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  • Raj Kanani

Schools Are Even Failing at Their Purpose

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

We've established that schools are not places where kids can be themselves, and are not places where kids can live happy, meaningful, and liberated lives. But schools are EVEN failing miserably at their purpose of "evening the playing field" for the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

The promise of “schooling” for poor people all over the world is that education is the grand equalizer. Do well at school and land the lucrative job that can pull your family out of poverty… upward mobility That will make it all better, and all the negative impacts of schooling are just collateral damage.


Do schools benefit socioeconomically challenged communities?


What are the chances that that "promised" lucrative job will be landed? Even if a child gets the lucrative job, was it worth it? The disconnect… the loss of culture… the loss of self… ?


The promise continues: Your children will not have to toil like you. They will get to college, get degrees, and get a well-paying job.

“However, schools are EVEN failing at the purpose of upward mobility. They are failing ALL over the world at this purpose because the systems of power and oppression are so firmly embedded in our societies, intentionally or unintentionally.”

Yes, there are those anecdotal stories that we see on the news or read about... the kids that make it through, that get a scholarship, and have monetary success. However, in our fiercely capitalistic, individualistic society, there HAS to be winners and losers… and the odds are going to be stacked against those who are under-resourced and underserved, those not part of the dominant culture, those who have historically been discriminated against, those whose families are not as wealthy and financially stable.


How is the playing field slanted?


Here in the United States, the slanted playing field can be seen in so many different manners. Which schools have access to more money? Which schools have the better facilities? Which schools have more opportunities for the students? Which students get treated with more respect? Which families can pay for extra tutoring, for SAT classes, etc? Which students’ realities are represented in the school setting? Which parents can help their kids at home more? Whose culture is represented at school? I could go on and on.


And you know… even through that, brown and black kids started catching up on standardized testing. In California, the “achievement gap” in CST scores was finally dwindling. But then what happened? Common Core came along. New standards. New tests came along. What did these test scores show? Once again, a widening “achievement gap”. It’s clear that it is not an “achievement gap”, there is an “opportunity gap”. The blame does not fall on the students, does not fall on the families, does not even fall on the teachers and schools. It falls on the schooling system, and our the institutional injustices of our society. It is also clear that standardized testing isn’t helping.

“As soon as it seems like brown and black kids are 'catching up' according to these test scores, the game changes. The standards change, the test changes, and the gap widens again."

Today, yes, more brown and black kids are getting to college and getting a degree. So, what has happened? The degree is worth less and doesn’t guarantee a well-paying job. Capitalism demands that there are “losers”. Not everyone can make 6 and 7 figures, so we must all compete with each other. That’s what they tell us.


What about the majority of the low-income children who don’t make it to college, those who don't get the lucrative job?


Because of the “schooling system”, it makes it seem like it’s the fault of the child, or of the family, or of that community, or of their school. “Look, you had the chance. You just couldn’t do well enough. You didn’t work hard enough.” Students/families feel like failures. Even 5 or 6-year-old kids, think that they are “behind”, think that they are not smart enough.


In actuality, the fault lies in the larger system where poor kids are living in separate and unequal worlds. The fault lies in the system that still requires money to “get ahead”. The fault lies in a system the equates happiness to monetary success. The fault lies in a “schooling system” that doesn’t focus on the whole child, that doesn't focus on entrepreneurship, that doesn’t allow students to be themselves, discover their passions and talents, and follow them, and that doesn’t focus on a child’s holistic well-being and happiness. Our schools have not been created to liberate. Our schools have not been created for those that are marginalized.

“ What percent of the kids in the village school in India, or the school in East Oakland, will get that lucrative, high-paying job? What will happen to ALL the other kids?"

Will their lives be better off because they went through the traditional schooling system? Or, will their lives be worse?


I worked with an organization in India called SIDH, year ago. The founders of the organization didn’t set out to start an organization. They kind of just wandered into the mountains in hopes of finding themselves, finding meaning. They started tutoring some kids from the villages who asked for it, since they were this couple from the city that knew how to read and write, and even knew English (sarcasm).


Then, more kids came. The couple opened a school. Then, some people noticed them and told them to start an NGO, so they could get funding. They did that, and soon had about 5-10 schools in the Jaunpur region of the lower Himalayas.


After some years, they had to go in the field and do some research to document what impacts these schools were having on their communities. They were ready for some positive feedback from families.


What did the women from the village tell the founders of this NGO about the effects of schooling?


What they heard, especially from the women in the communities, was, “You are ruining our children. They start going to school and they don’t learn any of the things we need to survive. They don’t know how to farm, they don’t know any crafts.”


But the modern society tells us to see that as “collateral damage”, because now these kids could go to college, get higher paying jobs, get a larger view of the world, etc.


The women continued, “And, many of them fail out of school and then they don’t know how to do anything. Some finish school, but they don’t get a seat in college. And, what do these kids do? Nothing… they walk around with their hands in their pocket. They look at us, their own family, as backwards. They think they’re better than us. But, they can’t even help us.”


But, we might be thinking, some kids must make it to college?


The women continued, “A few do get a seat in college. We sacrifice our savings for them. But then, they don’t get a great job. They work as laborers in the city. If we’re lucky, they send us a tiny bit of money. They get tied up in alcohol and drugs. Our entire way of life is being lost.”


SIDH had to relook at their entire purpose of education. They had to relook at the entire structure of schooling. They had to relook at what is being taught and why it’s being taught.

“ These women were from a generation where schools did not exist in their community, so they were fortunate enough to still have their critical perspectives of schooling."

Their minds weren't "schooled". They still had an idea of what their community looked like pre-schooling.


But, in most places in the world today, this critical perspective of schooling does not even exist, because we all have been "schooled" and superstitiously accept that childhood means schooling and that schooling is a universal good.


If schooling CANNOT even serve its purpose, in addition to all the negative impacts of schooling, then why do we just continue to accept it?

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