I recently revisited an interview between Senator Bernie Sanders and Michael Render (Killer Mike) from January 2016. This obviously pre-dates the election and places Bernie in the midst of his campaign for the Democratic nomination. The issues explored by the two centred on the philosophies of social justice and particularly, as a focus for Bernie, the rights of citizens to have economic freedom. I encourage you to watch the interview if you are at all concerned about the growing equity crisis we are facing in education. It will definitely provide an insight into the path we face ahead, thus the title “The Urgency of Now”.
I was motivated to revisit the interview upon return from an incredible three-week educational tour exploring North America. I will use another post to provide further reflection on this rewarding experience, but first I wanted to draw some connections between some of the striking systemic challenges that the Australian and US systems share.
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late…………. This is no time for apathy or complacency…………. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” – Martin Luther King Jr
“College Readiness” was profoundly embedded in all the schools and systems we visited in the States, and I preface this by saying this is not a reflection upon the incredibly dedicated and passionate educators we connected with, but instead the system that they are part of. This is, of course, a significant driver of the premise that The United States of America is the land of opportunity and that everyone has access to the “American Dream”.
What I found growingly hard to swallow, was the disparity between how this manifests when so many of the places we visited had significant homelessness and obvious mental health issues. It would seem to me that, this American Dream is fit only for those who are already somewhat advantaged. The significant programs and philanthropic works that are working to combat the equity in education is mind-blowing, but it also makes me wonder……for every program that is not public (and that I mean government) funded, does this not just perpetuate the lack of responsibility that governments have for providing equitable education?
Now I must disclose here, that my own school and growingly a number of significant personal professional opportunities have indeed been afforded due to our relationship with an amazing non-profit organisation, but this has only emphasised to me that we are able to access a range of resources and opportunities that all schools should be entitled to.
Whilst Martin Luther King Jr was referring to the Vietnam War when he said: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today”, it is true of the challenges we currently face in education. So many of the passionate educators in the United States that I met are hamstrung by a system that is centralised on standardised assessment and access to the right college. This is the lens through which they view opportunity and educational innovation. The same threatens our system in Australia with earlier and earlier attempts to formally assess children and monitor schools through the use of arbitrary testing and processes. As educators representing disadvantaged communities in Australia, we cannot let others speak for us, let others make decisions for us, let others perpetuate systems that maintain a complicit and undereducated “lower class”. It is only through the critical work that we do with young people, how we advocate to provide the same opportunities as their wealthy peers, how we speak out and stand up when dogma drives the educational discourse that we will start to shift the divide.
I think Bernie hits the nail on the head when he says: We have the freedom of speech, you can go out on the street and give a speech, that’s your constitutional right…but you know to be truly free you need economic rights as well. You can go out and give a speech but you may not have food in your belly… a roof over your head. If you don’t have any education, are you truly free?”