Disruptive Dissolution: Commentary on the Re-imagined Achievement Gap Narrative.

Kentucky Education is in a state of despair, sinking back into time, in a slow plutonian death looking to become reborn. Hidden Agendas are being exposed and brought to the surface as the shackles must be broken through creative destruction.  ~Anonymous

With all the buzz surrounding the Achievement Gaps in the state of Kentucky, and those barriers (large class sizes, low expectations, inexperienced teachers, low income communities, & access to support services) that prohibit the closing of those gaps; why hasn’t anyone considered that these historically underserved students could benefit from a change in the structure of learning as it relates to Kentucky’s public educational model. 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) that was enact in 1990 when Wallace Wilkinson Abolished the state education agency; and progress since then has been moderate to say the least. At the core of these transformational renderings lies a moving system that hasn’t shifted from its original Prussian Model structure (training young men to be obedient Soldiers & teaching by year group versus ability). Let’s face it getting good grades doesn’t lead to career success like it used to. That system of governance is gone forever never to return.

Compulsory, top down education needs to change to reflect the growing narrative of children, that are being raised in different environments with different needs. There are thousands of ways to learn in the 21st century and because Educational officials understand this and still won’t create policy to reflect these astrological changes that is taking place in our world; which puts them and advocates like myself at odds with one another. Old habits are hard to break, and this standardized education system is one of those habits that needs to be broken. By all means keep the system in place for a select group that it benefits well and implement another concept that would create success within the minority populace. To those who are able to capture the underbelly of keeping a “Prussian Model” recognizes that the oppressor wants to continue to serve as the gatekeeper to the ruling class while trying to maintain their structures of power and authority. The world is rapidly advancing, and you can’t keep a model that doesn’t advance each and every child that visits its ranks.

Although standardization is seen as a tool of oppression that reinforces the “school to prison pipeline”; it doesn’t have to be. A system that teaches young minds how to think versus rote memorization tactics would further reinforce a social standard of a more ethical approach to education versus this highly controversial system of indoctrination. Carter G. Woodson’s classical read “Mis-Education of the Negro” sheds light on the ramifications that standardization has had on the African American mind. It’s a tough proposition to tell a young black mind that a system that wasn’t created for their success isn’t to blame for their poor performance. It then begins to create a distorted view of reality. Now, that this young African American boy and girl has realized that this system doesn’t fit there range of understanding and emotional perceptions they struggle to make sense of why such a system even exists. Children from a low-income community is learning how to survive outside of the collaborations of poverty and an oppressive educational system, which indicates a far superior intelligence if you ask me from those who circumstances are far superior.

There are eight million black children in the American public educational system that was not created, established or designed for their benefit, and will not aid them in reaching their higher potential. Yet, the belief is that our kids don’t measure up academically and that they are not capable to competing at the highest levels of academia. Our children should not be treated like a monolithic group and deserves educational approached that is culturally rich and actively enhancing their capacity to think in way that helps America to solve problems. Similar to active learning, African American students needs creative freedom to learn and engage in the educational process. Active Learning is nothing more than a means of engaging students with relevant materials, while they participate in classroom activities with a measure of collaboration. You can’t expect your students to simply listen and memorize anymore. The process must be more collaborative in nature with real-world situations.

Sometimes, we tend to overlook the group work as a means of hiding the so-called lazy student, or making the smart student do all the work. But, the fact of the matter is technology is revolutionizing how these groups work together. We must mind the gap and advocate for educational reforms that allows more experiential learning while at the same time creating a platform for learning what innovators are doing around the world. The social construct of our educational systems is dynamic and requires a new level of self-discovery and social change. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the curriculum that our children are being fed negatively impacts their mentality. On many levels the curriculum is devoid of self-pride, self-love and a concept of self that shifts the educational model from “No Child left behind” to a more isolated and bias agenda. The achievement gap is more about the self-discovery gap. Educating a child who doesn’t have a sense of self worth is like giving a 12 years keys to a Porsche which can only cause nothing but destruction.  

Caesar Chavez explained in his address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in 1984 that “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore”. Once the youth begins to awaken and discover the inherent value that they bring and that they will not longer be subject to curriculum standards that leads to underdevelopment of their mental state. No longer can Pharma and public education profit off of the minds of those who carry the potential to lift the American education system out of its lower tier status as compared to other countries of the world (i.e. Finland, Japan, South Korea, Denmark & Russia). When a system knowingly suppresses the social and economic mobility of its peers, inequality begins to rear its ugly head at the expense of the future of America.

As community leaders, administrators, legislators and parents we can no longer sit under the tree waiting for an apple to fall on our head to show us a better way. Trial and error must become a major staple in trying to figure out what will work and what will not. The Pritchard Committee highlighted in its Achievement Gap study Excellence with Equity: It’s Everybody’s Business that Bold Leadership, Improvements in School Climate & Culture to Support Students and Families, and Accountability in Ensuring Student Performance are great starting points towards helping to close the student achievement gap. It’s also nice to consider how Finland has turned their educational system around within the last 30+ years. Self-Discovery lies at the heart of the achievement gap as a moral and spiritual component of everyone’s evolution in this process.

Archibald Murphy, founder of public schools in North Carolina said in 1816 that “the state in the warmth of her affections and solicitude for the welfare must take charge of those children and place them in schools where their minds can be enlightened, and hearts can be trained to virtue”. Charter, parochial, private and public institutions of education isn’t the only contexts for which students ought to learn. The Board of education must remain open to the idea of allowing different methodologies and curriculum based on moral, ethical and Christian sentiments to come to the forefront. The vision to capture an “Equality of Opportunity” regardless of the social structures at play must become commonplace. We need social change and it must start with early education programs, patience, hands on learning and problem-solving initiatives.

Matt Ridley, author of “The Evolution of Everything” emphasizes education and explains that the real tragedy of nationalized education is how little innovation it has seen. Education is big business and of these national platforms (i.e. Khan Academy), non-profits and charter schools that support the vision somehow becomes of no use to the plight of those who suffer in the confines of a system that wasn’t created for the benefit of their mental liberation. Disruption now comes in the form of students as the teachers and digital platform that promote cross-cultural learning for the 21st century minds of our youth. It’s like engaging in “Critical Pedagogy” and social activism. The disruption must take into consideration the culture of a student and present novel ideas as to what could best suit the mind of that individual learning. The intelligence is their but how do we bring it to the forefront.   

The idea of Critical Pedagogy come from a methodology of education and social structures that combines concepts from critical theory and the study of culture. It is a concept that views teaching as a political act that emphasizes the importance of social justice and democracy, as tools for the emancipation from oppression through awakening a political and social lens for change. Under-served and oppressed youth need an education not only for the advancement of their communities and themselves, but also for others around the world who may be in the same situations. These students are open books looking for truth to fill their minds and not to be looked down upon based on their economic struggles.

In his seminal work “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” Paulo Freire explains that students are empty vessels waiting to be filled, and that they ought to be treated as co-creators of knowledge instead of on lookers who struggle to grasp simplistic meanings. Instead of showing up looking to fit into a model of education; these students ought to be collaborating with teachers in terms of the learning model that would best represent their level of understanding in a challenging and progressive manner.

When you live within the margins and rungs of a society that has been repressive to their mental state for more than 400 years, then the instruction you receive must include one that removes that sense of inferiority, addresses the psychological affects as it pertains to centuries of racism and discrimination, and the importance of black males as teachers in addition to role models. Students need instruction designed to promote the arts movement, music appreciation (Jazz, Afro-Cuban) and other cultural traditions. Although, many schools host “Heritage” night which is a gathering of different cultures and languages, foods and cultural appropriations, it’s still a far cry from truly opening up the dialogue for more curriculum designs that reflect the rich tradition and culture of each underserved and low-income group.

It’s important to think in terms of the group which would ultimately makes these students more competitive on a global scale. Disrupting the current sentiments surrounding the achievement gap one child at a time is a fair assessment, because we understand the importance of progression even at an incremental level. If we as educators, administrators, community leaders and laymen alike can see the importance of making sure these groups have the capital for basic human resource development, within their communal support structures then change can visit the doors of these school districts. In response to creating dialogue for solutions that are being proposed, lets continue to work hard to create access to such resources. As scholars in the fight for education reform it’s imperative that we keep digging into the narrative of why the gap even exists, and only offer solutions until we fully understand the problem at hand. 

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