Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Of Class and Demand for Educational Services

This morning I have joined an online debate about how to best serve poor African-American students in Newark, and next week I will be having coffee with a friend whose mission is to bring high quality teachers to every community in California, including poor and Hispanic ones. Meanwhile, some old friends are trying to connect me with some new for-profit schools for the ultra-wealthy, usually European-Americans, in New York City. And yesterday I was contacted by a middle class European-American parent at a school I led in Silicon Valley, and spent last night reading about aspirational middle class Koreans pouring into cram schools like those I used to teach at in east Asia.

These people all want the best educational services for their children that we can supply, and I have experience teaching all of them and can help them. Tomorrow a new school year starts, and notwithstanding my current temporary work for the U.S. Department of Education, I don't have employment that will provide my family with health insurance or fix our heater before winter comes (we went all last winter without heat). My family is suffering as we descend in social class, like so many other Americans. The question, then, is what to do.

One World Secondary School has two mottoes, "Let's bring the world together" and "Taking the best of the world and sharing it with everyone." A basic problem is that, in our divided world, people don't want to be together; and more specifically, the wealthy don't want to be together with the poor, in part because they are afraid that their own children will be left behind, in this world of ever-increasing global competition, if they are made to wait in traditional public school classrooms while the teachers attend to the needs of the students who have already fallen behind, who were born behind, and are the more obviously needy. Meanwhile, middle class Americans just want some attention: "What about us?" they ask in reference to their own children, possibly cognizant of the competition from those aspirational Asians on the other side of the Pacific, who feel they've been left behind for too many centuries while we selfishly use up all the world's resources as if they were inexhaustible, for the use of God's elect.

The best solution is still to found this school, perhaps as a charter school here in my own home city, which I might be accused of having ignored while busily engaged with the problems of and solutions for the rest of the world. If we start small, and show success, perhaps others will gather and follow. After all, when one has so few followers, any claims to being a leader are apt to go unheard, like that tree falling in the forest.        

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