feel it's their responsibility anyway. And there are families who need to be coached into taking even a little responsibility for getting their kid to school, or for making sure she eats a good breakfast. I used to keep milk and cereal in my classroom for kids in my first period class, because they would show up with a candy bar from 7-11 for breakfast. Maybe I should have gone to their homes like Rebecca said they do at her clinic, and seen if I could get the parents to commit to feeding their kids breakfast, at least. Not all of them were so poor that they couldn't afford it. But I would not have done it well--face-to-face is not one of my strong suits. 

So maybe teachers (or someone) need to be trained to make those kinds of visits and phone calls. To coach those families in how to take ownership of their children's education. To make them feel--like that Los Altos woman--that their children's lives are at stake if they don't get the very best a school district has to offer, and that it's their one of their primary responsibilities as parents to act in that direction. 

But what teacher has the skills, time, and energy to do home visits to the parents of 15 kids who are failing her class? Parents who don't show up for scheduled meetings with the teacher at school? Jaime Escalante? That teacher who gets his inner-city 5th graders to love Shakespeare in that documentary whose title I forget? But these are people insanely dedicated to their work, who have almost no life outside of it, it seems. 

So everything needs to change. The way we organize schools, the way we think about communities/community.  

If you've stuck with me this far, thank you. And thanks again for the great conversation and for making me think carefully about these things.


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