On Community and the Education Crisis

header-education crisisFor the past few weeks, I’ve had a sort of mental dialogue with myself over and over – much like a song playing on repeat.  Interestingly, this dialogue actually began as a real conversation in a hotel room in Asheville, North Carolina with my boyfriend and a few of our very dear friends.  It very quickly became a heated debate which lasted until 4:00 AM.  I’ll share the ridiculously abridged version (that makes everyone on my side of the debate sound awesome and super rational).


What is your solution for solving the education crisis?  More money?  Higher taxes?
No, it requires a much more complex answer than simply asking tax payers for  more money. 
Well, then what do you propose?
Students need more access to opportunities.
Bullshit!  They need to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them.  They already get too much.  I didn’t have anyone helping me.  No one paid for my college or gave me an extra shot because I’m white!
Whoa, whoa, whoa!  I would challenge you to take a look at what you were given, and I know it’s hard to understand, but there is such a thing as white privilege.  You definitely benefited in one way or another.  We definitely need to take a step back – look at the numbers.  How is it that the numbers don’t add up? Why don’t the college campus demographics add up to America’s?
Because they’re not taking advantage of what they’re being offered.  I guarantee you, if I applied for a job, and a minority applied for a job, they would get it.  They would get it even if they weren’t as qualified!
Now, this is where I call bullshit.  That is hateful rhetoric and just not true.  I find it disgusting that you assume immediately that this person is less qualified than you, and why… because they’re a minority?
That’s not what I said.  I’m simply saying they have plenty of opportunities.  I went to public school, and I’m very successful.  I had to work my ass off – without handouts.


Needless to say, we had to go to bed without coming to an agreement.  However, I could not sleep.  I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.  How did the pronoun “they” change from students in low-income and poorly performing schools to minority students?  Why did this become a race issue?  And for god’s sake, why are my friends so angry and unreasonable?  At what point in the conversation did I lose them?  I pondered these questions and more for a very long time that night.  I was angry, confused, and crying… which made me even more angry.

I slowly began to see that whatever I thought I was saying, that is not what my friends were hearing.  I’m going to credit the phenomenon known as “white guilt” for that issue.  My friends were hearing me say that they weren’t doing enough, and they didn’t deserve the opportunities they had in life.  Of course they were angry, and of course, I don’t believe that at all.  I know they are honest, intelligent, hard-working, dedicated, and professional people.  They deserve everything they have.  My issue is that these students in the schools I’ve been in for the last 5 years deserve success too.  Yes, there are opportunities, and for every 1 opportunity, I would say there are about 10 students jumping on it.  The issue is that there isn’t enough opportunity to go around.  What I couldn’t get my friends to hear was that we had access to a multitude of opportunities in our middle class schools – whether or not we were actually middle class.  In this marathon called life, we started off with the advantage.  I want to ensure all our students begin at the same starting line.  This brings me to another truth that my friends could not fathom: all public schools are not equal.  They kept saying my public school, when I was in a public school, etc… and I kept thinking, that was more than 10 years ago.  You just mentioned your school had a student government, honors society, extracurricular classes… not to mention a library and computers.  “Your school” is not the reality many students face today.  I kept thinking… why don’t they get it – why can’t they see?


The realization hit my like a ton of bricks.  Well, it was more like a huge weight was lifted off my chest,  and I could breathe again.  It was such a physical realization that I sprung straight up in bed.  The truth was hidden in the pronouns… they, their, them… me, my.  My friends did not view students in the public school system as their community or their responsibility.  I guess,  at the most basic level of reason, these students are not their responsibility. However, I was pushing for a different level of reasoning in regard to social responsibility and reform.  One of my friends, who played mediator and conflict resolution expert, said it best:  Sure, you can keep thinking like that.  Keep telling yourself you don’t owe these kids or this community anything.  It’s their fault they’re unsuccessful.  You got where you are now on your own… they would be successful if they weren’t so lazy.  If they would just try or put in some effort they would make it.  Sure, you can keep thinking like that.  And if you do, we are going to have the same shitty world we have today.

I am still kept up at night thinking about – how we can level the playing field… how we can provide the necessary resources… how we can provide access to our students in America’s public education system.  The answer I would provide is strengthening the community.  Involve big business in the public school system.  Invite volunteers from professional fields to teach and work with students.  Build those partnerships and those bridges.  The children of doctors and engineers are not more likely to become doctors and engineers because they are smarter or more driven.  They are more likely to reach that career because they have access to the world of doctors and engineers.  They have access to those opportunities.


Blended Learning and Internet Safety for your Student

Over the weekend, I was able to attend an extended learning time (ELT) summit convened by Citizen Schools in Boston, MA.  Citizen Schools is a non-profit education reform company that partners with middle schools in low-income and urban environments to extend the learning day and provide access and opportunities to students that will help them reach their dreams and achieve success.  You can check out more about this company at http://www.citizenschools.org/.

blended learningWhile many great ideas were discussed and topics covered, blended learning is what stuck out to me the most.  Blended learning combines traditional face to face education with computer based learning.  Many schools are beginning to adopt this style of learning, and it is definitely becoming more common.  Check out this link for even more information on what blended learning is: http://www.knewton.com/blended-learning/

The most exciting thing that blended learning offers is a way to individualize learning in classrooms that typically have 20 or more students.  When open houses are scheduled for your child’s school, this is definitely something you should ask about. Find out if blended learning is offered at their school.  In the mean time, you can work with your student to teach them how to use the internet responsibly.
internet danger

What can you do?

Well, here are a few tips:

Spend time with your child on the internet.  Help them learn how to use search engines to find help on assignments or on topics that interest them.   At the same time, make sure you are giving clear expectations on types of websites you find appropriate and inappropriate.

If you don’t have access to the internet at home, ask your librarian about computers that you and your child may use. If you’re not familiar with computers or with the Internet, you can check to see when someone is available at the library to help you and your child learn together to use them. Since computers are so common in learning today, many times you will find that your child is a mini-expert. Let them teach you by asking them to explain what they are doing and why. Build a stronger bond with your child by asking them to show you their favorite Web sites and find out what they like about the site. This will also help your student build self-confidence and pride in their abilities.

Make sure you share the reasons for why some websites are dangerous and what they can do to stay protected. I recently read a blog on CNET, and I’ve included a bulleted list that you may find helpful below. Read more at http://www.cnet.com/4520-13384_1-6721368-1.html

  • Long, hard-to-guess passwords that include a mix of numbers, letters, and characters (see http://www.microsoft.com/security/default.aspx)
  • Do not disclose passwords to friends and strangers
  • Know how to identify malicious software
  • Teach kids to be extremely cautious when opening downloads or links from friends and strangers
  • Never click ads or answer unsolicited e-mails
  • Teach kids to refrain from automatically clicking “yes” buttons anywhere on the screen–read all text carefully
  • Download legitimate software only, and only from trusted sites. Software is available that can help http://reviews.cnet.com/4321-3667_7-6561525.html?
  • Kids should immediately report anything suspicious to an adult
  • Emphasize that kids should talk to an adult if they become victims of bullying
  • Save the evidence
  • Report incidents to your Internet service provider, e-mail provider, or Web site host. If the incidents begin occurring offline, report the encounters to the bully’s parents or to school officials

I hope you enjoyed this post, and please leave a comment to let me know what you think!

Summer School: What Your Student Should be Working On

Unless your student is enrolled in a year round school, summer academic programs, or actually in summer school, they could actually be losing ground and falling behind their peers who are practicing and reinforcing what they learned in school last year.  Many studies say up to 2 months of loss.  Take a look at the link below for a quick list:


Most parents don’t have the same schedule as their students, and many children are left with a huge amount of unstructured and often times unsupervised time to fill.  Also, free programs aren’t always readily available if you don’t live in an urban area, and most parents don’t have the disposable income to enroll their kids in pricey summer camps or programs. 

So, what can you do?

Dr. Ruth Peters recently spoke on “Today” and offered some great advice on what you can do to support your student’s learning and to make sure you keep it fun.  Here are a few of her key points:

  • Learn to love your local library (and librarian!).  It’s a wonderful place to promote the love of reading, and the librarian can suggest grade-level as well as pure recreational books that will keep your kid’s neurons clicking.
  • Check out safe, parent-approved Internet sites. There are many that offer a “summer camp” theme — a daily craft activity to do alone or with a parent each day, some brain teasers, etc.
  • Consider your local newspaper — many have summer writing camps.
  • Even if your child attends a public school during the year, many private schools offer summer programs for all students that involve academics as well as sports, crafts and field trips.

For more ideas, check out the video link below for the full interview:


I hope you enjoy these ideas and get a chance to try them out.  Please leave a comment if you have any questions or other ideas.

summer school