October 26, 2014

Education: A Blank Canvas

Have you seen the latest Andrew Cuomo campaign ad?

You know, the one where he and his daughter are sitting in the kitchen, doing homework together. If not, you can take a look below, and then we'll talk.

 If you were to describe the ad in  one word, what  would it be?

 For me, it was 'white'. White  pumpkins, white  kitchen, white  sweaters, white paint.

 White white white white.

 I think the message tries to be  black and white;  however, I think  it misses the mark, because in  reality 'education' is not that  simple and doesn't  translate well  to a 30-second campaign ad.

It's not all white and shiny like Cuomo's kitchen, and it's not black and white. It's more like someone loaded up a palette with paint, dragged a brush through all of the colors and then splashed that paint onto a canvas.

When I talk about the color of education being something other than white, or black and white, I'm talking about the whole picture that is 'education' in New York and other states. Think of that picture as an actual painting and you'll understand that it is painted with many brushes, all having different hues and perspectives:
  • It includes the teachers, unions, administrators, and local Boards of Education, who should be effectively collaborating on education at the local level. 
  • It includes money: property taxes, school aid and the school aid formula itself, and the relative wealth of a district, which directly influences the completeness of the educational experience kids get. 
  • It includes grassroots community groups, local faith-based initiatives, and large philanthropic organizations which interject themselves (welcomed or not) from many viewpoints and with varying degrees of influence and success.
  • It includes law enforcement agencies, which not really by design but out of necessity engage with students, families and districts, particularly urban ones.
  • It includes local, state and national elected officials, armed with their own agendas and, frankly, arms full of threats and promises, and a host of unelected bureaucrats at state and federal Education Departments.
  • It includes parents, and those acting as parents, such as aunts and uncles, older siblings, and mentors.
It also includes perfectly decorated 'classrooms' in perfectly appointed kitchens, and twin daughters who are attending Harvard and Brown, as Cuomo's are; and teacher and school evaluations, and Common Core, and high tech classrooms, all of which are referenced in Cuomo's ad.

And, it sadly includes 911 calls, horrible test scores, low graduation rates and high dropout rates, and 'watch lists' and abject frustration and anger, things the Cuomo girls probably never experienced, things which no children should have to experience.

The students are the canvas on which everyone else paints. They absorb or reflect the colors that are put on them, some positively and some negatively.  The goal of everyone involved should be ensuring that the students' right to a safe, appropriately funded, fully evolved educational experience is not impeded by anyone's actions, and that their responsibility to participate actively, productively and fully in the educational process is encouraged, supported, and reinforced.

We'll take a look at some of these issues in more detail in upcoming posts.