What is real school reform? When educators and policymakers see a school district in crisis, I wonder what they think about. When the "big-shot" stakeholders sit around a table to discuss how to "fix" a failing district, specifically in an inner-city, I wonder what those conversations consist of. I wonder what New Jersey legislators discuss and think about the best ways to improve the Camden City School District? I really wonder what Governor Chris Christie, Camden City Mayor Dana Redd really think about the problems plaguing the district, their capacity to address them and if Camden's school district can ever be restored to a district of academic excellence and high student achievement. I'll take the cynical stance and hypothesize that stakeholders such as these, in addition to the countless educators on the ground, believe that the only way to "fix" this particular school district is to blow it up and start from scratch. The politicians in the city and state believe that is the solution for the city police department deemed inept, and too expensive, to address the crime and violence in the city, but I digress.
While the city school district is being taken over by the state and independently functioning charter schools, whose state scores when compared to the Camden school district aren't much better, step in to provide an alternative to residents, the questions are: What is the solution and who is to blame for the problem?
If we look at the apparatus of education in urban areas, more specifically inner-cities, who is to blame for the way things are? Is it the fault of the policymakers who make policies and mandates that are not functional and unrealistic in their application; that only sound good when on a stump? Is it the fault of educators, whom are either in the classroom or behind the administrator's desk -- the individuals who are unqualified, untalented and ineffective leaders who exist simply because their salary line continues on and they have no desire to or idea how to be innovative and transformative -- or the underutilized, ambitious, passionate yet occasionally naïve individuals who have great ideas and motivation yet will abandon ship either when things get too dysfunctional or when the next best opportunity presents itself? Is it the fault of the students who are too consumed with a culture of entitlement to be worried about hard work and delayed success and seek immediate gratification in the form of materialism? Is it the fault of the parents who are too concerned with making money for whatever reason than they are concerned about the academic standing of their child in school which will have either a positive or negative impact on the future life of that child?
Americans love to be No. 1 and they equally don't like to be made to feel guilty. The truth is that with respect to education in relation to the world, we aren't No. 1 and American society is guilty for it. Say what you want but the school system in the United States does not provide all children with an equal opportunity to obtain a quality education so to provide individuals with the ability to provide a quality and wholesome life for themselves and their families. Ours is a culture of me, myself and I. We are consumed with consumerism: We consume everything and as a society, we have no concept of the consequences of our actions and behavior. We all continue to chase after the coveted "American dream" for ourselves and everyone else is to chase after their own dreams. And while some dream, others have nightmares and night terrors. Yet we blame them for their own visions -- there must be something wrong with them for the reason why they suffer such a fate. We say the same about black and brown people in inner-cities across the United States who are plagued by unemployment, poor school systems, crime, violence, poverty and broken homes. We ascribe such problems of circumstance to black people and Latinos as attributes of being black or Latino.
The truth is that such issues impact all people... yes, white people included. In our chase for our homes with the white picket fence, we left behind a group of people who have become the underclass. We choose to invest in systems of weaponry and consumer products rather than invest in the potential of people and their families. We advertise pseudo-happiness on television in the form of unhealthy food, environmentally unfriendly cars, legal drugs in the form of prescription medication and clothing made in places where the individuals who make them do so for pennies. We spend our hard-earned dollars on stuff designed to take our mind off of what is wrong with our lives and this world. What do you do when you are poor and survival is the only mode your soul can remain in? Would you not be trying to engage in vices, whether it is food, sex, drugs or alcohol, to take your mind off the fucked-up way that you live?
Would you not be consumed with how you can make more money to get yourself and family out of the screwed-up neighborhood you reside in, either legally or illegally? If you were a minor and were poor, would you not have a competition of ideas in your mind as to how to escape the life you live -- whether it is school, drug-trafficking, sports or entertainment?
It is those thoughts and realities that Chris Christie, Dana Redd and every other politician and educator is up against in Camden City. No one however wants to address the social ills of society. To do so would require too much work, it would require individuals to actually think critically and give a damn. It would require people to reflect on the way they live and how they conduct their own lives and after assessing their own life, they would have to either improve their lives or continue failing themselves and others as their conscious nags at them until they improve themselves and subsequently help others. New Jersey voters complain about taxes and failed spending, but if there was a financial plan to "remove the problem," the voters would be for "I" and they'd pay.
So long as you have capitalism, you will have rich and poor; you will have the oppressor and the oppressed. And so long as you have that, there will always be discontent, depression and despair. It's easy to point the finger at the poor, the underclass, the black and brown people who are assumed to be criminals, sexually irresponsible and incapable of living like "civilized people," but it is indeed difficult to point the finger at one's own self. The takeover of the Camden City School District is a reflection of who we are as a society and how we've failed ourselves.
American society must be prepared to look itself in the mirror and point the finger of blame on itself: We are the cause, but better yet we are the solution. It is up to us, not the politicians.