The last electronic memo from my principal started off with a quote and a challenge to our staff here at the Queens High School of Teaching.
“I reject the idea that the purpose of schooling is to improve the economic opportunities of individuals or groups. And I also reject the idea that it’s to improve our competitive position world-wide, above all in economic terms… The real crisis we face is not a threat to America’s economic or military dominance but the ebbing strength of our democratic and egalitarian culture.” Debbie Meier
Whether you agree with Debbie Meier or not, it is important to ask ourselves from time to time what education is all about. Only when we have done some deep thinking around this are we ready to design strong and pertinent educational experiences for our students and ourselves.
I so want to believe whatever Deborah Meir says but unfortunately her words are clouded by her actions. Last Spring I attended the National School Reform Faculty’s Educational conference in the Stienhart school at NYU, where Deborah Meir and Pedro Neugura shared their views about the role the small school movement has in our society today. I distinctly remember them stating that the reform movement of today is finally equalizing the playing field, giving the attention to inner city youth reserved only for the very wealthy offspring of neighboring Westchester and Nassau counties.
The sticking point in her presentation was in the conclusion, she admitted to the room full of aspiring principals and educators from several newly formed small schools that although she valued small schools she was trying to get her grand-daughter into a more traditional, highly competitive school here in NYC. Pedro took that lead and opened with the revelation that he too was proud that his daughter just got into Stuyvesant High School.
What might have been even more upsetting was that everyone clapped, myself included.
Putting our kids where our mouths are seems to be something many in the school reform movement are not yet willing to do. Why is this? To think that teaching is all about creating a more democratic society is admirable but creating a world with a democratic economically unsuccessful lower class would be a travesty. True equality comes from being respected. Being an economically independent individual gains the respect of your peers.
We need to create an environment that is both competitive and cooperative in our small schools. We need to do the impossible. I would love to brag how my own children graduated from the Queens High School of Teaching and have the room applaud.