Educational resources in the United States remain unfairly stratified by socio-economic class. The lopsided distribution of classroom materials, technologies, libraries, counseling, support services and supplies is obvious. But there’s also the issue of professional development for faculty and administrators. The desire to make a positive impact on all young people’s lives is equally distributed among educators, but the support teachers need to accomplish their noble goals is not. Massive spending on teacher development in all districts, but especially in underprivileged districts, would not only make sure classroom techniques remain current and technologically relevant, it would also send the message that we value the teaching profession.
The current school funding structure was created with good intentions. There are checks and balances in place that attempt to address financial inequality between schools by supplementing district and state funding with federal aid. But it is not working satisfactorily. Federal programs and initiatives like the Common Core Standards and No Child Left Behind attempt to address real shortfalls. And both programs are well-meaning; but they are betrayed by their own limited scopes. Such a narrow focus on assessment estranges other necessary components of a holistic pedagogy. Therefore, in practice, these types of programs neither empower nor incentivize educators to succeed. Instead, because they are perceived to be measuring faculty failures or to threatening financial penalties for already-struggling institutions, they demoralize educators and create a toxic atmosphere of anxiety in the schools where our children spend more than half of their waking hours.
In addition, when you consider the digital divide (unequal access to new technologies) and the vocabulary gap (underprivileged children hear less words at home—quantity and quality—than their wealthier peers), it is clear that we can’t address the household income inequality that currently plagues the United States without simultaneously discussing school inequality. Hence, any political rhetoric about wealth inequality that doesn’t also address education is disingenuous. Economic stimulus for today’s middle and lower classes is irrelevant if we don’t simultaneously prepare the next generation of citizens to live into a more equitable economic future.
Legally, our schools are racially integrated, gender neutral, and increasingly LGBT friendly. We’ve instituted zero-tolerance bullying policies and come down hard on school violence. But we all know that, on average, children’s lived experiences continue to include physical and emotional abuse that’s grounded in racial, ethnic, gender, s3xual, religious and social stereotyping. Rules can penalize bad behavior, but they don’t necessarily encourage good behavior. The bottom line is that we cannot eliminate hateful actions without eliminating hateful thinking; and the process of transforming how people think is precisely the work of education. Therefore, at a time when our we are experiencing high racial tension, ubiquitous rape, mass shootings, religious fundamentalism, and hyper-polarized political value systems, school curricula need to prioritize inclusiveness for the sake of long-term social justice.