American society is paying a steep price for the failure to face the truth about the nation's history. The United States has many admirable traits, but the version of history that omitted police state conditions in the South and de facto segregation and racial inequity in the North until at least 1964 has left us with a legacy of denial.
Partial truth in the conveyance of history makes many objectionable conditions OK until, of a sudden, they are not. When OK becomes not OK, affected groups rise up and demand that multiple inequities pertinent to policing, access to positions of influence, homeownership, health and income cannot continue. Saying so forcefully enough induces city councils, media executives and civic groups to scramble to make amends.
But very few people are positioned to recognize or confront the truth about public education. Thus we see feel-good opinion pieces such as Dick Schwartz's "How do you spell 'gratitude'?" (May 4) and errant would-be solutions to education dilemmas from Alan Page and Neel Kashkari in "Journey toward equity must begin at school" (May 4).
Schwartz thanks teachers and professors who called his attention to the importance of proper spelling. Kashkari and Page vow that a state constitutional amendment requiring a "quality" education for all students will bring equitable results across race and class lines.
Schwartz's message is platitudinous; that of Page and Kashkari is preposterous.
Numerous public school teachers in Minnesota and across the U.S. struggle heroically to overcome the deficiencies in their training, leveraging their ability to read, to acquire the necessary knowledge base and to connect with students of all demographic groups. They achieve excellence. But such teachers are a minuscule percentage of the total teaching force: Most teachers operate on a deficient knowledge base that they have no inclination to build on their own, and their pedagogy is inept.
Excellence in education cannot be legislated or established through constitutional amendments. Given the mania for local control in the U.S., fundamental change in public education cannot be mandated by national or state entities. Rather, at the level of the fundamental unit, the locally centralized school district, the needed overhaul must come via the design of a logically sequenced, knowledge-intensive, skill-replete curriculum — and the retraining of teachers capable of imparting such a curriculum.
None of this will come to pass by praising those outliers who are excellent teachers. Nor will it be achieved via nebulous legislation or constitutional amendments that require quality in education without defining quality.
We are currently reckoning with our failure to tell the full truth about U.S. history. Our failure to properly define educational excellence and establish a system to deliver well-defined knowledge and skill sets to students of all demographic groups has been our greatest unacknowledged moral failure. To make amends, we must be willing to tell the hard truths about teacher incompetence (at the median), woefully knowledge-deficient curriculum and administrative ineptitude.
Until we design public education systems productive of a more informed citizenry, our best efforts on matters such as police reform and diversification of corporate and media institutions will fall far short of the goal of social equity.
Gary Marvin Davison is director of the New Salem Educational Initiative in north Minneapolis. He blogs at www.newsalemeducation.blogspot.com.