The old adage tells us that boys will be boys. But let’s be honest, it really should read kids will be kids. Sometimes I forget that. In a program like ours, teeming with brilliance and confidence, the students create an environment that causes us to momentarily forget their youthfulness. I suppose I should be more clear. These scholars, like all students, mess up.
Their failings, as with the failings of any student—but particularly urban students, challenge the urban educator’s core beliefs. For me, I’ve crested a hill to discover a raging philosophical battle. I believe all students deserve the best opportunity to become educated. The plight of urban schools in general weighs heavily on my conscience. Urban students are as worthy of high standards as suburban schools, yet often our city schools cave to the latent prejudices.
So here at Steppingstone, in which we are committed to fostering excellence, what do we do when a scholar fails to live up the community’s standards. This experience is not a right, it is a privilege. And with privilege comes great responsibility. Failure to adhere to the community’s mores means removal from the program. And yet….
A scholar spends 13 months pressing towards their goal but stumbles with a month to go, and then again with three weeks remaining, and again with two weeks remaining. Here’s the philosophical battle: Paternalism (as defined by KIPP schools and others) vs. Bleeding Heartism. On the one hand, we can’t be taken seriously as a program if we do not hold to the standard, if we lower our expectations. That precisely what is wrong with urban education in general. But what of compassion? What of the belief in second chances, or third, or fourth? To ship a scholar out into the unstructured and unsupported academic world from which he arrived could be devastating emotionally and academically. If we do that, are we too authoritarian, too cold-hearted, and thus missing the heart of the program?