Monday, June 25, 2012

Dormtories for Urban Public Schools

Even in schools that were to adopt a Broken Windows approach to discipline (see the previous posting), a majority of kids in these urban schools will return home to neighborhoods that suffer from the same lack of commitment to stemming street level crime. About a decade ago Professor Elijah Anderson, who at the time was at Penn but now resides at Yale, wrote a poignant essay in the Atlantic Magazine titled “Code of the Streets,” where he described and explored the difficulties encountered by “regular folk” that reside in these communities but are overwhelmed by an ethic, the Code of the Streets, that is based on “respect” and ultimately leads to an acceptance of violence, blood feuds, and a general value system  in direct conflict with the middle class values- call it the Protestant Work Ethic if you want- that regular folk try to impart on their kids. There are also cases where children of parents who “live” the street code aspire to better themselves and adopt a middle class ethic. In the absence of strong role models and supportive parents, these kids are resigned to fighting a struggle they are ill equipped to win.

 There must be a way to help these kids, and given the crisis in urban education, we must be open to all ideas, even those that at first glance might seem crazy. I have such an idea: establish dormitories for select students to live in while they attend school. I envision this at first for high school age students, as they are the group most able to advocate for themselves and assist in caring for their needs. These dormitories would be staffed by teachers, college students aspiring for a career in education, and other professionals in some way connected to the school, such as members of a child study team. These dormitories would operate under strict rules, be secure, and have a variety of resources to enhance a student’s learning experience, including their health. There would obviously have to be extensive oversight to these facilities as well.  

There is no time to waste addressing the tragedy of urban education. Unfortunately, many of the solutions being proffered today lack creativity, ingenuity, and yes, risk. If you believe as I do that an entrepreneurial mindset is needed in the classroom and in the schools, then it follows that any attendant solution to education should embody that same mindset. Dormitories for public school students is such an idea, and I believe it deserves consideration.

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