Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vast Carelessness and School Reform

I. At School

This past week has been thought provoking.  Earlier in the week I conducted a full day inservice with a principal and a dozen teachers, many of whom I have worked with during the last two years.  I so believe in the work they are committed to doing on a daily basis at this southward school in Newark, NJ.  I work with this staff on a monthly basis and this week we closed the session by viewing a brief film that portrayed learning at a public school in Brookline, Massachusetts.  After the video ended, the principal paused and then spoke with the teachers about how she has to be mindful when she sees videos of other children learning to not minimize the potential of that learning because the children portrayed are living in such safer situations than the children who attend her school.  She said,
I'm thinking that those children in that classroom all ate dinner the night before.  That they did not have to walk past multiple murder sites from the last few weeks on their way to school.  I have to remind myself that our kids can learn as well too. 
To contextualize the principal's comments find below an image of a map that chronicles murders during the last year that happened where this school is located (map includes an adjacent city).

from here.
So I have been thinking about the kids at the school who arrive hungry, who arrive scared having travelled streets many adults would fear to tread, who arrive ill lacking the resources for medical care.  I can recall sitting in an 8th grade classroom at this school last spring when one girl reading from her notebook told about a shooting that had taken place up the street from the school the day before. Another child read about being the only surviving male in his family having seen his brother and cousin each killed within the past year and the weight of those deaths on him and his mother.  All of this weighs and I find myself thinking about the school solutions that are routinely offered (longer school days, longer school years, rigorous curricula, CCSS implementation, teacher education and evaluation) and I want to shout, Time Out!

This is not to say that those routinely offered solutions are good or bad, but rather that they often obfuscate the larger problem of racial income inequality that we don't seem to talk about very often and certainly do not entertain it as a viable solution to what ails us.

II.  Carelessness

So all of this was on my mind when I sat down earlier today to read the Sunday NY Times and found Sam Polk's rather narcissistic essay, For the Love of Money, gracing the cover of the Sunday Review. Polk, a former hedge-fund trader, situates his rather obscene desire for money (laments the smallness of a $3.6 million bonus) as an addiction--as if such maneuvering might recast the capitalist society that in many ways is responsible for producing the crime-ridden and hungry-child neighborhood I first described at the start of this post as something akin to a personal addiction problem that has now been conquered. Sam Polk is all better. There's no ownership in what his actions wrought.  There's no acknowledgement that the very bonuses he was given came on the back of the middle class and poor and have helped to create the abject poverty and hopelessness in a city where 111 murders have taken place this past year.  Rather Sam Polk has authored an all about me essay that only the disillusioned wealthy could write and sadly the NY Times could print.

I was reminded while reading Polk of the end of The Great Gatsby where Nick Carraway muses:
I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made […]. (9.136-145)
It's this extreme carelessness of hedge-fund traders and market speculators who make money out of hunger that is most disturbing.  They harm you and me, our kids, our neighborhoods, our country with little regard, if any, for their actions beyond how their actions influence their rather petty selves.  The end of Polk's essay has an almost Jonathan Swift  Modest Proposal feel to it--if only Polk was writing satire.  Polk has traded his hedge funding which creates income inequality for now helping the poor he helped to make manage their obesity and food addictions. Yes, you have read that correctly. His new nonprofit, Groceryships, is designed "to help poor families struggling with obesity and food addictions."


  1. Great post! There is work out of Berkeley that shows that as the rich become richer they become more and more entitled. Very sad state of affairs in our country. Also have been reading about what is going on in Newark with principals being fired for protesting the closing of their schools. T

  2. Thanks Deb. Yes, never a dull moment there.


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