Blue Shirt Tuesday

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Civil Rights Movement of our Generation

Teach for America and Robert Moses tell us that eliminating the achievement gap and teaching low-income students math is the Civil Rights Movement of our generation. Just as voting restrictions and segregation kept minorities from enjoying full citizenship forty years ago, today's poor public schools are keeping minorities in a sub-citizen class.

I agree that teaching poor students is hella important, maybe even the most important cause to be a part of (I am here, after all). But I don't think that it's a civil rights movement. I'm no scholar of civil rights history or activism or anything like that, but it seems to me that good education is something that we are always going to have to provide, no matter what we accomplish today or the year or in the next decade. Education is an ongoing need. In contrast, I see civil rights movements as having a final goal: the completely equal treatment of everyone regardless of race, for instance. Activists will say stuff like "freedom isn't free" and "we can never stop fighting for our freedom" and "the struggle has just begun," and I agree with them entirely. The civil rights movement is not over, and education equality is part of the ongoing struggle. But education itself is not a movement- it's a necessity. In an ideal world no one needs civil right movements. Everyone can vote, everyone can marry, everyone can work wherever they're qualified. But even in an ideal world we'll still need good educators, and those educators will still need to work tirelessly.

I guess that my point is that I don't see myself as part of a movement that can succeed. Yes, I expect my students to do better on their standardized tests than previous students at the same school; I expect more of them to go on to college than previously at the school; an I expect them to know more math and care more about the world than previously. I will have succeeded if that is true, but the struggle will be nowhere closer to complete than when I began. Teachers are like doctors- there will always be more students to teach just as there will always be more patients to heal. The difference is that doctors can eradicate diseases, whereas teachers will always have students who need to learn math.


  • At 2:29 PM, Blogger Glenn said…

    Here is what we know: standardized test performance is determined largely by students' mothers' edcational level, schools play a minor role. Students habitus and values come from parents. Students only attend school for about 20% of their time K through 12. IF WE REALLY WANT TO CHANGE SOCIOCULTURAL INEQUITIES WE NEED TO CHANGE PARENTS AND HOME LIFE!

  • At 6:29 PM, Blogger steve said…

    It may be true that children who suffer from inequalities need a better home life, but how do we change parents and home life. Government and social workers can only go so far, is putting children in group homes our best option? It is certainly true that teachers can only control so much, so it is imperrative that they do take control of what they can. Excellent teachers don't and can't fix problems at home, but they can certainly provide an oppurtunity for an excellent education, and this is certainly a step in the right direction.


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