By Joel Haynie, Guest Contributor
“But, Mr. Haynie, I didn’t mean to hurt their feelings” is a sentiment that I frequently hear from students after they have said something in class, usually trying to be funny, but at the cost of another student. Very frequently my response is, “You didn’t mean not to, either.” My point is that usually, the student who made the comment is not thinking about the other student at all, but rather they are thinking about the result of their joke. All too often, something similar could be said about educational reform in urban environments. Attempts focus on immediate improvement of some specific numbers (high stakes standardized test scores and graduation rates to name a few), rather than trying to come alongside a community in attempts to educate the young minds in a meaningful and lasting way. Unfortunately, when these attempts fail, it is often at the cost of the community when schools are forced to shut down. The argument could be made that the reformers were not trying to hurt the community, but I argue, they did not mean not to hurt it either.
While many attempts at educational reform have been so focused on immediate results of “school improvement,” there have also been a few that have looked to connect the surrounding community with the educational establishment for mutual benefit. Mark Warren describes three ways that have been attempted: community schools, community sponsorship of a charter school, and community-school organizing (Warren, 2005). These three attempts have various differences in who “holds the power” and yet they seem to have one specific commonality. The community school seeks partnerships with organizations to provide multiple services to the community. The community sponsored charter school is led by a community development organization that seeks to improve the education of the students in the community. Community-organizing groups are more politically driven, and yet they view the public school as a part of of the greater community. I could argue for hours about the differences these three attempts have made and which I believe to be the best option; yet, more important to me is the fact that all three have attempted, in some instances, to harness the power of the social capital of the communities surrounding the schools.
Ultimately, it is time to be intentional about not hurting communities and schools through the continuous trial of educational reform that is solely focused on immediate results. Mark Warren argues, “A serious commitment to these experiments in linking school reform to community development offers hope for real and sustained improvement, both in our children’s learning and in the communities in which they grow and develop.” (Warren, 2005) This is a commitment that will take time, massive amounts of brain power, but most of all a caring disposition. It is my hope, as an aspiring educational leader, that you join me in the endeavor to create an equitable environment of learning for those who have been consistently marginalized. While it will surely take time, mobilizing the brains and hearts of communities is something urban education reform needs.
Joel Haynie is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI
Warren, M. (2005). Communities and schools: A new view of urban education reform. Harvard Educational Review, 75(2), 133-173.