Engaging Education

Engaging Education
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Aug 15, 2010

After months of destabilizing public schools, Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb is now pushing for student enrollment. Saying that the DPS is “redoubling efforts to recruit and retain students, ” Bobb has announced an expanded “I’m in campaign” complete with parades, a mobile enrollment van and celebrity support.

While we welcome this initiative, we also recognize that it reflects the short-sighted and compartmentalized actions of Bobb and his office. There is no question that his top down approach to the crisis by closing schools has done more to erode confidence in DPS than any reports of low-test scores. School closings and reassignments have been handled so undemocratically that many parents have already enrolled their children elsewhere. Likewise, there was no coordinated effort to re-enroll existing students at the end of the school year.

So we are faced with a dramatic effort, in the last days of summer, to pull students into DPS through hype. Rather than patient work and dialogue to build real connections with students, parents and community organizations, we get parades and picnics.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to shift control into the hands of the mayor, and now maybe some of the City Council. In an extraordinarily one-sided approach to the issue, WDET recently offered a platform for New Detroit, Skillman and council members supportive of the move. And Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb is using the enrollment effort as a way to bring his much touted voice of parents, the Detroit Parents Network, closer to him, using them as part of his door-to-door campaign.

After months of telling us how bad DPS is, we are now being treated to “Great Things are Happening” behind these doors; theme songs, t-shirts and lawn signs.

This kind of contradictory behavior only takes us further away from the real conversation that we need about education today. The reality is that there is much in DPS that is working for our children and our community. Instead of pushing questions of control and governance, of test scores and of multi-million dollar expenditures for increased surveillance of our young people, we should be looking at which programs are most clearly developing responsible, socially conscious young people. Many of these programs are found behind the doors of DPS. They are also found in the hundreds of neighborhood and community organizations that work with young people on a daily basis, offering recreation, art, and intellectual challenges of all kinds.

The most innovative and thoughtful programs have emerged because they have recognized that the century-old factory approach to education is no longer sufficient to develop 21st century young people. They are based on recognizing that we are living in a moment of great transformation, requiring new thinking by all of us. Further, they recognize that the chaos around public education is a symptom of this transformation.

Young people across the country are struggling with a system that is attempting to control them by high stakes testing, that is treating them as unthinking beings waiting to have “education” dumped into their heads. They are told that education will give them a job and a future, while they watch neighbors and family members look for work and wonder if the planet will survive.

In every way possible our young people are telling us that they are not willing to be bystanders as things fall apart. They, like all of us, want to be of use. They want to be engaged in creating a future for themselves and the Earth.

If Robert Bobb wants to change Detroit Public Schools, he should be asking which programs, which teachers and which schools are engaging the hearts and minds of our young people in solving the problems we face as a community? How can we build upon these to create an educational system that prepares our youth for leadership in a democratic, diverse society at a time of great change?

Engaging students, parents, teachers and community members in this conversation would go a long way to achieving the new kind of education we so desperately need.



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