As an old (73 years), White male, I am uneasy and a bit lost in the contemporary educational political landscape. I think those in school now, our next generations, face significant global (China’s rise) and technological (more robotics) shifts that require changes in current educational preparation. Unfortunately, these issues and concerns get little attention from either students or the educational establishment. They increasing seem consumed by, often seemingly lost in, educational aspects of identity development and politics. I see serious challenges. Others see past and present grivances.
Two articles and a public comment at the last Portland Public School Board meeting highlight the gaps between me and today’s students and educational institutions.
(1) David Brooks’ NY Time column “Inside Student Radicalism” (here) writes of the tensions of current student life:
What one sees in the essay are the various strains of American liberalism crashing into one another: the admiration for achievement clashing against the moral superiority of the victim; the desire to let students run free, clashing against the desire to protect the oppressed from psychologically unsafe experiences.
The current identity politics movement, like all previous forms of campus radicalism, is sparked by genuine social injustices. Agree or disagree with these students, it’s hard not to admire the impulse to serve a social good and commit to some lofty purpose.
On the other hand, this movement does not emerge from a place of confidence and strength. It emerges from a place of anxiety, lostness and fragility. It is distorted by that soil. Movements that grant themselves the status of victim lack both the confidence to lead change and the humility to converse with others. People who try to use politics to fill emotional and personal voids get more and more extreme and end up as fanatics.
(2) Brooks bases his column on the longer article “The Big Uneasy” by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker (here).
The kids in college now could be called the Firebrand Generation. They are adept and accomplished, but many feel betrayed by their supposed political guardians, and aspire to tear down the web of deceptions from the inside…..
….. But the Firebrands, beginning in the contexts of their campuses, are resetting that frame, much as the postwar generation did half a century ago. The historic bracket that opened in the sixties is starting to close; the boomers’ memoirs of becoming no longer lead up to the present. When that sort of thing happens—when experiential contradictions become acute—a window opens for people whom the legal theorist Cass R. Sunstein calls “norm entrepreneurs”: those promulgating new standards that others can adopt and defend, redefining bad behavior (say, from homosexuality to homophobia), rewriting social models, and shifting the default settings of political culture. Before long, another mural, displaying these new liberal virtues, will probably adorn the blank wall in the Cat in the Cream. Until then, the cracks in the American left are likely to grow—with more campaign arguments about who is the “true” progressive, more shouting past one another, and more feelings that, for at least one generation, everything is lost.
(3) A public comment at the last PPS Board meeting yielded an editorial from the Oregonian (here):
For 15 minutes, Ellis "Ray" Leary railed against board member Mike Rosen, accusing him of conducting a "public bullwhipping" and comparing Rosen's inquiry into his $207,000 no-bid contract to the tactics of a slave owner.
Leary, whose I AM Academy nonprofit provides support and services for about 100 African American male students in Portland Public Schools, contended at Tuesday's board meeting that his agreement was singled out for scrutiny, revealing an "at best dishonest, and at worst, racist" view.…
I thought Leary’s public comment was unfortunate in its tone and substance. And it tweaked an ongoing concern of mine. I very much want to improve academic (and life) outcomes for students of color in PPS. I could support much more funding for programs for them. But what programs? PPS looks to and funds leaders, like Leary, in the various minority communities for leadership. I am concerned that Portland’s African American educational leaders, like many of the students in articles by Brooks and Heller, are not as concerned as I am about the global and technological challenges facing today’s students, and are overly concerned about identity and past grievances. And the substance of Leary’s comment was unfortunate because it did not advocate for African-American students in the context of a very challenging future, not just for them but for all students.