When I posted about how political and media labels of “good” and “bad” schools are significantly misleading—more about race and class than the actual quality of the schools—I received a request to identify some “good” schools.
Here is the disturbing truth about “good” schools: Among formal schools, both public and private, there are no “good schools.”
Traditional schooling is mired in a number of wrong-minded approaches to children and young adults, to teaching and learning, and to what we believe the purposes of schooling are.
Formal schooling is mostly bad.
Good teaching happens when teachers take risks, work outside the norms of schooling.
Good learning happens for many students in spite of formal schooling.
In this last circumstance, consider how English classes tend to make students hate reading, that students who are avid readers often do so under the school radar—toting around huge books they choose to read (instead of doing school work), reading and collecting comic books (please read Louise DeSalvo’s Vertigo for some vivid examples of this reality).
That formal schooling is mostly bad, that good teaching occurs mostly by renegade teaching, that good learning happens mostly in spite of formal schooling—these are all made more disturbing because children in privilege (living in slack) suffer far fewer negative consequences in these realities, but children under the weight of poverty and racism (living in scarcity) suffer the double negative consequences of a bad life and bad schooling.
Children living in scarcity must be superhuman in order to learn in spite of schooling—especially since their teachers are under heightened pressures and even less likely to be risk takers.
We must stop demanding superhuman (and inhuman) expectations of the most vulnerable children and young adults. We must stop looking for and pretending there are “miracle” schools—outlier good schools—we can use to shame bad schooling in an inequitable society.
Instead, we need to reimagine formal education that is unlike the inequitable society those schools serve—attending instead to the needs of all students, regardless of the lives no child chooses (whether one of slack or scarcity).