Education is a civil rights
issue of our time just as education and segregation were
in the 1950s. Back then, the challenge was breaking down the barriers that
prevented black children from attending public schools.
Thanks to the civil rights leaders of 50s and 60s, all children are permitted
to attend public schools, but not much else has
changed. Academic performance of many poor and
minority children, blacks especially, still charts well below classmates.
Poverty still pervades the black communities and those
of other minorities, and they are populated with multiple generations of men
and women who have always failed in school. Far too many of their sons and
daughters fill the seats of the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse express to overflowing;
adding “criminal justice reform” to the list of
civil rights issues.
Shutting down the schoolhouse-to-jailhouse
pipeline is a point on everyone’s priority list, but all the talk and
pledges in the world will not alter our current reality until we begin to alter
the forces that drive that reality. Even then we cannot change, overnight, that
which has taken generations to evolve.
The problems are systemic, and we must address the inherent
imperfections of systems, not treat the symptoms of those imperfections.
The issue of criminal justice provides a useful example. For people who have not worked in the criminal justice system, the reactive nature of the system is often misunderstood. Our courts do not go out and seek people to load up their dockets nor do corrections facilities recruit inmates. Each institution must deal with the people delivered to its door.
Our police departments respond to complaints, patrol to deter crime, and act when witnessing evidence of illegal activity. Abuses of their power are not part of law enforcement training protocols, they are aberrant behavior; whether resulting from prejudice, poor training, or breaches of policy.
Although founded on the principles of democracy and on the
rights and responsibilities protected and expected under the U.S. Constitution,
the criminal justice system, like all systems of human design, are imperfect. When
these systems are inundated, both the imperfections of the systems and the
prejudices of some of its people are exposed. It is such aberrations that
destroy trust between law enforcement and the
communities they exist to serve and protect.
The criminal justice system is inundated because the
schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline is overflowing. We will not be effective in
improving the efficacy of the criminal justice system until we address the
social problems that overload its circuits. We must understand why the pipeline
exists and the simple and convenient answers of poverty
and discrimination are not very helpful.
If we have learned anything over the last 60-plus years, it
is that we cannot legislate an end to
the prejudices and enmity in the hearts of man. We cannot wish away the social
realities that devastate the lives of so many people.
While necessary, protesting the injustices in society will
not alter the social realities of our communities.
The only way to protect blacks and other minorities from discrimination and the imperfections of the justice
system is to reduce the flow of people entering that system.
The only way to keep young black and other minority men and
women from entering the system is to help them become impervious to
discrimination by giving them a menu of meaningful choices.
The only way to provide them with meaningful choices is to
make meaningful changes in the education process that was intended to provide
them with those choices.
The only way to ensure a quality education for every child
is to alter an education process that, historically, has not served the
interests of society’s most vulnerable children; whatever the genesis of that
Like poverty and discrimination, the
schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline is a consequence of something that is not
working the way our society needs it to work. That something is the “education
process” at work in our schools, both our public schools and private. Whether
they will admit it or not, virtually every educator understands that what they
are being asked to do does not work for many children. Our education process
has been obsolete for generations.
From the perspective of this observer, when the growing population of students demanded a reconfiguration of the process, in the early years of public education, the mounting cost and the need for operational efficiency obscured the essential purpose of education. We must redefine that purpose, which was to ensure that the unique needs of individual students are met.
Far too many of the young men and women leaving high school,
today, with or without diplomas, are bereft of meaningful choices of what to do
with their lives to find joy and to provide for themselves and families. When
they leave school, this population of students opts for the only choice
available to them: return to the communities from which they came, unprepared
to participate in what the rest of us think of as the American dream.
Clearly, the education process is not meeting the needs of
these young people. Unfortunately for society and educators alike, we blame our
schools and teachers for the flaws of the
process rather than the process, itself.
The consequence for society is that the education reforms, innovations, and initiatives of the last half century or more were like seeds planted in barren soil. Even the best ideas in the world will not take root in an environment unable to provide the nutrients necessary for germination, let alone blossoming.
A special report published, just this morning, in EdWeek UPDATE illustrates my point. The report notes that there is “no measurable gap between charters, traditional public schools on national tests.”
The charter school movement has not fixed what is broken in our schools because they still rely on the same education process as other schools. Just changing names, buildings, and teachers doesn’t change that which does not work.
In the interim, notwithstanding the litany of education reforms, American society has seen significant erosion of its faith in our public schools and teachers, never quite comprehending that teachers are as much victims of flawed education process as the students and communities they were employed to serve.
Americans are left with an education
process that is the functional equivalent of a maelstrom in which
children, communities, teachers, school, administrators, policy makers, and
elected officials have become entrapped. It is an education process that cannot
be fixed from the inside out.
As difficult as it may be, everyone involved in or who has a stake in the American education system must fight their way to the shore, climb out of the maelstrom, and examine the process from a new perspective. They must be challenged to take a paradigm leap and seek solutions outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.
For that purpose, I have developed an education model that has been created to serve no purpose other than meet the unique needs of each one of our children. The Hawkins Model© is designed to allow teachers to focus on relationships and to ensure that every student has as much time and attention as they need to learn as much as they are able, at their own best pace. Only in such a learning environment can teachers help children develop their intellectual, physical, and emotional potential and begin discovering their special talents, interests, and aspirations.
The one thing educators dare not
do, after fighting their way to the shore, is to dive back into the maelstrom
where they will be engulfed in hopelessness; powerless to alter the destiny of
our society and our participatory democracy.