Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Geoffrey Canada

I've been participating in a discussion with Tom Hoffman about the Harlem Children's Zone and Geoffrey Canada's role in the Waiting for Superman video (which I haven't seen in full). I wrote this initially as a comment on the thread but it became too long for blogger's word length restriction, so I am publishing it here. I knew a little about Geoffrey Canada from past discussions and initially updated my knowledge by watching this 2008 video interview with Charlie Rose:

I also watched the Oprah Education Panel Continues the Discussion After the Show (link), featuring Geoffrey Canada and some others, which was fascinating. (The Charlie Rose interview provides a better look at Canada's overall world view and the reasons he has formed a political alliance against "big labour"; might be worth summarising in more detail at some stage)

No one raised the fundamental question which is that the problems of social class cannot be solved within a system which by its nature and day to day activity continues to generate those problems on a greater scale than any solutions within that system. Canada was not critical of government and praised Obama's "Race to the Top". Nor can such a big nation wide problem be solved by philanthropy as Tom points out, the pockets of Gates and Zuckerberg (Facebook entrepreneur who has become a recent education philanthropist) are miniscule compared to what is required nation wide. Also Canada buys into the great American empire rhetoric which is populist and misleading when it comes to solving this problem for America as a whole. His empire rhetoric is more apparent in the Charlie Rose video.

Nevertheless, Canada's analysis of educational problems for the disadvantaged and what to do about it are correct. High expectations, early intervention, build parental support into the package, longer school day, teacher accountability (even though we might argue about how to do that). This is along the same lines (progress without progressivism) of the scheme proposed and now being implemented by Noel Pearson in Cape York, Australia for the most disadvantaged Australians. Pearson is not so dependent on philanthropy because Australia differs from the USA in that respect but he has ended up allied to what is regarded as the "right" because they are more practical than "correct". That political alliance seems to go with solutions within the system too.

IMO you can't really polemicise in an all round manner (black and white, they are bad and we are good) against people who are trying to help the Disadvantaged in the here and now and at the same time describe yourself as "progressive". Because what progressives do is help the Disadvantaged. Part of the logic flowing from this is criticism of the Union, since the role of the Union is to protect working conditions. If you are working very long hours on moderate pay for the sake of the kids then that is not what Unions are on about. This part is tricky because good teachers do work long hours on moderate pay for the sake of the kids.

Davis Guggenheim, the film director of Waiting for Superman also made An Inconvenient Truth. The parallels here to me are striking. Identify a real problem but through exaggeration completely muddy the waters about a real solution on a macro level.

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