OWS and Educational Inequality

In John Mackey’s most recent Conscious Capitalism talk, at the CEO Summit, he brought up the fact that, on a global basis, the form of inequality that we ought most to be concerned about is inequality of economic freedom:  Poor countries are poor because of an absence of economic freedom, whereas if we equalize access to basic economic freedoms, the global poor will have an opportunity to create jobs, wealth, and, most importantly, provide us with examples of cool, capable, and confident people from every culture, race, and continent.

Similarly, for me the greatest tragedy with respect to educational inequality is the lack of access to cool education that will allow each child to discover and develop his or her unique genius.  The existing system of coerced passivity as we march young people through bland and meaningless curriculum results in a situation in which only those who are exposed to creative thought, intellectual dialogue, design and artistry, and entrepreneurial originality at home or through their networks flourish.  Unfortunately, those children from lower income households are taught by the educational system that “education” consists of mastering the 5th grade social studies standards or the 7th grade language arts standards.

Does anyone realize how damaging this is?  In my experience most children from lower income homes come to experience “school” or “learning” as a stupid, meaningless game in which they are humiliated day after day.  No wonder only 25% or so graduate in Detroit, and less than 50% in many urban districts.

Despite the fact that our “public school system” has served generations of Jewish and Asian students well (who had the cultural capital to benefit from the bizarre world of schooling), a tragically large percentage of Native American, African-American, and Hispanic Americans do not benefit from this system.  What if schooling-as-we-know-it is a net harm, rather than a net benefit, for many of our young people, especially those from the least privileged environments?

What if the most brutal means of perpetuating inequality was our government-imposed educational system which forced children from all cultures, with all learning styles, with individual minds, into a one-size-fits-all model that serves as education for some and humiliation for others?

Why can’t we allow educational entrepreneurs to supply customized learning environments for all, so that our poor and marginalized experience learning and respect rather than failure and humiliation?

If you care about inequality, Occupy Public Schools (OPS).

About Michael Strong

Co-founder, Ko School + Incubator, Conscious Capitalism, Radical Social Entrepreneurs, lead author of Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems, author of The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.
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1 Response to OWS and Educational Inequality

  1. Gina Hayden says:

    I couldn’t agree more. This week I learned that my two-year-old daughter, in morning playschool, had learned that ‘Jesus died for our sins’. She came home quoting this line. Leaving aside the philosophical question of sin as a whole for a minute, what sins does a two-year-old possibly have? And whatever business do they have with death at that age also? I’m amazed – and more than a little bit horrified – that standard curriculum playschool, never mind higher levels of education, can be so blinkered as to not even question the standardized things they trot out to new minds.
    Best wishes,

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