HuffPost “passed” on this blog.
I have been trying to write this blog for the past month. However, there is a sensitivity I want to ensure that comes across but I also want the message to be unabashedly pointed.
In mid June, I traveled with a team of faculty (education, business, sciences) to Rwanda to work with a local school on a multifaceted educational and entrepreneurial program. The trip was amazing, powerful, emotional and transformational. My education colleagues planted the seeds for a teacher exchange program and planned future conversations with the Teacher Service Commission in anticipation of future collaborative work.
However, I was most moved by the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. It was very powerful and sad. As you go through and read and learn about the origins of the 1994 Rwandan genocide (110 years ago Belgium missionaries sorted a common people into various groups based on an arbitrary statistic–cow ownership) it wasn’t hard for some of us (educators fighting the reform movement) to feel very uncomfortable about an emotion; or thought; or out of place feeling that we found very hard to talk about outside of the educators on the trip.
This is where it gets very tricky and seems somewhat inappropriate, but when finished the group of educators and I started talking and one of us asked a simple question: Did any of you see similarities in the origins of the genocide and the current reform practices happening in American schools? It was uncomfortable to think about it because to compare education reform in America to Genocide in Rwanda seemed too extreme. But we all felt there was something eerily similar–obviously not the outcome of Genocide–but the early sorting of people into different groups based on an arbitrary statistic (# of cows owned) and then bestowing privilege on one group and shame on another.
It seemed wrong in a way to make this comparison but all the educators agreed that the early sorting of a common people based on a false metric was uncomfortably similar to what the reformers are doing to our children, teachers and public schools now.
However, we all quickly agreed that sorting kids, teachers and schools is the not a precursor to genocide. In fact we immediately started to converse about how having a deep knowledge of history is imperative in making sure that extreme comparisons of events in history serves as a buffer to making inappropriate comparisons of contemporary events and horrific massacres from the past. The 110 year exploitation of the Rwandan people that resulted in the 1994 Genocide is not a predictive event that compares to the market based corporate reforms (sorting children, teachers, schools with an unreliable metrics) that are happening to American public schools.
But what is pertinent is realizing the importance of developing a deep knowledge of history to make sure that we realize the serious problems with making inappropriate comparisons of horrific human events in the history of the world.
This is where I believe a somewhat parallel critique of the reform movement and the Rwandan Genocide is very appropriate. Why? Because the past 15 years of the current reform movement has demonstrated a relentless attack on public schools and the study of history. For young minds that need to be challenged this negligent approach to teaching and learning has the possibility to enhance students’ inappropriate connections between events in history that result from only a surface understanding or no understanding of history whatsoever.
While it is inappropriate to equate the Rwandan genocide to the current attack on American public schooling, it is very appropriate to point out that the attack on public schools will be detrimental to the mission of the Genocide memorial. The Genocide Memorial reminds us to “never forget.” However, when the common core curriculum and hyper standardized testing narrows content so much that teachers are forced to either skip over or only “cover” superficially such issues as genocide, who will be left to remember?
No the attack on public schooling is not the precursor to genocide, however the forced destruction of our great democratic institution (public schools) should frighten us all. No it is not genocide, but it is intellectual homicide–intellecide!
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