Books even adults should read

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Barnes and Noble has a list.

8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice

Stella By Starlight is a real gem, and of course. One Crazy Summer. the latter is a great way to introduce kids to the black struggle in the 60s. Sharon Draper (Stella…) first novel, Out of My Mind, is another to read — this about disability and triumph. For sheer fun, Carl Hiaasen’s Flush takes on the ecology in the Florida Keys. His first big hit, Hoot, addressed development. The other in the series, Chomp — well that’s just good ol’ Hiaasen fun.

Where does Education Reform go?

The current freakout on the Betsy De Vos appointment to Secretary of Education hides the central questions that actually need to be addressed: how do we improve the educational outcomes in our society, and in particular for those in poverty? The headwind is strong, what do we do?

The Fordham Institute has some ideas.  They pose some interesting questions that may help us assess not only De Vos, but guide us going forward.  Wise readers will see several possible connecting points for those on the left: as a start, we may want to start with the career education question and the vital role of our community colleges.

When Dads Go to School

27 Education Mobility

Richard Reeves has an important essay on the impact of intergenerational mobility.  The father’s education may be the key to not only better educational outcomes for the children, but also for their income. He writes

 Even if someone does not convert a higher level of education into higher income, they are still better off. They can choose more interesting jobs, even if they are not highly-paid. They have more knowledge of the world and possibly of themselves. Education is a good in its own right, not just as a ticket to a fatter paycheck.

In this context, the importance of education for social justice (or injustice) becomes even greater. Schools are the tool, but if we choose to underfund them, they become something worse: not a tool, but an active barrier.

Expanding the base

MLive reports on the plans by Grand Rapids Public Schools to establish a Museum school. At first blush this looks a tad precious, a frou-frou sort of program while the district faces intense challenges on the educational performance front. However, looking more closely, one may see the outline of a two pronged approach. What makes the educational needle so difficult to thread in Grand Rapids is the relative diversity of the community as a whole, coupled with the concentration of minority and poverty-impacted families within GRPS proper. The strategic challenge for the district is how to avoid being known only as a provider for the poor, a school of last (and worst) resort. So two broad directions need to be taken.

First, GRPS needs to address the performance impact of poverty on the students. The correlation between poverty and lagging achievement has been long recognized. While schools can compensate for this impact to some extent, tht path is not only costly, but still subject to the external factors. Success here can be achieved, but it is of a slow variety.  In the meantime, hopeful parents look to charters as an alternative.  GRPS therefore needs to address the issues arising from poverty: safety, some fundamental achievement, better retention (which is to say, better hope).

But that is one side of the coin. Grand Rapids is more than minorities and poverty. Much more. If the district is to thrive, it needs to find ways  to make room for more middle class families. And just to be clear, the Census has been recording a vanishing of families with teens for decades. Retention, too may be subject to significant external factors (e.g.  size in the City versus house size in  the new suburbs). What makes an Initiative such as the Museum school so hopeful is that it appears to recognize another truth in educational reform, that students from poverty background do better in a more economically diverse classroom. Thus if one is to meet the challenge of the concentration of poverty, one ought to be looking at ways of adding more middle  class families to the mix.

The innovation programs far from being something of a frou-frou, are strategically working to broaden the base, and so diminish the impact of concentrated poverty. Moreover, one needs more programs that are not test-in.  Further, such programs along with neighborhood schools also need more expenditure of social capital by those “outside.” 

In a complex educational environment that includes varieties of schools, programs, and opportunities, GRPS needs to think about what it has that can contribute to the health of the entire community. it is not at all clear that schools and parents will easily match up by neighborhood. Within the urban area we are far more likely to see a number of programs that parents choose from or participate in. More options within the district are an essential for GRPS if it is to remain competitive and not simply fall into the school of last (and failed) resort. That would be a tragedy for the region.

Rust Belt Chic

Jordan Ballor highlighted an interesting article from Joel Kotkin in New Geography. The quote that caught Ballor’s attention is worth pondering:

“Instead of chasing hipsters, Cleveland urban strategist Richey Piiparinen suggests cities such as his rebuild their economies from the ground up, tapping the strong industrial skills, work ethic and resilient culture deeply embedded in the region. Large factories may not return en masse to Cleveland, Detroit or Chicago, but a strong industrial economy and a culture embracing hard work could stir growth in service-related fields as well.”

This was an interesting piece, given Kotkin’s greenfield, suburban tilt. Hipsters or new urbanists can’t save a community by themselves (the mistake of “Cool Cities”) but they can still play an important role in the revitalization of the city as a diverse community.  Creative, problem solving communities need a certain critical mass to thrive — this is the sociological and economic truth underlying Richard Florida’s work. Communities need to be sticky if they are to thrive.

Of course,  strong, diverse education opportunities are another important part for revival.

Kotkin’s piece also missed the sheer amount of intellectual property generated at the research universities — something that Longworth captured in Caught In The Middle. By most lights it has generally been under-monetized, generating incredible number of patents but falling behind on the development into community building businesses. The model for growth here would be that of Pittsburgh which oddly does sustain a “hipster” community (i.e. Kotkin’s animus blinds him to the realities).

The need to monetize IP through entrepreneurial activity pushes tax and economic policy in one direction in the state, while the need for stronger Community Colleges (the trade school) requires steps in another. Resolving this tension has been politically difficult to date — the elected Republican party has been adverse to these sorts of economic and educational investments — there is a rant here that will be left for some other day.

Taking Arts Off the Books

Charlsie Dewey at the Business Journal notes the transformation of arts education. Or more precisely the separation of arts education from the school curriculum. And it’s not that the school community, or the community at large is indifferent to the benefits of the arts.

In the last several years there has been a strong push by educators and those involved in the arts communities to emphasize the value of arts education. Numerous studies have shown that students who receive an arts education — either through dedicated discipline classes like music, painting and creative writing, or through integrating the arts with other disciplines like math or science — are more successful academically.

Her piece goes on to note the multiple commitments that area arts organizations have made to the field. Many are very fruitfully engaged. No, it’s not the arts community that is at fault, here. It’s our political philosophy.

Call this the AAU model of arts education, the love child of privatization and high stakes testing. We can no longer afford our arts generally because of the cost, so let’s fob it off on the community. This is the very opposite of the vision for public education that has driven our schools.

The place of arts in the curriculum is a political and philosophical statement. It is an assertion that arts are for everyone, not simply a few. They are not an adornment to a life, but help shape even define a life.

I would go another step and say that arts also create the free inner space, a self-awareness and empowerment, that is the prerequisite for self governance.

Without art, we end up with the circus, entertainment as a consumer good. Our children and our society deserve more.