When my son got way behind in school, I taught him at home until he was caught up.
Having done that, I started to worry about my son's classmates, many of whom were also way behind in school. For some of them, no rescue was on the horizon -- and, as it turned out, most of them never did catch up to their classmates. Today, they are leading more limited lives as a result -- low-level jobs, don't read for pleasure, etc..
Thus began my career as a would-be education reformer. I wanted, and indeed I still want -- to make it possible for ALL children to succeed in school.
- Not just the children to whom learning comes easily
- Not just the children who get extra tutoring from their parents
- Not just the children whose parents can afford private schools or tutors
By most definitions, this orientation would place me squarely in the camp of left-wing, bleeding-heart liberals. And that is where I feel I belong, certainly when it comes to things like social justice and equality of opportunity. I want disadvantaged children to get the education they need in order to break the cycle and do well in life.
Oddly, people like me who seek solutions for low-income students are categorized as right-wingers!
Everything that struggling students need so desperately - teacher-led instruction, phonics, sequential math, drill - is considered right-wing, and thus anathema to left-wing educators. People on the left also oppose options that make it possible for disadvantaged students to escape their failing public schools and find success elsewhere - things like charter schools, school vouchers, tax credits, and open enrollment. The left even opposes public funding for outside tutors!
The result is that many students from low-income backgrounds - who are already more likely to struggle in school - never receive the help they so desperately need. While advantaged parents have the means to advocate for their children one way or another, most disadvantaged students have no such safety net.
Kids with rich parents tend to do well in school, and kids with disadvantaged parents tend to do poorly. This state of affairs promotes the perpetuation of class differences.
Many educators believe that this situation is inevitable. They say that disadvantaged children just can't learn as well. But it isn't true at all. There are hundreds of no-excuses schools, in Canada and abroad, that are educating low-income students to a high level. All of these schools use teacher-led instruction, structure, systematic phonics, drill, discipline, and so forth.
In a terrible irony, left-wing policies are hurting the very families that they most want to help. If left-wing politicians really wanted to help disadvantaged families, they would be supporting policies that ensure all struggling students have the same options available to them.
Struggling students need education that works for them - teaching methods and school choice policies that help level the playing field. It boggles the mind that these common-sense remedies could be rejected just because they've been arbitrarily labelled right-wing.
In any case, children's futures are too important a matter to be decided by ideological battles. As a matter of social justice -- an urgent matter of social justice -- we need policies that will help disadvantaged children. That should be an objective whether you're right-wing, left-wing, or even Martian.
It's time to stop the ideological wars and start making it possible for disadvantaged children to have the same opportunities in education. It's only fair.
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