Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fortune and Success in Urban Education

Dr. Pedro Noguera, and expert in urban education, and the challenges it faces, spoke at Loyola on this very topic. It cannot be denied that urban education is a huge issue in today’s society. Many of the problems that large, urban school systems face are related to issues of poverty, socioeconomic status, and even broader social issues. Dr. Noguera is quite well rounded with his knowledge on urban education—taking trips to underperforming areas and speaking and publishing extensively on his findings. Although many of his points were absolutely valid, I disagreed with many of his assertions, and maybe even took offensive to some of his ideas.

The urban school system, for the most part, is absolutely broken in the United States. As a specific example, the Baltimore City Public School system has been plagued with problems for years. Failing students, teachers receiving low salaries, after school programs shut down—these are just a few of the numerous problems that occur across the country. You see a headlining story on the news at least a few times a year about the horrible problems, and lack of solutions, that come from the City School System. Dr. Noguera states that standardized test scores, and other measures of “success” accentuate the problems that are occurring. He also says that fortunate members of society should put their resources into helping fix this problem because the students that are failing in our schools are really our future.

This brings me to a few points of which I disagree with. The word fortunate—what does it mean? Webster would say that it means to “receive good from uncertain or unexpected sources.” Others would say those who are able to enter into higher education and have a job that makes a decent living is being fortunate. I would say that both of these definitions are incorrect. Just because one is able to go to college does not make them fortunate—they encounter hardships just like everyone else. All people experience unfortunate events in their life. Making a good living doesn’t mean that you have a fortunate life—the money you receive is just a thing; its not very important and should never be a determinant in leading a fortunate life, or a successful one. I think when someone calls someone else “fortunate,” it comes across in a very condescending way. So my second point—are we lucky because we can go to school and someday make money? I would say no, hard working would be a better description, at least for some of us. Sometimes life has nothing to do with luck or fortune, it’s just plain hard work.

So back to the real question that needs to be answered: what are the solutions to the problems that urban education face? Once again, I’ll admit in my blog post that I don’t have the answer. Some of our brightest and foremost “experts” on urban education cannot even decide what solutions would be to these very complex problems. However, I would assert that everything starts at home. Success in the classroom can only extend as far as success in the home extends. That’s a much larger problem though.

The thought of success in the classroom directly reminds me of the poem “Directions for Resisting the SAT.” This is a great poem—it gets at a very central point. To me, the poem is saying that the SAT isn’t important and it cannot really measure success. The poem may be going as far as to say that school isn’t the most important thing in the world either. I can see, and understand, both of these points. For many, school is just a stepping-stone. It gets you to where you want to be in life; a place where you can find your true happiness and success. To me, life is about more than school. And, success is about much more than school as well. Success is something that is down deep. A letter can’t measure it. Success is about happiness and experiences. I believe that we take so much more from our experiences than we do from school. What we learn from those experiences shape what we are, and define what success is to us.

In all, I did enjoy the talk given by Dr. Noguera. It did expose the problem of urban education in today’s world and tried to offer some sort of solution. To me, the talk brought up broader issues, like what fortune and lucky really mean, and what success really is. Hopefully in the next few years, together as a country we can try to shape what urban education should really be like and determine how we can get there.

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