If you haven’t read Jonathan Kozol’s Shame of the Nation, let these reflections from the incredible mentors/tutors in UNST 421 convince you. Here are their reflections after reading an excerpt, experiencing their field placements, and becoming incredibly knowledgeable about education in Portland and the U.S. Both students question the status quo in education today and the way they feel that education structures are limiting student (and overall human) potential. The kind of thinking, discussing, and acting that happens in these courses is powerful stuff. Grappling with these complex issues is not easy in any sense, but with increased awareness, spreading of information, and action, we will be able to make change.
I think Fortino (and Jonathon Kozol in giving Fortino the last word) is implying that the segregated state of the nation’s schools is the result of some implicit desire of the wealthy to protect the status quo by keeping the poor, poor. For our economic system to function, some people must do menial, manual labor, while others can do more fulfilling jobs that require a quality education and, consequently, money. By keeping poor people poor with poor education, they can continue to do the menial jobs so rich people don’t have to.
Although I think most Americans would be disturbed by the idea that this is intentionally maintained by the wealthy class, I can’t help but think it is implicitly promoted by our society. It seems there is a trend for poor, minority schools to focus curriculum on technical programs where students are encouraged to pursue more “practical” careers like mechanics, construction, or sewing. This trend is apparent in Portland Public Schools, and it seems it would only further contribute to segregation. I wonder to what extent these programs are inspired by the implicit desire to maintain whatever stability is left in our economic system. In my opinion, an economic system is a failure if we must limit the potential of any human in order to maintain the economy.
Camille quoted Jonathan Kozol from shame of the nation as the context for her response:
“Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are repeatedly employed. Schools in which as few as 3 or 4 percent of students may be white or Southeast Asian or of Middle Easter origin, for instance — and where every other child in the building is black or Hispanic — are referred to as ‘diverse.'”
This quote stood out to me as a linguistics major, as it is highlighting the way in which language is couched to hide the plain realities we live in. While it is plain to the students and educators in these schools (and to those of us reading about them) that these are minority schools that are receiving funding and support that reflects their status as minorities, those in power would rather label them as “diverse” and ignore the problems that those working and learning in the school face on a daily basis. This is a very dangerous and problematic stance to take, for the children being directly affected as well as the society as a larger whole. If we were to plainly label everything as it was, would the likelihood of changes being made increase? What would it take for everyone to speak plainly about inequalities in our education system?
I absolutely believe that the general public is not well informed on education funding or even what needs to be funded. Most middle class groups (not necessarily white) don’t even realize the amount of need in education funding because in their experiences schools are adequately funded and while there may be a shortage of school supplies or a large class size, they don’t have to deal with a dilapidated building or lack of school nurses or any of the other issues facing schools which serve populations in poverty. Countless times, I have heard people harping on the need for more money towards education and yet any mention of increased taxes or reform and they suddenly become reluctant to give.