Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Latent Cynic

Let me confess. Despite regularly searching out new books and new thoughts about education, I always approach "research based" theories with one cynical question at the forefront of my mind: Good ideas, but how does it really look in our schools? It isn't that the many ideas are irrelevant or even ridiculous in nature; instead, the ideas make perfect sense, but authors tend to forget the reality of everyday survival in most underperforming schools. Let me see the author put all of the thoughts into action, and then I will not be so cynical.
My latest endeavor into education fixes comes from Pedro Noguera's The Trouble with Black Boys...And other reflections on race, equity, and the future of public education. As any of my regular readers know, I teach at an oddly urban school tucked into the hills of farm country. And although the majority of my students are Puerto Rican, the book's focus on race and equity are applicable to where I teach.
Though I've only read the first 33 pages, I've found Noguera's thought process to be logical and generally void of the usual invective tone used by education reform writers. He is one of the first reform writers who admits to the dichotmous nature of any reform efforts:

Rather than serving as a source of hope and opportunity, schools are sites where Black males are marginalized and stigmatized. Consistently, schools that serve Black males fail to nurture, support, or protect them. In school, Black males are more likely to be labeled as behavior problems and less intelligent even while they are still very young. Black males are also more likely to be punished with severity, even for minor offenses, for violating school rules, often without regard for their welfare. They are more likely to be excluded from rigorous classes and prevented from accessing educational opportunities that might otherwise support and encourage them (22).

At this pointb my blood pressure is rising. What about the student? The parents? The community as a whole? You really can't believe that all schools are targeting Black males? But Noguera continues:

However, changing academic outcomes and countering the risks experienced by Black males is not simply a matter of developing programs to provide support or bringing an end to unfair educational policies and practices. Black males often adopt behaviors that make them complicit in their own failure. It is not just that they are more likely to be punished or placed in remedial classes, it is also that they are more likely to act out in the classroom and to avoid challenging themselves academically (22).

Ah, sweet relief. The latent cynic in me was nearly brought above the surface until Noguera speaks the truth. As a reader of education reform books, and as a classroom practioner, I want to better serve the struggling students in my room and in my halls. But many good messages get lost because the author fails to recognize that ultimately, the students must take action. Yes, there are ways we need to improve our schools; we need to understand our students better, and we need to pay attention to what the research is saying. Yet, we cannot ever forget the role of the student in any successful reform theory.