Monday, March 31, 2008

Dismantling Neighborhoods

Children are entitled to good schools, whatever, you take good to mean. It's a function of your expectation and your socio-cultural environment in which case schools are neighborhood entities. There was a time when children could not wander across school districts. Besides keeping education cost down, that policy ensured, though unintentionally I am sure, that there remained a connection between schools and their communities. We knew the teachers and the teachers knew the parents and the children. They went to the same church, rode on the same buses and each knew where the other lived. The teacher was everything to everyone in the community. It was easy to ask about the children and how they were doing at school, often in casual-on-the- phone or by-the-street conversations. We knew instinctively, it seems, that the school was the gateway to society. It was there the next generation was nurtured, taught and socialized how to live with, share with, work with and look out for their peers in society and it became easy because they lived on the same street, or three streets down or around the block. They met at church, at school, in the park, on the streets. School was a natural extension of that camaraderie. Getting along amid looking out for each other came naturally it seems until vouchers and charters came along worsening what was already going bad (Could gangs have been a response to the school-community relations demise or a deepened manifestation of efforts to resist that shift?). I am nt sure but that was me thinking aloud on that last question. By removing students from their neighborhood schools and commuting them like refugees, we have effectively dismantled them from their neighbors and destroyed whatever connections they had. This movement creates the first step in alienation and in the disruption of the very values that are essential to communities in the face of crises, emergencies and disasters. Coordination, Communication, Collaboration and Cooperative are relational conceptions. They best exist and come natural in environments where relationships among individual are held intact and schools have a remarkable way of building and maintaining relations. This is why sororities and fraternities are so powerful. They are the creatures of schools and powerful manifestation of the relational debates. School are not just places for learning and education, they are the basis of community relations and construction. It is in schools societal values are passed on. They are the building block of society. This is one reason why the contestations surrounding education can be so intense and animated. So next time you are offered a dollar to take your child across town or someone sets up a charter as a carrot of academic options or excellence ask them to give the dollar to your child's existing school or build the charter in your community. Because, when it the time comes to work together as neighborhoods and communities, it should not surprise you to find your children are across town if your accept that dollar or send them off to a charter.

Children, Education and HIV/AIDS

Here is another emergency issue that gets hidden in the data and which treats 15-18 year olds as adults preventing us from seeing the true picture. What should we call this one - The Hidden Faces of Disaster? Children are dependents, children can't vote, children are not breadwinners. Is this why we take them for granted. HIV/AIDS and the stigma it presents are real issues for children who are inflicted with the disease through no fault of theirs. Many of them have and will lose their parents, their Friends and sometimes their teachers. They are often ostracised and many are not in situations to articulate their hurt and pain or the alienation from which they suffer. Many of us think the last twenty years have changed us. Has it?

I am writing a paper, publishable, I hope. My professor believes I should think of it, seriously. Its about Education and HIV/AIDS in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The purpose is to identify the impact of the disease on the education system in Nicaragua and Costa Rica as comparatives.

I am discovering that the education related data just isn't there. Where it is, it is hidden in data on adult. Little is said about the children - inflicted or orphaned. The data presented is mostly about women, gathered from testing them during pregnancy and feminizing the disease in the process. If this is when they are tested and it forms the major data source, what happened to the babies? Did they get the disease? Were they treated in time to protect them? Were the therapies even available? If they were could the parents afford them or were they free? This is were poverty and HIV/AIDS become a deadly mix. To know it is available yet inaccessible is the hallmark of being poor. Its like higher education for minorities. Not being able to protect the next generation from disease and death, often not of their own making is indictable and everything we learnt about sustainability goes out with the baby bath.

The chilling tales of street children and HIV/AIDS in some of these third world cities are still waiting to be told. Maybe, just maybe if children could vote or work; if only they had a voice; if only they we not so vulnerable, we would think twice about their welfare and how our follies affect them and their education. Education may be for many their only hope for a "voice"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Can we make school safer?

From Northern Illinois to Oxnard, California, our schools are again emerging as unsafe places. It seems we can no longer drop our children off at school and walk away. We can no longer watch our children walk through our doors and know for sure they are not concealing some deadly weapon. If children cannot be safe at school where can they be? It used to be, we were worried about safety in high schools and colleges. Does it mean we may have to begin to worry about middle schools? School is supposed to be fun. We are supposed to look back on our school days and reminisce of friends and fun, laughter and joy, of scared knees and nicknames, of field trips and birthdays. What has gone wrong? It does not have to be this way. How can we make schools safe again? Researchers tell us that schools are the still the safest place to be. Then we need to make the perception match the research. What can we do? What can you do? Any ideas on how we can improve safety at school? How can we make teachers and student feel safe? How can we make parents feel safe?