Richard Rothstein Challenges Joel Klein’s School Reform Autobiography

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I’m home in New Jersey visiting my family. Each time I come home, my mind seems to reflect on how my family has supported me each step of the way in my life’s journey. As a critical thinker, I always compare and contrast my life to this point to others in my hometown–a town crippled by poverty. Unlike many of my peers growing up, I have a father who was a first generation college student. It is this, along with other fortunate life situations that I was born into, that has great influence of my present level of success.

This morning, I read a piece by Richard Rothstein titled, “Why Education Reform may be Doomed.” I believe his entire piece pushes us all to reflect on how our level of individual privilege and social capital impacts our life’s outcomes.

Rothstein, born with similar privilege of Klein, argues that Klein misrepresents his family’s economic situation in the name of pushing his type of education reform: one that believes that poverty is not destiny. That he was able to overcome poverty by the hand of a teacher. Therefore, teachers can singlehandedly life children out of poverty. I will post my response to his piece next week.

Here is an excerpt:

Children like Klein and me were privileged, not perhaps in money but in what sociologists term “social capital.” Nobody I know of from my special-progress class dropped out of school; my fellow students typically went on to become college professors, doctors, business executives, accountants, writers, and lawyers. Sure, we loved to play street stickball, but we were not “kids from the streets,” as Klein would have it. We were surrounded by peers with middle-class ambitions and goals.

It would be obscene for me to claim I overcame severe hardship and was rescued from deprivation by schoolteachers. It is more obscene for Klein to do so, because his claim supports attacks on contemporary teachers and a refusal to acknowledge impediments teachers face because of their students’ social and economic deprivation. It’s a deprivation that he never suffered but that many children from public housing do today.

A few superhuman teachers may lift a handful of children who come to school from barely literate homes, hungry, in poor health, and otherwise unprepared for academic instruction. But even the best teachers face impossible tasks when confronted with classrooms filled with truly disadvantaged students who are not in tracked special-progress classes and don’t arrive each morning from families as academically supportive as mine. Instead, they may come from segregated communities where concentrated and entrenched poverty, unemployment, and social alienation over many generations have been ravaging.

The rest of Rothstein’s piece can be read at Salon.. I do encourage you to read it and post your thoughts. As you’re reading, I want you to take a hard look inside and ask yourself just how did you get to where you are today?

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