Friday, November 11, 2011

Our Schools Suck

For one of my classes we read parts of the book Our Schools Suck by Alonso, Anderson, Su, and Theoharis.  The most interesting aspect about this book is that it was written by different authors who gave voice to minorities speaking out about our failing education system.  Some of the stories of school conditions are appalling, such as only two working bathrooms for a school of 4,000 (whose capacity is only in the mid-2,000 range), which are closed half of the time and have pests and aren't kept up.  Others stories speak of the increasing policing policies in some of these schools, in which police officers insult and degrade many students upon entry, as these students are forced to be "felt-up" and put through metal detectors (many waiting an hour in line to do-so, requiring them to be at school even earlier).  Other stories speak of the overcrowding, so bad that some classes are held in offices, libraries, and class sizes are made so large that not everyone even has a place to sit.  There were many other stories, but even faced with these ones listed, would you be able to learn in an environment like this?

A lot of the book focused on the idea that it is our schools that are failing minority students (African American and Latino specifically in this work), not the lack of motivation in these students (as is the most popular and widely spread injustice against these students).  These students speak out about their motivation for school but everything about our education system keeps them from getting anywhere (i.e. the conditions I listed above, tracking, institutionalized racism, poverty, and socioeconomic status are all factors).  This is a very insightful read, and I definitely recommend it for anyone who is interested in ed reform or just wants to get a different viewpoint than the mainstream one on why students of color are not succeeding in our system.

What I really wanted to do for this blog post is to share with you the poetry of one of the young minority students whose voice is heard in this book.  His name is Jorman Nunez, and he dropped out of school because of all of the conditions I talked about before.  He is really smart, however, and joined an activist group and eventually took the GED and worked his way into college despite the terrible education he received in our educational system.  His poetry is really powerful and is given throughout the introduction of the book.  Here are the snippets...

"School didn't show me what it needed to show,
And it wouldn't teach me what I needed to know.
Bottom line:  It didn't give me the tools I needed to grow."

"The teachers can't engage me, so I just sit there, fighting off sleep
And they tell us we're all different, that our minds are unique at their best
But two minutes later, we suddenly have to take a "standardized" test
They tell me to think critically, "Don't just follow the mass"
But if I ask a challenging question, I get kicked out of class
And when I got my hat on, it shows that the discipline rules are not fair
'Cause Ms. O'Neill lets me slide, but Mr. Martinez suspends me right there
Screaming in my face so much, I could see his drool
He tells me delinquents like me shouldn't bother with school
But my mother tells me different, she wants me to obtain knowledge
She tells me to fulfill my dreams, be the first to reach college
I thought I was competent, I always thought I was smart
But these mixed messages have torn me apart."

"If you were told that schools are equal then you were told the best lie
Because we have more stereotypes in our schools than Best Buy.
We are not born criminals, we are created
We represent the youth destined to be incarcerated."

"They tell me there's no money for schools, but I think they're telling me tales
'Cause Bloomberg funded our [surveillance] cameras, and they always got money for jails
See what they fund schools with, and then times that by more than three
You'll still get less than half of what they fund prisons----
Huh, wonder where they want me to be."

"We want good schools, with a whole lotta class
So that mommy can brag, and we can surpass
the myth--to be leaders at last."

I think that these quotes show the power of what our students feel and what happens when we don't give them the education that they deserve.  I think that in order to have true, honest to goodness reform, we need to start by listening to our students.

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