Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bootstrappin' It!

Welcome back to the Gilded Age of bootstraps, grit, gettin' tough, and the beginnings of American plutocracy.

Frank Bruni, the New York Times food aficionado (how very bohemian bourgeois) turned education expert (how very 21st century plutocrat) sounded the alarm for school-children everywhere: get tough or stay stupid! 

Yes, reader, it's time for this year's Horatio Alger speech. We know it well: only through leading lives of excellence, nobly struggling against poverty, and facing adversity will we succeed. When all of the talk of bootstraps, toughness, and grit start flying fast, it's helpful to remember Horatio Alger wrote fictional stories. His characters sometimes succeeded through the help of a benevolent, wealthy person, too. 

In Bruni's version of this timeworn tale, the struggle we must undertake is the "laudable" Common Core. This will save us from becoming a nation of over-privileged (and under-tested!) layabouts. We assume the wealthy person is played by profiteers and plutocrats everywhere, though their helpfulness is questionable.

Bruni trots out the tired complaints that we live in a "cult of self-esteem" as he cites Common Core architect Daniel Coleman who says that the Common Core is so transformative it will transform the very idea of self-esteem. Self-esteem is now newly defined as something only achieved through hard work! 

We wonder what schools Bruni visited. Having spent considerable time in urban, public schools, we can't say students are exactly self-congratulatory. Instead, we have noticed students who:
  • Enter with skills several grade levels below the grade they're currently enrolled in
  • Bring disruptive behavior with them to the classroom
  • Can't concentrate because of lack of food, sleep, or parental presence
  • Seek lots of attention
  • Work several jobs, take care of siblings, and barely stay afloat
Bruni and others of his ilk would call this making excuses, instead of acknowledging the changing reality of urban America. Embedded in Bruni's spare the rod and spoil the child plea is the notion that students need to experience failure or else they won't go anywhere "big and real." 

On the contrary, many students in your average, urban school experience repeated, large failures. Still, they continue to show up with a decent attitude. Perhaps Coleman, et. al. should consider developing a standard for failure that can be demonstrated to be sure kids everywhere work appropriately hard to simply feel secure.

1 comment:

  1. How come nobody in power notices the realities of poverty? This commentary is common knowledge for anyone with more than a few years in a regular, traditional urban public school.