Television. Communication. Transportation. Medicine. Architecture. Few things today are as they were in 1963. I recently joined a few of my esteemed New Tech colleagues in participating in the Acumen project by reading and reflecting upon “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” by MLK. About 15 years after my fist exposure to this piece I was struck by 1) the poetic nature of MLK’s writing, and 2) the relevance to schools in our country today –it was astounding…and disturbing.
In my line of work I hear often that Deeper Learning practices are only for “certain kids”…you know, “those kids”. It breaks my heart every time. I’m often paralyzed and can’t respond, and admittedly I have grown impatient with these statements. Dr. King so eloquently wrote “we recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized”. Well here I am…my hopes (among many others’) have not yet been realized, as our schools continue to reflect the inequities of our society at large. And while we have made great strides in many ways since the 60s, we have far from “arrived”. What I’m talking about here is not just an achievement gap, but an engagement gap. I will argue that students who need to be engaged most are rather situated furthest from meaningful learning experiences and thus disenfranchised by our education system-“those kids” are the ones who need deeper learning experiences most.
We know the achievement gap lives-it starts early, infiltrates our systems and plagues our larger institutions. I would venture to say that this engagement gap I speak of parallels the achievement gap [maybe this can be my post-doc research one day;)] . What will it take for us to look these struggles square in the eye and say we are ready to address them and work to intentionally/strategically ameliorate them? How long will we continue to allow new initiatives and policies to prioritize our work? Dr. King adds “for years I have heard the word ‘wait!’ it rings in the ear of every negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait!” has almost always meant ‘never’. It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration…justice too long delayed is justice denied”. The fact that we can predict which groups of students will persist in school, which will drop out, which are most likely to be suspended and/or end up in prison is not acceptable and we can no longer wait…
King reflects upon “dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress”. Here we are more than 50 years later with similar themes in our schools that should make every citizen of this country uncomfortable-resource allocation, tracking practices, teacher training and placement, etc. And yet they continue because they serve some groups of students well. In the network of deeper learning we need to be thoughtful about who has access to deeper learning opportunities- and we need to find ways to ensure that students who lack the capital necessary to navigate the educational system are aware of such opportunities. We need to address these “dams” head on and target historically marginalized , underserved and disenfranchised student populations for deeper learning opportunities.
Time, as described by Dr. King, is a privilege we don’t have. Our democracy, can’t waste another moment at the cost of progress. It is time for us to find a “creative tension…the kind that is necessary for growth”[-King 1963]. And I believe targeted access to deeper learning opportunities can be the great equalizer.
*If you are interested in looking at data to support this claim there is plenty of unbiased research out there like this:http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/gaps/
Note: when Harvard has an initiative on it, you know it’s a big dealhttp://www.agi.harvard.edu/
I also liked these blogs on the achievement gap: