At Frederick Douglass Academy in Detroit, students are complaining that they are being given a sub-par education that will hurt them as they move onto college. One student said he was given an A in a class where the teacher had been absent for 68 days and the class hadn’t even taken a final exam. OK, yeah, as a high schooler, that sounds pretty ideal (no class, no teacher, no final and an A? wooooo), but these students are now struggling with college placement exams. So they organized a walkout to protest the conditions.
“We’ve been wronged and disrespected and lied to and cheated,” senior Tevin Hill told the Detroit Free Press. “They didn’t listen to us when we complained to the administration. They didn’t listen to the parents when they complained to the administration, so I guess this is the only way to get things solved.”
Naturally, the school responded by
promising to reform the system, lobby for more funding and give students more opportunities to prepare for college-level worksuspending about 50 students. Obviously this goes further than the administration — I’m sure funding has a lot to do with the school’s current circumstances — but these boys should be getting a medal for fighting for their education, not a suspension.
Aside for the many obvious things that are just so wrong in this story—unequal access to education, racism, perpetuating the never-ending cycle of oppression, etc.—this also shows a couple of fatal flaws in the education system that are unlikely to get fixed.
The bigger of these is that the entire system has lost its sense of purpose. One of the problems with organizations of all types is that, over time, they forget why they were formed and begin to focus upon and enforce the systems and procedures which once supported and aligned with the organization’s purpose and goals, but which no longer serve their purpose. This happens because over time, the people involved in the organization forget or are not taught why the procedures were instituted, so these people become obsessed with the procedures themselves,totally losing sight of their purpose.
In this story, the organization had given grades, even “A’s” to students who have not done anything to earn them (because the system had not given them the opportunity to). In this case, they system lost sight of its purpose—to cause students to learn—and, instead, focused on its system of evaluation (actually, its system of rewards and punishments). Thus, the student was supposed to go away happy because of the high grade, but instead went away hungry because he had been given no learning. What he was given was of no use; what he was denied was of infinite value.
The current politically enforced accountability system—No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top—-will only make this situation worse because they focus on improved test scores rather than on improved learning.
The second failure of the system is that it is the result of its own unwillingness to thwart actions that keep it from its original and primary purpose. In this case, the system had undoubtedly negotiated some sort of seniority arrangement where the teachers with more seniority could choose their assignments. Those whose experience and knowledge and capabilities are most needed in inner city schools exercise their seniority right to transfer to schools where they will find life and the job easier. Thus the most needy students receive the least capable teachers. In fact, the entire education system is focused on what’s best, easiest and most convenient for teachers rather than on what is truly needed and in the best interests of students.
Had the system focused on its primary purpose—to cause students to learn—it would never have consented to a system that compromised it from that purpose.
The worst part about this problem of schools, however, is that it is typical of all long standing organizations. Corporations forget why they were formed and focus on things other than their core; the government is a pathetic example of a similar failure on a massive and catastrophic scale; and the same can be said of organized religions. All of this serves to prove the old saying, “Given enough time, any organization will eventually focus on achieving goals that are entirely antithetical to its original purpose.”
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