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field notes-ish post for 2/12

transitfan's picture

My field placement is still not finalized so here are some thoughts for this week on educational experiences.

I listened to most of the npr show on upcoming Philadelphia school closings. I was struck how the director of student services of the school district does not give off an appearance of having much concern for anyone beyond the district's image. But then again, my understanding of the need for school closings is increased knowing that such a low percentage of students near Germantown High are students at that school and that the school is so under-capacity. It seems to refute the idea that competition from charters and vouchers can improve community schools (not that that idea needed much refuting in my opinion). Is it too late to save community schools like Germantown? Are they worth saving? As someone with economic privilege who went to a private high school when my community school system wasn't working for me, I do understand the appeal of school-choice. Clearly access to safe, good-quality community schools and access to other schools for particular types of learners shouldn't be a one-or-the-other. I wonder what the average quality of the charter, private, and magnet schools is that the majority of Germantown students attend.

I also went to another teach-in on climate justice, this one at a different school in the region. Unlike the one I co-facilitated (during lunch in the dining center lobby facilitated by students), this one was in a quiet lecture hall during the evening (8:30-10:30; I was only there for the second half) and was led by faculty. Each faculty would speak for about 5 minutes (they usually went over) and after every few speakers they would all stand at the front of the room and take questions. The students and faculty were mostly white, and several of the speakers brought this up. However, there was a nice mix of academic disclipines represented by the faculty speakers, and the organization putting on the event that found speakers both in favor of and oppossed to divestment.

I thought the arguments against divestment were really stupid, and I am curious whether people who don't have an opinion on it yet felt that way also or if my opinion on the arguments was clouded by my opinion on divestments. "Right now we work with some of the top investment firms in the world," said one. "If we divest they might not want to work with us anymore and that would really be a shame." One thing that caught my attention and I think speaks to the way we think in our society was the argument that "$1.5 billion really isn't a whole lot of money compared to schools like Harvard and Princeton." Divestment opponents at my school worry that "$400 million really isn't a whole lot of money compared to schools like [the one where this most recent teach-in was taking place.]" I'm sure the 98% of other schools with smaller endowments per capita than ours say the same about their endowment compared to ours. Harvard probably talks about how its $30 billion is small compared to what it had before the economic collapse. How much money is enough money in our world? Is there such a thing?

I shouldn't be so negative. One eloquent pro-divestment professor "George Pondy" talked about how during his 6 years at this school, this teach-in was most excited he had been. In one of his classes, he said that he assigns students to "get in an argument with someone." That is something we don't do very much in our educations. It also connects back to "dialogue" in the Friere-sense. Interestingly this teach-in was pretty conventional in that was mostly lecture-based. That it managed to create dialogue is very impressive!