Earlier this week, The LAMP was invited to the U.S. Department of State to do a presentation for a delegation of international media literacy experts and practitioners. Members of the group came from Bosnia, Jordan, Australia, Vietnam and many other countries. The LAMP has been doing work like this with the State Department for quite some time, but this particular week was a bit different.
As I spoke with them about The LAMP’s work in schools, the conversation eventually moved towards the topic of equitable education. They were aghast at how it can be possible that here, in a place as wealthy as New York City, there can be schools still operating on dial-up connections to the Internet, and where hundreds of students may share just a handful of computers. Between myself and one of the State Department’s Program Officers, we were able to flesh out a more complete picture of the education system here in the United States: one which is highly decentralized, with disparate funding even within the same school district, and one in which the quality of a public school is fairly proportionate to the average income level of the immediate community.
For many of the delegates, it’s unthinkable that we don’t have a standard national curriculum, and that the Common Core standards initiative is being shot down by many as the attempt of a too-big, socialist government to curtail liberties. Critical thinking skills are part of basic education, they pointed out. Isn’t that a liberty we should celebrate? They asked about why there isn’t more funding for media literacy here in the U.S. I explained that at least part of it has to do with measurement. Again, incredulity – why get hung up on metrics? Media literacy education works. We need it. And while we squabble about metrics, our kids are getting a sub-par education.
This conversation has stuck with me for most of this week as education headlines have been abuzz both with the news that New York City schools will add 4,268 new pre-k seats beginning this fall, and with reporting on parents opting out their children from taking Common Core-based standardized tests. Mostly, the discussion served to put things in perspective. It’s easy to live in a bubble in New York City, and perceive that all the news that’s fit to print is taking place somewhere within our five boroughs. It’s easy to ignore how we must appear to people in other countries rife with their own problems, but filled with families that care no less about their children than we do about ours.
Of course, my shift in perspective did not come with a magic bullet to save American education. It’s not surprising that a small group of people failed to solve the myriad and complex problems around getting an education in one of the world’s richest countries, but I also didn’t expect to get such a kick in the butt about how badly our partisan-based politics and budgeting wars are failing our kids. There are no right or wrong answers in any of the education debates, but it’s worth pulling back for a moment, taking a deep breath and looking at our system through the eyes of the rest of the world.
– Emily Long