Schools are the same… Students are different

I was reading an article titled, “The Emergence of Bureauacracry in Urban Education: The Boston Case 1850-1884” by Michael B. Katz. The article peaked my interest becasue my biref this week was on a case in Boston in the year 1849. What struck me the most about the article is a statement made by a journlist, Gail Hamilton about the state of Urban Schools in Boston: 

“The school system of Massachusetts, with all its supervision and all its superintendence, and all its expensiveness, is so ineffective, it so magnifies and nourishes itself, and so neglects, not to say dwarfs, the pupils, that a child may go through the whole course from primary to high school inclusive without a single absence or tardiness and receive his diploma of graduation, and come out thoroughly illiterate, absolutely uneducated, absolutely untrained-with no accomplishment except slang, with no taste above dime novels, with neither brain nor nerve nor muscle braced for the battle of life… The taxes of the people go to fatten ‘organization’ and the children suffer (172).”

It saddens and angers me that the same words are written today by critics of the schools. It is either the case that our schools are failing our children in staggering amounts,or that schools are doing an okay job and the values of the community have changed. Perhaps what a well-educated student used to look like has changed. Maybe, “slang” and other cultural marker are not indicators of poor education but of an ability to understand context and audience. I agree that schools in our urban areas are in need of support and funding. I also believe, that to a certain extent we are failing our children by allowing them leave public education without the skills and knowledge necessary to make it. However, I do thin we should address what “making it” is. Hamilton’s quote rings true because so much hasn’t changed. Looking at pictures of schoolhouses from an earlier time, it is easy to see that “schools” haven’t changed much. The classrooms look the same and many schools operate in buildings that are over a hundred years old. The one thing that has changed is the world.

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