by Susan Sandler
OK, it doesn’t really have to start with a C. But we do need another word to go along with “college” and “career” in the goals for schools set out in the Obama administration’s Blueprint for Reform (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/blueprint/publicationtoc.html).
By stating that schools should prepare students to be college and career ready, the administration is “engaged in a historic effort” to change the country’s paradigm for schools (http://www.ed.gov/blog/2010/03/president-discusses-proposal-for-esea/). The Obama administration is saying that we have to dramatically raise our expectations for what schools should be doing.
If we’re going to change our paradigm for schools, let’s really change it. Let’s put out a full vision for what our schools should be and do. While college and careers definitely have a place in a vision for schooling (and perhaps another posting could unpack these ideas from a racial justice perspective), they do not cover the full picture of what education should do.
Socially Responsible Public Schools
Yes, our schools should prepare individual students for college and fulfilling work that allows them to care for their families. Yes, they should enable a thriving economy. But we also need our schools to be places where students learn to build a healthy, just, and caring world. As Justice Matters’ Executive Director Olivia Araiza says, our schools should be creating “leaders, solution-builders, peace-fighters, and lifelong learners.”
If our schools were fully accomplishing this part of their mission today, maybe the financial sector would be run on a different model that would not have led us into economic crisis. And maybe each neighborhood would have more community leaders and solutions to survive this crisis as it hit us on the local level. And if students learned in school that they are citizens of the world; not just the
, and that this includes learning about the histories and cultures of ALL nations and not just European ones, perhaps our foreign policy could begin to reflect a more intelligent policy built on human rights and knowledge. U.S.
Racial Justice and Public Education
How is expanding the paradigm for schools in this way a racial justice issue? Of course, building a healthy, just, and caring world is something we need based on many perspectives and values. But we need it from a racial justice perspective for a couple of reasons:
- Communities of color, as a group that faces systemic oppression, have an urgent need for a more healthy, just, and caring world. As studies have shown, people of color bear disproportionate harm from societal practices that are unhealthy, unjust, and uncaring. Whether the problem is an out-of-control criminal justice system (http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=122), predatory and unfair lending practices (http://www.insightcced.org/uploads/CRWG/Racial%20Gap%20in%20Debt%20and%20Credit%20June%202009.pdf), access to healthy food (http://ecolocalizer.com/2009/02/07/beyond-food-deserts-mapping-racial-disparities-in-access-to-healthy-food/ ), or almost any other problem affecting our society as a whole, communities of color are disproportionately impacted.
- Many students of color come to school with personal experiences of an unhealthy, unjust, and uncaring world: too often, they have been on the front lines of unequal access to health care; they know what neglected, crumbling neighborhood looks like; they have seen the effects of toxic dumping; they have been in the offices of unresponsive institutions that have treated family members disrespectfully. When schools take on the mission of changing that, their relevance and connection increases dramatically for these students.
So, please let me know if you think of a third word for the mission of our country’s schools!