Hillary Clinton spoke briefly, about a week ago, on a wide range of educational topics with Newsday editors on Long Island. The detailed, public video and transcript are posted HERE.
Clinton claimed to support “National Standards” in education and a “Common Core”. She supports “Public Charter Schools” and a litany of “good” things: “Good” teachers, ”Good” schools, “Good” Charters, “Good” choice, “Good” testing, “Good” explanation (to parents) of “standardized testing”. Never once did she define “good”, although she used the terms “good” or “great” at least ten times during the eleven minute segment on education.
She did not speak to the structural inequity (nor the instability) of “National Standards” or a “Common Core” with no “National”, or “Common”, funding.
The most shocking aspect of her views on public education was her thought about improving education for “poor kids”, whom she had earlier acknowledged are now a majority in public schools. The “poor” majority of children are described HERE as about 70% Hispanic, Black, Asian, Native American and Multiethnic. Clinton describes “poor” children as coming to school with “all kinds of issues and problems”, her deficit view. Then she cites the “need” to “experiment” on “poor” kids.
Clinton wants to experiment with “boarding schools”: Segregate “poor” children in boarding schools, “if we can do it right”.
There are about 50 million children in public schools in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, linked HERE. The 51%, “poor” majority in public schools totals about 25 million children.
If Clinton’s boarding school “experiment” on “poor children” is successful, then to accommodate all the “poor” children, she would need to build 25 thousand boarding schools, each accommodating 1000 boarders, plus faculty and staff, and all with incredible, on-going safety and security issues. Food and transportation costs for 25 million “poor” children would all also need to be considered.
For comparison, Clinton would be building 5X as many “poor” boarding schools as there are Walmart stores in the U.S..
Alternatively, Clinton could cut costs, build fewer schools and then concoct a way to ration access for “poor” children. Some would be admitted, some “poor” children be screened out.
The even greater contentiousness with Clinton’s idea to segregate “poor” children is its morality.
First of all, the concept of “experimenting” on “poor” children, even if it is voluntary, is contemptible. How will “results” of her experiment with their lives be determined? The “standardized test” results in use today have been shown to clearly identify socioeconomic status, no more (click HERE), but we already know the children are “poor”. If “standardized tests” are not legitimate, how else will she evaluate boarding schools?
Clinton may have given some clues about her motivation (and maybe her evaluation of “results”) in her comments about early “results” for “poor” kids in Pre-K in New York City. “It’s not just the academic environment”. She sounds informed so far, but then goes on to specify:
“It’s the social environment”. “It’s giving kids a chance to learn how to work in groups. It’s giving, you know, kids who need it, maybe more structure.”
Does Clinton really believe that all “poor” kids are in bad “social environments”? (How to measure? Who determines?). Where is her data which tells her that “poor” kids don’t know how to work in groups and that they need more structure? Her tone and intent seem patronizing at best.
Worse, Clinton’s “boarding school” socialization and structure idea sounds more like assimilation than education. Shocking and scarily reminiscent of other U.S. ventures in segregating classes of “other” people. Native Americans were also thought to be in need of “education” to work differently in groups and to be in need of structure. In particular, never forget the grossly inhumane segregation and personal and cultural degradation of Native Americans in the attempt to assimilate them via boarding school “education”, as outlined HERE (page 6, and pages 8-10) and HERE (especially the subtitle “Transforming People…”).
Eerily, this earlier “boarding school” idea for Natives was also preceded by an “experiment”.
Politicians versus Practitioners
It is impossible to continue silently enduring simplistic, even dangerous views of learning and teaching practice by non-practitioners. Politicians’ simplistic “solution pills” to “fix” education, instead continue generating more and more collateral damage: academic damage, systemic damage, financial damage, social damage, personal damage, and more.
There are no capital programs, no curriculum programs, no materials or supplies, no teacher incentives or teacher punishments, no longer hours, no charter business plans, no boarding schools, no “common core” or “standardized” testing program, nor even school closings that start at the center of the learning process. Instead they all focus on the periphery.
Learners, the children, are the center.
Learning is a complex, personal process. The learning process and its timeline for children varies infinitely, as does human experience.
Facilitating learning, or “teaching”, the wide range of learners and learning styles and learning paces which can be found in a typical Public School classroom, including “poor” children is an art, a “practice”.
Teaching is an achievement of experienced professional experts. It takes highly trained, highly competent people to work with people — work with 30 people, every day, in one room, all day, day-after-day. Most politicians are not professional experts, nor even competent on education topics, yet they yearn to “experiment” and mandate pedagogy.
Whether we choose to accept the truth, or adopt politicians’ simplistic view of children and teachers (people) as ‘widgets’ to experiment on, defines the battle.
Complexity: Widgets or people?
As one single example of one key complexity (there are many others), children in our Public School classrooms have massive rates of trauma, described by a U.S. Department of Justice report as an“epidemic” and by past Surgeon Generals as “national crisis.”
Childhood trauma includes childhood abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. For a narrative view (“Peek Inside a Classroom”) click HERE.
One part to understand is that childhood trauma affects all classrooms, “poor” children and rich children.
Childhood Trauma is an injury to a child. It is not an issue of “bad” behavior. It is not being “poor”. It is not an “urban issue”. It is not a “color issue”. It affects every city and every suburb. The CDC’s own prodigious study was fielded in beautiful, suburban San Diego.
Public health research by the CDC/Kaiser Permanente illuminates shockingly high rates of childhood trauma. Rates as high as English Language Learner (ELL) percentages and as high as those students with Individual Education Plans (IEP). In some areas, the rate of childhood trauma is higher than the combination of IEPs and ELLs. National totals of 35 million children, calculated HERE, are dramatically more than can be accommodated by individual ‘504 Plans,’ given current staffing in public schools.
Students with IEPs and ELLs are funded and accommodated. Childhood trauma is not. Systemic ignorance or inaction is reality for tens of millions of children. (Click HERE for more : “Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm?“)
The net result: trauma-impacted children are blocked from equal access to an equal quality, public education. That is morally wrong. That is a blatant civil rights violation.
Just one example of complexity.
National political action would be correctly served by protecting the civil rights of trauma-impacted, children now being denied equal access.
Instead we have a national political candidate thinking about a boarding school experiment, with the lives of “poor” children.