In the beginning I learned that one choice made either of our own or made by another could about where we live could have a long-lasting impact on our future outcomes. I also learned that there were people who didn’t have the freedom to choose where they wanted to live although they wanted to pursue the best for their children. This injustice ignited a sense of urgency in me; an urgency and desire to understand, question, and arrive at a conclusion as to why we have opportunity gaps, what we were trying to achieve when we say we want to reduce these gaps, and how to close these gaps over time.
Upon reflection, the test post was a significant way to connect my understanding of the idea that “place matters” even though it was only designed to be a short test. The fact that my parents chose to live in the States in our small town led my brother and me to attend a great regional school (compared to others in our district) with an abundance of activities ranging from the local to national level. We both had the fortune, support, and opportunities to pursue our interests up to the national level. These achievements in addition to our mentors, parents, school accreditation, and academic performance is what enabled us to attend the University of Richmond, a school with a wealth of resources and opportunities that has further opened doors for me.
I write these string of events not as a way to say that I had these and the students I worked with didn’t have what I had. I write them because I realize that where we lived was a choice that I did not have a part in, but a choice that my parents thought would give my brother and I the best opportunities. I later recognized that it was a privilege for my parents to have this choice. Year after year, their choice bore fruit as my brother and I took advantage of and were presented with the best of opportunities, and that I know will continue to open future doors. Prior to this class, I didn’t realize that this blossoming growth of benefits was because of where I lived or where I went to school or because we had the freedom to move at all. In fact, I thought my school was pretty behind compared to my friends who went to the special school at Freeman High School or at a highly ranked school in Northern Virginia. But that’s the narrow perspective I had. I saw our hometown as an undesirable place.
Having a community-based learning class expanded my limited perspective on the gap of opportunities, but specifically about the scope of the education gap. The experience taught me to ask myself, “What does it mean to reduce the gap? How do we do reduce the gap?” In terms of where I volunteered, the goal was to bridge the education gap between RPS and other top performing county schools, but I found various answers to how that goal could be achieved. My first thought was to reduce the resource gap. I championed giving schools greater resources especially after seeing the lack of them at Henderson for the art teacher and the students and after reading about it in So Much Reform, So Little Change. Then Charles Payne challenged this idea when he explained the structural intricacies and the bitter plague of blame, mistrust, and failure in urban school culture that extinguished even the best of resources. Upon further reading, Dreier et. al also mentioned how local governments seek to reduce the financial gap as a way of reducing the educational gap among districts (Dreier et. al, 188-191). Yet they also challenged this initiative by saying, “Even if all school districts had the same resources, they would not produce equal educational outcomes because of social disadvantages in poor districts” (Dreier et. al, p. 190). Even now, I can’t fully answer how to bridge the gap. All theories and practices seem to have been tried. However, each failure has led me to greater understanding that the answer lies more within the intangible aspects such as attitudes, culture, or teamwork rather than the tangible aspects like money, Ipads, or SmartBoards.
My semester journey in learning and being challenged in every avenue I sought to answer the “how” through the CBL eventually led me back to my initial question of what it means to reduce the gap. From what I learned, reducing the gap means reducing the effects that place or income level has on your future outcomes. I still don’t know how this can be achieved. Yet it seems like most of the “supermen and women” attempting to fix the problem is doing so by getting the biggest bang for the buck. Government and private resources are being poured into initiatives that seek to make the greatest strides in the fastest time possible. Yet Payne mentioned that what we lack is not a initiatives, but the supermen, women, and children to accept the blame, have conversations with people across the chain from the student to the principal, build trust, and work together toward these aims. Furthermore, we can’t expect this to happen in two or five years. Payne says that it takes a minimum of seven years to see change beginning to occur.
More importantly, where are our supermen, women, and children?
I don’t think they exist. I think everyone is expecting that one program will work for all and that one person will harness the power to solve it all. Yet I saw our superhuman teachers and administrators with track records of success were eventually ridden out of their positions. What we need are the X-mens and the Jedi masters; in other words, a band of people each with their own unique attributes and voices that come together for a common cause. I am optimistic. I see each challenge and failure of an avenue in addressing a piece of the structural tangle of urban education as a way closer to the method that works. My CBL experience has transformed me into a Jedi padawan, and my next step after this class is to continue finding teachers. My teacher can be another CBL class, a teacher, or a child, but whoever it is, I’m on my way to find them.