Children Failed by Society’s Neglect

“Class size is soaring in the poorest schools.  I walk into classes with 35, 40, 42 children packed into a single room.  Originality?  Forget it.  Creativity?  Forget it.  Critical thinking, asking questions?  There’s no time for children to ask questions.”  These observations are from Jonathan Kozol, one of the nation’s sharpest critics of the U.S. neglect of its public schools in low-income urban areas.  (AlterNet transcript of “Democracy Now” program) Apart from overly large class sizes, a key reason “there’s no time” for critical thinking and asking questions flows from the current obsession with high stakes standardized testing.  Matt Batesky, a teacher in Brooklyn, described his frustration with the tests: “One of the things that we do constantly now is just test prep all the time.  Our curriculum is basically, ‘Here is our test.  How can we get our students to pass it?’ because it’s so high stakes that if the students don’t pass it, they don’t graduate.”  (AlterNet)  Batesky could have added that if the test scores in his class don’t go up on a regular basis, he could lose his job.

Moreover, if the test scores in a school as a whole don’t go up, it can be closed as a “failing school.”  The testing pressure-cooker atmosphere leads to teacher turnover and less well-prepared teachers in inner city schools.  A spiraling cycle of failure results, often in schools attended predominantly by African-American and Latino students.  Students failed by their schools drop out—or can’t get a living-wage job if they do graduate.  Many of them will become enmeshed in the “criminal justice” system. The tragedy of this reality for children and young people in these schools is incalculable.

The damage these conditions cause to U.S. democracy is likewise incalculable.  Children failed by society’s neglect and indifference are our children, an integral part of the democracy we like to think serves all equally well.  Deep down honestly we know that depressed city ghettos exist. We know that the schools in them don’t provide equal opportunity.  We know that this country has more prisoners than any other country in the world.  We know that blaming the victim won’t do.  We know that failing our children is a profoundly moral issue.  We who believe in “liberty and justice for all” know we have a charge to make these great values of our Pledge of Allegiance truly available to all, including the students in the impoverished schools of our cities.  Until we get that job done, the freedom implied in the American Dream is hollow for all of us.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ali D on September 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    This critique is right on the mark!


    • It may well be that the school testing programs are over done. However, as a tax payer, I want some way of evaluating whether our local public school system is doing a good job of educating our kids. A former teacher recently told me of her testing system which measured yearly progress. She gave an english test the first and last day of the school year to evaluate how well she and her students had performed. This has the advantage of doing away with one-size-fits-all test scores and is a fairer way of evaluating progress in disparate socio-economic student environments.


  2. Posted by Sarah Munley (Gramma) on September 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Where do we start and what do we do?


    • Thanks for your comment, Sarah! We start by becoming educated. Then talk to any teachers you know or meet to get their sense of the issue. Then join a social movement to begin to take action. Check out the blog sites in my Blogroll on the site to get some ideas. Start with “Citizens for Public Schools.” Let me know how it is going.


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