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The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

As we enjoy Thanksgiving and bring our attention to what we are grateful for, we can start with the blessing of knowing where our next meal will come from.  Since the 1960s publication of “Equality of Educational Opportunity” into the 80s when the publication of “A Nation at Risk” scared the country into “reform,” through No Child Left Behind in our current decade, one thread of commonality remains the same: American schools are failing American students, mainly students living in poverty.  There is one difference though.  Our culture has turned from attempting to eradicate poverty, to denigrating those living in it.  Today those trapped in low socioeconomic circumstances are vilified more than ever before, assisted by our President and a 24-hour news cycle giving impetus to a perspective that is shameful itself.  A substantial population living in poverty was always the shame of the nation and motivated a response that most Americans were once behind.  Now poverty is no longer the shame of the nation, but the shame of those who live in poverty.  The finger of blame from so many Americans has moved from “us” to “them.”  

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Poverty rates 50 years ago compared to today elicit debate about the relative success or failure of the “War on Poverty,” but the fact is that the percentage of children living in poverty is much higher today while life-saving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are cut without much rancor.  In his 2019 budget, President Trump has proposed cutting SNAP (known in California as CalFresh) by over $17 billion.  Four million people now eaking out a living will go hungry. 

The same illness in our culture has seeped in our public education system.  The logic of merit, deficits and scarcity have found fertile ground to promote and continue our inequitable educational system.  Vilification of the poor takes away any sense of responsibility from those benefiting from privilege and advantage.  Once the moral onus is removed, change will not come from those benefiting from unequal distribution of educational resources.  Particularly if they feel they merit scarce resources due to the deficit of those who do nothing to deserve them.  At this point ineffective technical reforms seem to be the less difficult way to say we are doing something, while organized social action built upon a foundation of participatory inquiry to alter existing circumstances is the more strenuous but ultimately more effective way to bring about change.

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