Aug 13, 2014 by


The question of why a society that defines itself as caring, compassionate and committed to equal opportunity can continue to educationally destroy the life chances of millions of its own children

Dr Martin Haberman ,Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, UWM


A Problem Nationally

On September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia claimed the lives of over 2,795 innocent civilians. But every day of the school year an average of 7,200 innocent civilians drop out of high school and very few take notice. America’s greatest crisis is a silent one. While a majority of these youngsters are white, African America and Latino students are conspicuously over-represented. By the end of the school year as many as 500,000 or more,tenth to twelfth graders will have “disappeared”. My estimate is that this horrendous statistic is matched by an equal number of those who never appear in any drop-out data because they have never made it into high school. They are the victims of failed middle schools using high stakes testing as an admission barrier into failing high schools.

9/11 clearly identified who were the perpetrators and who were the victims. In death by miseducation the blame for failing urban school districts is placed on the victims and their families who are accused of perpetrating their own demise. 9/11 evoked new national priorities and new ways of reaching them. Miseducation generates the same tired slogans and applies the same failed solutions even more assiduously. 9/11 brought forth a rebirth of patriotism and togetherness against those who would seek to destroy our concept of unity. Death by miseducation evokes an equally powerful commitment to preserve our way of life by making success in school a personal rather than a common good. In response to 9/11 America has committed itself to making significant changes in the way we will live. In response to death by miseducation America remains committed to protecting archaic, failed urban school districts from any significant change.

More than fifteen million diverse children in poverty represent the overwhelming majority of the miseducated. Over seven million in urban poverty, disproportionately represented by children of color, attend school in the 120 largest school districts. Every one of these districts is a failing school system in which greater size correlates positively with greater failure. Every miseducated child represents a personal tragedy. Each will have a lifelong struggle to ever have a job that pays enough to live in a safe neighborhood, have adequate health insurance, send their own children to better schools than they went to, or have a decent retirement. In most cases their lives are limited to dead end jobs, or wasted away in street violence or prison. Living in the midst of the most prosperous nation on earth, the miseducated will live shorter lives characterized by greater stress and limited life options. Miseducation is, in effect, a sentence of death carried out daily over a lifetime. It is the most powerful example I know of cruel and unusual punishment and it is exacted on children innocent of any crime. Most Americans avoid the personal tragedy aspect of this massive miseducation by not sending their own children to school in these failing urban districts. This includes a majority of the teachers who work in them! In effect, those with options cope with miseducation as a personal tragedy by fleeing the major urban districts in order to protect their loved ones from the contamination of miseducation. While flight can appear to be a successful strategy for coping with miseducation as a personal tragedy it does not address the question of how miseducating other people’s children on this massive scale affects the survival of the total society. Every three years the number of dropouts and pushouts adds up to a city bigger than Chicago. For how long can a society continue to create cities the size of Chicago every three years filled with “no hopers” and still survive as either a free or a prosperous nation?

The question of why a society that defines itself as caring, compassionate and committed to equal opportunity can continue to educationally destroy the life chances of millions of its own children is extremely difficult to understand and even harder to explain. When the dimension of being willing to risk our very survival as a nation is added, one can only conclude that most Americans perceive benefits from this miseducation that outweigh the damages they see being inflicted on individuals and society. What might these benefits be? Who might be the beneficiaries? If you believe it is a matter of life and death, it should change everything we do for the children and youth of America to ensure they have the opportunity to learn! In other words, no stone left unturned!!

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