The Children Left Behind

The way we see the problem is the problem.

Teachers and students in the classroom is not the whole picture.

 Reading the October 22 article about Pricilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg launching a preschool and K-8 school for disadvantaged students, it reignited a longtime passion of mine about the distortions of public school reform. I have been writing and complaining about it for over 20 years. I am reluctant to write again because I remain pessimistic that the government and public will ever understand or even appreciate the complexity and interconnectedness of public education in America.

Chan and Zuckerberg want to take a holistic approach (seeing the whole picture), to help children overcome poverty, chronic stress, emotional and physical abuse and neglect that represent the problems of education that are overlooked or ignored. A holistic approach is the key concept, which has been neglected by reformers. Failing to see the problem as holistic highlights my long time complaint about reform: the blank slate myth.

Children don’t enter the classroom a blank slate. An inconvenient, neglected truth is that children accumulate vastly different readiness for learning experiences before entering school. Important learning experiences and important lack of learning experiences have already occurred. How much do these out-of-school experiences affect test scores? Students living in poverty and for whom English is a second language frequently have low test scores. Students with affluent, well-educated parents who speak English frequently have high student test scores

It is true that learning takes place in school. But the inconvenient, ignored truth is that learning takes place everyplace and everyplace is where to look for the reforming of education. School is not even the primary place of learning.

U S presidents, Secretaries of Education, politicians, government agencies, and education reformers for years apparently haven’t recognized the blank slate myth and have been unable or unwilling to see the problem as holistic. Successful education is the result of one’s total environment. When will educational reform see it that way? To educate a whole child is a complex, interconnected, holistic process; it takes a whole village. A classroom with teachers and students is not a whole village.

When will we ever see the whole village, the whole picture, the interconnectedness of learning? Oh when will we ever learn? Can you see any signs for optimism?







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  1. says:

    I am sure you are happy to see someone like Zukerberg and Chan weigh in on the need for a holistic approach to education. Wonder why it is so hard for educators to understand that.

    See you this Monday at Jim’s 9:15. Look forward to a good talk. Marianne

  2. Eugene Unger says:

    Great HB. Answer. NO



  3. Eugene Unger says:

    Their perceptions are their reality! Those realities have not and will not work , so ? “Therefore no thank you”



  4. psjarvis says:

    Hello H B,

    It’s a small sign, given the magnitude of the It Takes a Village holistic vision of learning you advocate. Yet, we now have 30 deployments of our Inspire community connections platform imbedded in Career Cruising. The closest to you is the Northern California Career Pathways Alliance. I’m working on Stockton, Fresno and Long Beach.

    Keep the wisdom coming, and don’t despair – the universe is unfolding as it should, although it’s taking its sweet time!


    Career Cruising
    Phil Jarvis |Director of Inspire Partnerships
    T: 1-800-965-8541 Ext. 117 | C: (506) 961-8585|

    Please note my cell number is new.

  5. Standing on the corner of any town during rush hour you wonder “who dreamed up this madness?” Cruising through the skies at 30,000 feet you are in awe of the design. Those of us who work at street-level can easily (regularly) despair.
    But, there are pockets of hope, Mr. Gelatt.
    I am part of the National Guard’s Youth Challenge program, a program for high school dropouts and other 16-19yo youth at risk of failure for many reasons. We take a holistic approach to reclaiming these lives that features ‘eight core components’ encompassing academic growth, health and physical fitness, life and coping skills, and service to community.
    At 34 sites across the country Challenge has created ‘villages’ where young people (we call cadets) voluntarily live, learn, and work for 22 weeks to earn high school diplomas or GEDs, to gain work skills and life skills that they would not get in their home towns for a variety of reasons. Youth Challenge matches these cadets with mentors who commit to work with their mentees for 12 months after they graduate in hopes of helping these young people to retain the habits they have formed and skills they have gained.
    The sad part is that when they leave our village, with its quasi-military structure, and return to their home towns and families they are again surrounded by the environments and elements that formed the experiences of their lives prior to Youth Challenge; so, we lose some.
    As you stated these are environmental, cyclical problems that will not be not be solved by any single interest. So, while we lose some of the young people we serve, Youth Challenge does impact many more. And, over time, we hope, the ones we help will break the cycles that have hindered their progress.
    There are signs for optimism based on the numbers of young men and women across the country who are applying to Youth Challenge. The need for the program continues, so Youth Challenge continues to add villages and to add ways to help the young people who seek help.

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