Thoughts on Education, Inclusivity, School Shootings, Truancy, and Inequitable U.S. and Floridian Welfare Practices

This is a discussion post I wrote on 2018-03-30 for Dr. Judit Szente‘s course, EDF 6855: Equitable Educational Opportunity & Life Chances: A Cross-National Analysis, at University of Central Florida.

This week’s readings are broad and lengthy, making it difficult to write a compact summary or reflection. Particularly when reading Chapter 16 of UNESCO (2016), but throughout this week’s readings, I was disappointed that financial education is not mentioned. The disadvantages that poor families face are discussed at length, along with teacher salaries and job searches, school funding, and financial incentives for school attendance. Similarly, our readings emphasize that effective schooling teaches children about sexuality, sustainable lifestyles, cultural diversity, gender equality, and many other issues, but omit financial education despite the importance of financial knowledge and behaviors toward positive lifelong and inter-generational outcomes. (Although the link between financial education and knowledge/behaviors is tenuous, certain financial education pedagogies have strong support, such as “just-in-time” education. Just-in-time education is relevant to secondary students, particularly in developing countries and in poor families, who may already be working, assisting their parents and siblings financially, and making spending and saving decisions.)

Reflecting on UNESCO (2015), I see parallels between these findings and University of Central Florida’s inclusive approach. While many institutions of higher education emphasize exclusivity, President Hitt has emphasized inclusivity in the belief that expanded opportunity is not necessarily detrimental to educational quality, which parallels findings in Kenyan primary school. In fact, the chapter concludes by saying that simultaneous increase of quality and large enrollment increases are possible even for the majority of resource-constrained countries.

Reflecting on UNESCO (2016), I agree that human rights, equality, sexuality, and particularly sustainability are important curricular components. Much progress has been made in these areas, such as human rights being mentioned in about half of secondary textbooks around the start of the 21st century, as compared with only one in 20 textbooks around the 19th–20th century transition. Sustainability, of course, is a prime topic given humanity’s explosive population growth and industrialization. Education on sexuality and sustainable lifestyles may influence children not to have children in adulthood, helping to curb human population growth. In addition, it can encourage reduced consumption, recycling, et cetera.

While Chapters 3–5 of UNESCO (2017) are too wide-ranging to comment on as a whole, three issues remain that I will include in my reflection. One is also covered in UNESCO (2016): school violence and attacks. Although civil unrest, political instability, and war are often the cause, in the US we have the rather unique problem of mass murders with firearms by individuals not affiliated with a military, nor even necessarily a terrorist group. Although many more children die in automobile accidents, mass murders touch us all. They are cruel, senseless, anxiety provoking, and traumatizing. Their prevalence in the US surely inhibits teaching and learning. As an instructor of preservice teachers at UCF, at least two of my students this semester are Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduates, having shared this in an assignment in my course where they are given the option of producing an autobiographical mind map using Inspiration, MindMeister, or another software application.

The second issue from UNESCO (2017) I will comment on is responsibility for school effort. Chapter 5 of UNESCO (2017) shows a graph (Figure 5.1) of the transition of responsibility from parents to students for school attendance, effort, and behavior as students age and move through school. This might be likened to the fading of scaffolding during the learners’ novice–expert transition in instructional pedagogy. But, are teachers, administrators, politicians, and school staff not also responsible? As an instructor, I am always inclined to place a portion of the blame on myself for students who decide to skip class—my teaching fails to captivate their interests or motivate them to attend.

The final issue I will comment on from UNESCO (2017) is truancy and fines, with a segue into anti-productive American social welfare policies. The research cited in UNESCO (2017) shows that punitive action against students and/or parents is ineffective and actually impedes the education of disadvantaged children, as well as unduly burdening their families. The authors cite Los Angeles, CA having previously fined parents of truant children $250, plus court fees of up to $1,000. When we look at fines of any type, typically they are simply not scaled for income and/or wealth. They are regressive, not progressive. To be fair, poorer families should have no fine while families with a mansion and million-dollar yacht might need to pay a $50,000 fine for truancy. Such progressiveness is largely considered antithetical to the U.S. Constitution and culture of individualism, but in part is seen in the IRS tax brackets. Nevertheless, many American social support programs discourage upward mobility, which has inter-generational negative implications for educational attainment and multi-dimensional life outcomes. For example, individuals and families can rely on Medicaid for medical expenses, but only after all their financial assets are exhausted, and continued receipt of benefits is dependent on continued penury. If an adult receives SSI benefits for a disability, which can approach $1,000 per month, these benefits are immediately rescinded if he or she achieves $2,000 in assets (or $3,000 in joint assets if married). These hard cut-offs amount to serfdom. Through complex paperwork, one can sometimes get around them (e.g., a special account that allows an SSI-recipient to save money to purchase an automobile), but these hurdles are actually too high for the individuals and families who need relief the most. Distribution of relief in the US is abysmal, and we are not a developing country. A recent Floridian example followed Hurricane Irma, where the State of Florida distributed food benefits to those who applied. You could only apply at a centralized location per county, on one weekend, and it was not widely advertised. For instance, in Volusia County, migrant workers in Pierson or disadvantaged families in Daytona Beach would have needed to travel to the county fairgrounds in DeLand on a particular weekend, 25 miles away, to apply for benefits. What if they did not have a car, or did not hear about the program? Although the benefits distributed were large—easily $500+ for a small family, those who benefitted were probably those who needed it least, and there was no means-testing verification. Benefits distribution was staggered by county across the state in September–November 2017 with little advertising, in a manner that was most inequitable.

References

UNESCO. (2015). “Chapter 6: Goal 6: Quality of education.” EFA global monitoring report 2015: Education for all 2000–2015: Achievements and challenges. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002322/232205e.pdf

UNESCO. (2016). Global education monitoring report 2016: Education for people and the planet: Creating sustainable futures for all. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002457/245752e.pdf

UNESCO. (2017). Global education monitoring report 2017/8: Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002593/259338e.pdf


My response to another student’s posting:

I found your insights on inner-city teachers and the Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, and Wyckoff (2005) reference interesting! Another great reference for this is Hong’s (2012) article on teacher resilience, which finds that teacher attrition is often caused by emotional burnout in part due to lack of support from school administrators. I have heard anecdotally from teachers at UCF that it is easy, for example, to teach a class that has several children with individual education plans, but difficult or impossible if the majority of the class has special needs. In low-performing schools, the latter may be common, and a class that should probably be taught by 2–3 teachers may just have one teacher (you). Of course, it is also difficult to find a teacher who works fewer than 40 hours per week, so the commuting issue that Boyd et al. (2005) cite is quite important. A commute can easily add 10 hours of unproductive time per week, which compounds the untenability of a job that may be lacking work–life balance even if you could live at the school.

References

Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2005). Explaining the short careers of high-achieving teachers in schools with low-performing students. The American Economic Review, 95, 166–171. https://doi.org/10.1257/000282805774669628

Hong (2012). Why do some beginning teachers leave the school, and others stay? Understanding teacher resilience through psychological lenses. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice18, 417–440. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2012.696044

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