Perhaps you’ve heard of the movie The Hunger Games. I saw it soon after its release last month and enjoyed it (although the books are much better). If you’re not familiar with the premise (and bear with me if you are), let me give you a bit of a synopsis. There’s an education-related point in all of this, I promise:
The story is set in the fairly distant future. What we know of the U.S. no longer exists. Instead, a new nation, Panem, is essentially a totalitarian state, split into 12 districts. Every year, in an attempt to remind the citizens that the government is in charge and that rebellion is not an option, the “Hunger Games” are staged. Each district sends 2 “tributes” to compete in a fight to the death. All of this is televised for all to watch, much to the amusement of the upper classes and bureaucrats of the capital city.
Here’s the thing…and here’s where the parallels to our own reality begin…all districts are not created equally. Some are more affluent, and thus given special advantages. Many of the others exist in abject poverty, slaving day in and day out, without the chance to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Then you’ve got the citizens of the capital city, most of whom are rich, carefree, and obsessed with fashion and social status. They delight in the “drama” of The Hunger Games.
This may sound like science fiction, and granted there’s a great deal of hyperbole involved in the metaphor I’m about to present, but I’d argue that we aren’t that far removed this sort of existence. We live in a country with great divides between rich and poor. Nowhere is this more evident than in education, where thousands of children in our nation’s cities are relegated to inferior, mismanaged, crumbling school systems. I believe the Hunger Games are real, and they are taking place in urban classrooms all over the country. And I believe it’s time for us to start talking about them.
Think about the last five stories about urban education you’ve read about, listened to, or watched. If you can even come up with five, chances are they were feel-good stories about students “defying the odds” or about a generous corporation donating money to a robotics team or something of the sort. We delight when these types of stories come out of urban education; they bring joy to the masses.
But when it comes to telling the stories of students stuck in classes of 40 or more students, students being taught by uncertified teachers, students sitting next to buckets to catch water leaking from the ceiling, students all but condemned to life as second class citizens…those stories aren’t being told. And if they are, they aren’t being told often enough, or broadcast loudly enough. If urban students succeed, more often than not, it’s because they have to fight for it in the Hunger Games of Education. They scratch and claw and overcome just to graduate. Success in school, for them, is a victory, an amazing accomplishment. But students just a few miles away from them in affluent, suburban districts have to do no such thing. Success is expected. It’s a birthright.
So amidst all the talk of flipped classrooms and bring-your-own-device and 1:1 computing and the latest fads and trends, I wish a little more time was spent discussing the divide that continues to exist in American education (this applies to rural education, as well). When do we start talking about leveling the playing field? When do the Hunger Games of education end?
Footnote: We are public school teachers in Detroit, Michigan and founders of #urbaned chat. Join the conversation on twitter by following the #urbaned hashtag and taking part in the twice-monthly chat on the first and third Sundays of each month at 9PM Eastern.
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