Occupy the Classroom?

| October 20, 2011

This in the New York Times.

Occupy the Classroom – NYTimes.com.

“This is where inequality starts,” said Kathleen McCartney, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as she showed me a chart demonstrating that even before kindergarten there are significant performance gaps between rich and poor students. Those gaps then widen further in school.

“The reason early education is important is that you build a foundation for school success,” she added. “And success breeds success.”

One common thread, whether I’m reporting on poverty in New York City or in Sierra Leone, is that a good education tends to be the most reliable escalator out of poverty. Another common thread: whether in America or Africa, disadvantaged kids often don’t get a chance to board that escalator.

Who would argue? But treating equality as a problem of head starts into the system isn’t the strongest of “occupations.” The idea that inequality starts in early childhood is to miss the ways in which the rhetoric of an equal chance hides the stacked larger field, and dictates the frame of a “race to the top” to begin with. The image of an escalator takes this to the most ironic extreme right at this moment in history when the very automaticity of our socio-economic processes is being called into question. To occupy these systems, we would have to do something much different than simply let them do their thing.

To truly occupy the classroom, we might have to carry a different hand-made sign, “no child left without a place of struggle in common.”