“Public education is in crisis only so far as society is.”

If No Child Left Behind taught us anything, disadvantaged students do not perform as well as their advantaged peers on standardized assessments. Advantaged families with resources provide their children with adequate health care; provide enrichment experiences such as out-of-town travel, trips to the library and museum, extracurricular activities such as sports, music and dance classes, etc.; work alongside the school while demanding the highest quality; etc. Such families buy homes in neighborhoods that afford said opportunities. Disadvantaged families often do not have such resources or luxuries. Health care is often inaccessible if time even permits as multiple employment is often necessary to simply pay the bills. Enrichment opportunities are limited to the television and the neighborhood if it is safe enough. Families take affordable housing, which is consistently segregated by economics and often by race.

But lawmakers and “reformers” don’t want to talk about this reality. It puts them in the spotlight. To preserve their own interests and those of the 1% who support their own well-being, little to nothing is done to address the real issue, poverty and inequality. But perhaps, this is what the 1% want – segregation from “those children” and more opportunities for their children. An equal education would threaten opportunity for their own. “Public education is in crisis only so far as society is,” offers Diane Ravitch, educational historian and noted author of NCLB policies who has since recanted her support for such “reform” measures after witnessing its “corrosive effects.”

Brené Brown, shame researcher and author wrote in her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,

“To reignite creativity, innovation, and learning, leaders must rehumanize education. This means understanding how scarcity is affecting the way we lead and work, learning how to engage with vulnerability, and recognizing and combating shame. Make no mistake: honest conversations about vulnerability and shame are disruptive. The reason that we’re not having these conversations is that they shine light in dark corners. Once there is language, awareness, and understanding, turning back is almost impossible and carries with it severe consequences. If you give us a glimpse into that possibility, we’ll hold on to it as our vision. It can’t be taken away.”

Perhaps this is what is driving our reality. Those at the top wish to remain there; and despite their rhetoric of “choice” (and I assure you, they allegedly want to offer “choice” so long as their choices cannot be accessed). Perhaps deep down, there is shame for perpetuating this system. Until we can get honest with ourselves, lawmakers and “reformers” will continue to put lipstick on the pig using educators as scapegoats for the real issues that face our nation.

In her post, “Own our history. Change the story.” (http://brenebrown.com/2015/06/18/own-our-history-change-the-story/), Brown outlines our call to action better than any I’ve read.

“Until we find a way to own our collective stories around racism in this country, our history and the stories of pain will own us. Our collective stories of race in the US are not easy to own. They are stories of slavery, violence, and systemic dehumanization. We will have to choose courage over comfort. We will have to feel our way through the shame and sorrow. We will have to listen. We will have challenge our resistance and our defensiveness. We have to keep listening even when we want to scream, “I’m not that way. This isn’t my fault!” We have to examine and own stereotypes and prejudices. Every single one of us has them. It will be tough.

We will need to sit down with our children and talk about privilege. This means honest conversations about how we were raised and what we need to work on. No blaming or shaming, but truth. It’s not productive to deny how hard we all work for what we have, but it’s not honest to deny that many of us are afforded privileges based on who we are and what we look like.

Yes, we need to own a million heartbreaking stories of discrimination and prejudice, and make millions of changes, and hold space for a million tough conversations. But, if each one of us owns one story and makes one change and has one honest conversation where we listen more than defend or offer false comfort – we can do this. There is a way to write a brave new ending to one of the most painful stories in our history. What remains to be seen is if we have the will and courage.

This is not bigger than us. This is us.”

How can we begin to have these conversations? I want to be a part.

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