Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Students Don't Fail Schools Do!

Recently I spoke with some of my colleagues about the previous correspondence I had sent to you regarding the education system that is failing the majority of our children. After speaking with the mental health staff during the evening here in Rikers Island RNDC jail about the issues related to high school education, a number of concerns have come to light. My colleagues during the evening tour consist of three LMSWs, one LCSW and two psychiatrists. I felt presenting these strategies for an improved educational system to my co-workers was important. This is so because they, like me, are charged with caring for the resulting incarceration of adolescents. This epidemic known as incarceration is no doubt the product of a failed education system. One of my co-workers who joined in the evening’s debate is a social worker in one of these failing New York City schools. During the discussion a number of concerns were presented after I had introduced the idea of GED training and test taking upon entrance into high school. I will list each concern individually then address the concerns stated. My efforts in doing this are to address some of the concerns you may have as my colleagues’ concerns may in fact mirror yours. These efforts are also advanced in the hopes that we find some way to implement these worthwhile, needed and necessary changes. GED programs already exist as well as college classes for students who fail in high school yet these students don’t want to go to school. Here in lies the fundamental problem within our education system. It does not make sense to offer students in high school the opportunity to go to college to earn an associates degree and a high school diploma only when we fail them in high school. In this case, it is important to understand how such an implementation can affect the mental health of the individual. By availing this opportunity only when students are failing is tantamount to saying to the student, “You’re a failure so why don’t you go to “X” junior college to get a degree and a high school diploma?” Why are we to assume that a student who fails out of high school is more capable of earning a two year college degree and a high school diploma? By what logic are we employing a policy that says only when you are totally humiliated by the failure of not passing your regents exam and thus high school are you capable of opportunity. When we think about the effects a failing high school education has on a person’s self esteem, we can realize that a person is no more likely to achieve after they’ve ultimately quit high school. In fact, I challenge that a student is more likely to succeed when they first begin high school in such a program. Bronx community college offers high school drop outs the chance to earn a college degree and a high school diploma within a four semester period. Again, why are we waiting to use this incredible program only when we see the student has failed high school or dropped out? Why are we sending the message that taking this route is the “failures’ route” when in fact it is not. This program should be touted as a fast track to college not as an alternative to a failed education in an educational system that has a dismal success rate when it comes to educating its students. GED programs as well should be seen in these schools as opportunities to advance to college training, vocational training in tech schools etc, not as routes that failures take when they are run out of our failing high school system. By allowing children the opportunity to take these routes of education that can advance students into an early and productive career in every field via college or other training, we can avoid the breeding grounds for crime that these high school campuses have become. We should be using the GED opportunity as a fast track to college instead of demonizing its benefits. Likewise we should be using the program in community college that allows students to gain their education in high school while earning a college degree as a fast track to college. In fact we should name these programs what they are; fast tracks to college. Most importantly, these opportunities should be provided upon entering high school not upon failing high school. High school education is meant to foster a work ethic therefore not completing the four year high school program takes away an important aspect of the student’s development When we think about what work ethic this high school system is offering, we have to admit that we can find more things unethical than ethical. In the 1950s there was a Supreme Court decision titled Brown vs Board of Education. In this decision it was determined that racially segregated school systems were inherently inferior. In 1965 we attempted to bus people of color into the White school system. However, since 1965 our school system has become more racially segregated than when Brown vs. Board was decided in the Supreme Court. It is clear that we have no intention of integrating our public school system. Therefore we can never have a school system that is meeting the needs of these “Black” students or students otherwise ensnared in social inequality. The school system was failing these students in 1956 the same as it is failing these students today. Before we rally around the conventions of new ideas, let’s stick to the fundamentals of the problem that have existed since Jim Crow. The fact has been clarified that we cannot have separate schools where one school is all poor and all “Black” and the other school is all upper income and all “White”. We under this current scenario cannot then begin to talk about creating important student development and a work ethic while we foster this inherently inferior racist system. Since we have no intention of integrating our society or our school system, we are compelling students to participate in an oppressive and exploitative school system. However, if we allow these students to test out of high school and begin a college education or other training on the onset of high school, we can create an advantage for these students. These students realize that they are treated unfairly. Students realize that based on their treatment, no one cares. A student knows when they are being set up to fail. Perhaps this explains why students in these racially segregated high schools drop out. This may explain why so many of these students feel as though they will have a better chance surviving on the streets than in a classroom. It is important to not minimize the extreme effect our failure as educators has on our society. Consequently, upon entering high school, we should allow these students in this high school system an opportunity to advance by graduating with a GED or attending colleges where they can earn their associates degree and high school diploma in 16 months. In this way we can provide these students an advantage that will allow them to compete in our society. When we allow these opportunities, for the first time, these students will have an advantage as a result of where they live like so many of their counterparts. Families are responsible since it takes a strong mother and or father to make sure that the children earn their education. We have to be aware that although most families in the inner city are poor, this in and of itself does not make them stupid. Like these students, these parents are not blind to the reality that they have to send their children to an inferior school system. These parents realize that if anyone has a choice, the choice would not be to send their child to the same school system they send their child. Parents know when they are being humiliated by a racialist school system that is apartheid in nature and Jim Crow in foundation. They realize that “White” parents aren’t sending their children to go to school with their children. This being the fact, how do you tell a parent to advocate for the perpetuation of such a system? How insane are we to not understand why a parent would not advocate for their child to be a part of this abomination? These parents are not na├»ve. They went to these schools also. They know what is going on in this system. They are aware that this is a system that poorly prepared them to overcome its oppression well enough to not have to send their children through the same shameful experience. Perhaps this explains why parents do not become involved in their child’s high school education. People who want to attend this current school system should have the opportunity to do so. However, students who do not wish to attend this current school system should be allowed opportunities to advance via two year degree and diploma programs or GED testing. This way the schools will have to create more productive methods in order to retain students and parents for the standard high school path. Thank you for your time and please feel free to contact me regarding these issues. My contact information is listed below. Evan Baker, LMSW

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