Pearl River The President says, open the schools. Actually, he doesn’t have any power over opening the schools, so it’s more bully-boy posturing and threatening backed up by Betsey DeVos prattling along the same lines, while neither of them are lifting a finger to help finance what it is projected to take for school districts to make returning safe for teachers and students. Teachers seem divided over the question. Many are over 50 years old and worry about their own susceptibility. Others are torn between online teaching and their own childcare responsibilities. Districts understand that the digital divide and the less effective online offerings will exacerbate the inequality gaps that already exist in education. There’s really no question that we need schools to be open for the kids, for the parents, for the economy, for a million good reasons, but there’s also no question that we need to be ready to roll, and we clearly are not.
All of these questions came up in a curious way, as I talked to Amherst Professor Pawan Dhingra about not just reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but education on steroids, as he discusses in his book Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior are not Enough. He had studied families and their children in what are seen as some of the better public-school systems in the USA, and while visiting with many of them found some interesting and disturbing undercurrents fueling hyper education.
One was the pernicious impact of neoliberalism that has leeched into parental school evaluations. Schools are seen as not performing well enough to guarantee stable, well-paying jobs and under neoliberalism’s depleted and uneven funding have transferred that responsibility to parents and private systems, ironically not necessarily in the worst schools, but in the best. Tutoring systems in math, science, spelling, and general education are booming businesses with thousands of locations around the country and growing. The IEP or individual educational plan, mandated under federal law for special needs students, including those who are gifted, has become a footnote in the process rather than the path intended.
Another contradiction Professor Dhingra found centered not surprisingly on race. Where Indian-American and Chinese-American students have flourished competitively through hyper education priorities, rationalizations are often created to dial down their achievements and intensity to maintain the historic place of white students in the hierarchy, rather than developing equitable programs to move everyone forward. Ethnic parents similarly create racial rationales over the choices white parents make about sports and education.
In the time of pandemic, even having more resources to access hyper education won’t be enough with schools closed. At the same time, talking to Professor Dhingra on Wade’s World, it was clear the gaps would lengthen, perhaps permanently, if real progress isn’t made as soon as possible.