Welcome back from summer vacation.
Right away it seems that this school year has stepped off, or perhaps into, a heap of controversy. While good things are happening on the personal front for me academically, the blessings afforded me are not being spread through out the educational landscape. With this said let me re-initiate my blog with a review of a previous blog post and a continuation of the discussion.
My post entitled "We Love that Basketball" (June 4, 2012) was my attempt to link sports analogies with the educational discourse.
We have to acknowledge that there are winners and losers in everything that takes place in the public arena. The goal shouldn't be to deny that the large chess board exists, but rather we should aim towards teaching everyone how to play the game. The goal shouldn't be trying to espouse false platitudes or unrealistic goals or expectations, but rather fight to close gap between those who are "winning" and those who are "losing." The most ideal situation would be one in which we are able to not only close the "achievement gap" of the nation's public school students, but also close the "political gap" which exists among many of their teachers.
(http://www.edweek.org/media/pot2011final-blog.pdf). Consequentially in an increasingly "Browning" country our teaching population is predominantly white females. For example, in Chicago, the current student population is only 9% white (which is similar to other large school districts such as LA or New York).
Let me be clear, I am not disparaging the work of these teachers, but rather I highlight this to raise a few questions. One, what role does the teacher's gender and race play in the expectations of their students? Two, what role does the teacher's gender and race play in their interest or engagement with the oftentimes confrontational and heated arena of politics? It is noted by folks far more intelligent than I, that women tend to be less confrontational and less interested in politics at the school site for a multitude of reasons, not the least of them being the many other hats they wear as a teacher (mentor, role-model, advisor, counselor, etc...). As such many teachers tend to do or listen exclusively to the leadership of their union which brings me to the next point.
As I have raised on twitter and elsewhere, this seems to be a huge case of irony. While these same teachers teach students to "challenge authority" and they themselves challenge authority, namely the School Board, the Administration and the like, they seldom seem willing or wanting to challenge their union en masse. With the exception of large scale turnover of union leadership, which occurs rarely, teachers (regardless of gender) seem content to believe and follow their union.
While I am in favor of both teachers and unions, I do not think that teachers unions, over the past few decades, have served the needs of their rank and file as positively as they could have. No one can argue that there is an extreme need for infrastructure repairs in many of our crumbling urban schools. No one can argue that class size should be lower, and that teachers need more autonomy. The questions are how do we achieve these goals while at the same time, 1) continuing to teach our students to love learning and ask critical questions 2) balancing the budgets and 3) increasing graduation rates and reducing drop out rates?
I do not have the answer, but I do know that more teachers need to examine the leadership of their unions as closely as they scrutinize the schooling choices of their Mayor's children or any of the other multitude of distractionary arguments which have been advanced since Chicago teachers went on strike Monday (9/10). As this strike thankfully comes to a close, examining the residual effects will be something which will be under the microscope in the next few weeks and months. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the current leadership of the Chicago Teacher's Union and how the teachers will repair their relationships at the school site. Trust is key, but also extremely hard to build.