May 29 — 10:00 am, 2018

Commentary: What if we changed everything?

Zachary Wright

Another school shooting, this time leaving 10 dead in Texas, brings the number to 22 shootings thus far in 2018.

Dozens of students have been murdered at school this year, and it’s only May.

Not coincidentally, nearly 136,000 cases of harassment and bullying in America’s schools were reported in 2016. Who knows what the true number actually is.

Teachers have walked out in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia, exposing widespread feelings of general distrust, anger, and frustration between schools and their communities.

In cities across the country — and right here at home — children sit in asbestos-filled school buildings, walk across flaking paint chips, and inhale toxins. Meanwhile, a mere 10-minute drive away in a wealthier suburb, other students tap away at their school-provided iPads.

Huge numbers of high school seniors who are coming from families who live in poverty learn that even when they succeed in school and do everything society has told them to do in order to be successful, they still will not be able to afford a quality college experience.

Meanwhile, just as many first-year college students are finding themselves ill-equipped for and alienated from the college for which they will be paying, at exorbitant interest rates, years after they’ve left campus.

Black male students, who make up just 8 percent of the country’s student population, account for 25 percent of all of the suspensions in the country. It’s a phenomenon equally visible every time the police are called on people of color for, essentially, being black.

All over the country, families of privilege shop for school districts, paying for enrollment with their property values and political might, while poor families, with less political strength, take the best they can from the offerings assigned to them by zip code and county line.

And year after year, we send our children to a school system that feels unalterable, permanent, and forever fixed.

But what if we didn’t?

What if, as has been suggested, we refused to send our children to school until Congress passes gun legislation?

What if every student, regardless of zip code, county, or income, received the top-quality education that is his or her birthright?

What if no student had to mentally choose their hiding place just in case a shooter burst into the classroom?

What if any family anywhere could actually choose the education they wanted for their children?

What if struggling students were greeted with social workers instead of school police officers?

What if teachers and educators were as respected and rewarded as doctors, lawyers, or financiers?

What if every student graduated high school prepared for their own chosen career path?

Changing our schools seems impossible, the structure too enormous and entrenched. But the cost of accepting the status quo is simply too dear.

Because what we got going ain’t working.

And kids are dying.

Zachary Wright is a master educator at Mastery Charter’s Shoemaker Campus, where he has taught world literature and AP literature since 2010. He was named Philadelphia’s Teacher of the Year in 2013 and is a regular weekly contributor to Education Post.


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