It’s been an appalling few weeks and an appalling year. The sickening “Varsity Blues” scandal bookends the forced separation of families at the U. S. border and the continuing, tragic fallout from Sandy Hook and Parkland. More hyper-selective colleges than ever admitted fewer than 10% of their applicants this year, functionally turning “offices of undergraduate admission” into offices of rejection, despite all the warmth and reassurances that school-based college counselors and Frank Bruni can give applicants. And every single school I hear from has students out of school on stress-related medical leave.
You’re likely reading this as an educator, and your heart is aching along with mine, I know. Figuratively or for real, the little “Ally” sticker on your door is there for every kid, regardless of demographic particulars. This I believe.
But what is your school or organization doing to be an ally? What institutional steps has your board, administration, and faculty collectively taken to actively support not only its own students but all children in the struggle for a secure, healthy, and equitable future?
We’ve seen the “Parkland Kids” and a mobilized generation stand up and fight for rational gun laws, but too often the public response has been to admire the students’ courage and maturity rather than actually to engage with their life-and-death issue. What could schools as institutions do to further this cause, which belongs not just to the survivors but to all of us?
Last month around the world students walked out of class to raise awareness of global climate change. Is removing disciplinary consequences from such principled and urgent acts the best we can do to support these students on this apocalyptic issue? The kids, in so many ways, are trying to teach ALL OF US lessons that their schools should be taking up as far more pressing than just checking boxes on college applications.
The National Association of Independent Schools persists in advising schools against having students serve as trustees (see HERE), stating that “their general maturity can make it difficult for them to move beyond their particular experiences as current students.” Does anyone who works with high-schoolers or who watched the student-organized pro-gun control rallies across the country last year believe that kids are categorically beyond being responsible board members? I, for one, think the NAIS position is shameful, and I applaud schools that give students a voice in governance.
Every educator knows that the college admission system is broken, and we know that much of the blame rests with a self-serving and amorphous industry in which testing giants, rankings publications, and test-prep and application support counselors make billions off the anxiety of parents and students. Some schools have found ways to band together to reject and repudiate the injustices and to propose alternatives—the Independent Curriculum Group and the Mastery Transcript Consortium are two, and groups like Challenge Success, the Education Conservancy, and Making Caring Common are a few more—but most schools do not seem to prioritize this work. Perhaps they fear that grade-less transcripts or too much “caring” will weaken their brands and their appeal to prospective families, but doesn’t inaction amount to complicity in a system based on winners and losers that harms kids—and turns some parents into grotesque headliners in the Varsity Blues affair?
We also have an equity issue in our K–12 education system as a whole, with uneven funding and self-enforced separation among the professional cohorts of public, public charter, general private, and independent school educators. We all of us, no matter where we teach or work, care about the success of all kids. Why, then, can’t we unite in a common effort not only to bring equity to the system but also to converse and teach and learn from one another as educators? Individuals can cross sector boundaries by going to conferences and EdCamps, but what initiatives can SCHOOLS undertake to build inter-sector bridges in a shared commitment to a better future for every child?
Thank you for being, through your interest in something like the Independent Curriculum Group, an ally of students in the work of creating better learning experiences for them. Now, perhaps, it’s time for all of us to exhort our schools and communities to get together, stand up, and apply the collective power of our institutions to doing the things that every news cycle reminds us must be done to save our children, our planet—and our schools.
It’s time for individual allies to mobilize our schools to speak with our students. We know, as the kids do, what needs to be said. Let’s start saying it together.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)