Well, here we are.
I went into the MPS (Minneapolis Public Schools) Headquarters this morning to finalize my paperwork for this spring. I came in, finished my paperwork, got my placement at Sanford Middle School on south-side, and walked out the front door. Directly across from the newly remolded headquarters was this sign: Only 50% of Minneapolis Students Graduate. #System_Failure.
Every MPS employee (which now includes me) which walks in and out of the headquarters doors has to square every day with the fact that we are failing. Every day, every dropout, every year of 50% graduation rates is another failure.
I was gone from Minneapolis for 4 years, 4 years which I spent learning to understand exactly what happened in my High School as 50% of my classmates dropped out before graduation. I had 4 years away, 4 years of studying the achievement gap, learning it, talking about it with other students in the TFA influenced college atmosphere which has made ed-reform sexy on college campuses… And now I’m back. And it’s no longer theoretical. Now, we are again face to face with the reality facing our city (and cities across America, by extension), the reality of our monumental failure.
It was one thing to discuss ed-reform within college campus ivory tower bubbles, and to have Students For Education Reform and Teach For America paint a heroic picture of young teachers saving the day. It is another to leave college and be once again face to face with the reality of where you came from. Again.
Next fall, I will be moving from Minneapolis to Detroit to teach Spanish with TFA. It will not be sexy. It will not be heroic. It will be having to face that billboard every single day. Facing that harsh reality will not turn me into the hero privileged/savior teacher so often advertised by ed-reform organizations. If anything, it will break me instead.
But here is the question. We as a society have failed our children, especially our children in poverty, especially our children of color. The choice that we face is simple. Either we as a society to jump headfirst into being part of the solution to our failure (even if the reality of it might break us), or we give up, isolate ourselves completely, and move to the suburbs to run from that damn billboard.
Let me be clear. I am not saying everyone should join TFA, I don’t think that one organization can possibly encompass the solution. However, I am saying that we must ask ourselves, particularly if we are among the more privileged segments of our American society; how do we deal with our failure? Will we respond to the civil rights issue of our time?
Once we answer that question, the how is simply logistics (where do our particular gifts meet the greatest needs?). How might mean teaching for one, donating for another, aggressively getting your own kids through school for a third. Regardless of the how, the decision to respond, to face the billboard, to face our failure with the courage to say that something must change, is the difference maker. The system has failed because we as a society have disinvested in our urban schools. Something must change, and that something is the investment of every one of us in becoming the part of the solution in our unique way.