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Getting Schooled

Posted 4/14/2010

I want to commend the editors of City Paper for a thoroughly engaging article ("An Education?", Feature, April). Michael Corbin addresses both the foibles and the future outlook for improving public schools in Baltimore City. By giving prominence to Diane Ravitch's first-rate book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and Linda Darling-Hammond's insightful tome on educational equity, The Flat World and Education, your editors have joined the debate over educational equity by engaging the compelling ideas of two of the nation's most important educational reformers. In particular, Corbin's argument that "Baltimore schools . . . have become the proxy battle ground of the meaning of equality of opportunity in a segregated and stratified nation" struck a familiar chord, but he did not go far enough with his analysis.

If we follow the prescriptive path laid out by Darling-Hammond, citing the world's most successful educational systems as Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, it would be useful to give further examination to the internal core belief systems that operate in these countries that allow them to produce such high-achieving students. Psychoanalyst Kirtis Thomas has suggested that a core belief system helps students to answer these questions: Where did I come from? What am I doing? Where am I going? How do I get there from here? Thomas defines a core belief system as a set of collective beliefs that imbue a "shared history of mostly unconscious, yet functional, self-knowledge." Thomas argues that these values can be handed down as "self-knowledge" from one generation to the next or learned via a communal setting. For example, South Korea's thirst for education has been traced to Confucianism, which imbues the core belief that education and examination preparation lead to social access and status mobility, a mindset that has been present on the peninsula for over two millennia and was the official state ideology of the Choson dynasty (1392%u20131910). In Confucian ideology, education is the path to moral virtue.

In the case of Finland, its core belief system stresses pre-school education with a special emphasis on self-reflection and personal responsibility. All students in Finland begin formal schooling only at age 7, a full two years after most American children begin school. However, an important distinction is that prior to entering school, all children in Finland have the option to participate in a high-quality government-funded preschool program. Instead of focusing on getting a jump-start academically, Finland's early-childhood programs emphasize self-reflection and social behavior. What is even more interesting is that the early focus on self-reflection is viewed as a key component for developing a high level of personal responsibility towards learning.

If we connect the dots that link Ravitch's and Darling-Hammond's ideas to the inculcation of a core belief in rigorous, government-funded pre-school education programs that emphasize moral virtue, self-knowledge, personal responsibility and self-reflection, Baltimore schools may once again rise to defy the seemingly insurmountable odds against producing high achieving students.

M. Anthony Fitchue
Assistant Dean, School of Education and Urban Studies, Morgan State University

Baltimore

I really wish you would have thought a little more into the cover of last week's City Paper (April 7). As a black Baltimore-born and -bred woman, I was highly offended by the cover picture. You got my attention for all the wrong reasons. It was racist, disrespectful, and downright stupid to put it on the cover, period! Usually, I enjoy your paper on Wednesdays, but this one left a bad taste of crap in my mouth, and I have no further need to even read it anymore. The pisstivity level I have now is off the charts--what were you thinking? I had a "picky-ninnity" moment for about an hour then decided to just let it go. I am so done with CP. This cover was just wrong on so many levels.

Wanda Gresham
Baltimore

Editor's note: Next week, the return of our Bike Issue.

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