The New York Times ran an article last week that serves as a nice microcosm for our entire public discussion about education. When I read the headline “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say,” I was hopeful. Maybe the Times had decided to run a piece exposing, in our paper of record, what’s been an open secret known for decades: poverty is the root cause of our educational problems.
After presenting new and convincing data to this effect, the author decided that rather than expose an inconvenient truth, she’d go out of her way to confuse her readers and obscure the obvious. As Doug Henwood notes in his excellent analysis, the second half of this article relies entirely upon right-wing sources, including Charles Murray, co-author of the infamous and thoroughly discredited mid-90’s tome, The Bell Curve. Not surprisingly, each of these sources does somersaults to avoid reaching the most obvious, data-supported conclusions: poverty is the problem. Henwood concludes by rebutting one source who urges us not to address poverty, because there are “no easy answers”:
“Nonsense. The answers are conceptually easy, though politically anything but. You take money from rich people and give it to poor people, and spend at least as much, maybe more, educating the children of the poor as you do on the children of the rich. But that might make the Times’ audience uncomfortable. Better to flatter them on their excellent parenting.”
What does this have to do with ecosystems? It’s been demonstrated, again and again and again, that poverty has a pervasive, toxic impact on schools. If we want healthy schools, we need to get rid of the toxin. Until we do that, we’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, or cleaning up the litter in a landfill, or whatever metaphor for avoiding the real problem you think fits best.