Sunday, November 3, 2013

Waiting for a miracle: Why schools can't solve our problems - Dr. J. Comer

James P. Comer, MD, MPH

Dr. Comer is the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center, and has been a Yale medical faculty member since 1968. During these years, he has concentrated his career on promoting a focus on child development as a way of improving schools. His efforts in support of healthy development of young people are known internationally.
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After twenty-five to thirty years of work, I really became concerned and began to reflect on what was going on, and why it was so difficult to change schools. Waiting for a Miracle, my latest book, is just that-a first-step reflection on the resistance and difficulty in changing schools.
I remember that in my first year of work, I was invited to give a talk. The sponsor invited me to go to lunch with him. He listened to my spiel about the importance of education and the importance of educating all children, from all backgrounds, especially low-income minority children. He had been around supporting civil rights for a long time. He listened and finally said, "What makes you think that everybody wants to see low-income Black children succeed?" That was a surprising, new thought to me. It never occurred to me that anybody would not want to see all children succeed. Society was changing rapidly and needed everybody to succeed in school. I realize now that he was right. But it was more complicated than racial prejudice alone. The problems in the urban educational setting mirrored the problems in our larger society. And the problems in society and school stem primarily from a very deep-seated cultural belief. That belief is that success is determined by your genes, your inborn intelligence and your will.
This notion justifies the extreme individualism we have and leads to notions that we have about the economy and the status quo. The entire educational enterprise- institutions, people, even research, curriculum, instruction, assessment and technology-is affected by this underlying belief.
Children from families under economic and social stress are hurt the most by this belief. And until we change that cultural belief, thinking that the schools will solve our problems and prepare children to solve the problems of society is, I think, waiting for a miracle.
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