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The Carletonian

Pedro Noguera addresses the challenges of education reform

<ding urban sociologist Pedro Noguera delivered a convocation speech Oct. 7 that focused on the inequalities of the U.S. education system. He argued that “the institutions designed to promote equality in fact do the opposite” – that family income and the education of parents are the biggest influences on a child’s higher education.

 As a first generation college student, alongside his five other siblings who all reached undergraduate level, Noguera said that he and his family “are living proof that your background does not determine your social mobility.” 

Yet his research showed that schools perpetuate rather than ameliorate these issues of inequality. In his presentation titled “Creating the Schools We Need: A Broader and Bolder Approach to School Reform,” Noguera argued that the system holds insufficient care and concern for its children and students.

He recounted the journey that led him to involvement in education. Doing graduate research in Grenada, Noguera had the opportunity to see the effect of education through the perspective of ordinary people, rather than the highly educated and elite government officials. He was struck by citizens determined to learn after a long day’s grueling work, “sometimes without even the guarantee that it would directly help their lives.”

When asked, these people responded that they were driven “not by doctrine or ideology, but by the desire to be agents of social change.” This prompted the need for education.

As a graduate student Noguera taught at local schools, recalling that young kids with lots of energy who “had trouble sitting still were labeled as ‘bad.’”

As he talked to them, he felt troubled because “even at that age, they already saw that their teachers were against them. One even described his teacher as ‘evil.’”

In arguing that teachers should channel instead of crush this energy, Noguera lamented the punishment to which kids were subjected, emphasizing that “children learn through relationships with their teachers and mentors. And we disproportionately punish the neediest kids.”

He illustrated how zero-tolerance policies at schools have led to the “denial of the basic rights of children in this country, in the name of discipline.” 

Noguera noted that each school “is an organic institution with its own culture,” and argued that general one-size-fits-all changes, such as high-stake tests and reading programs, ignore this fundamental point. In many states, schools are graded with a letter, all the way down to “F.”

Noguera highlighted the deep flaws in this method, asking, “What motivates the teachers and administration at a triple F school to improve? Why are such schools even open for kids to study at?”

He argued that shutting down failing schools is not a solution, for it is a system of incorrect values that feeds disaster.
He concluded that the key is to operate on a different paradigm, one of emotional learning designed to reach out to each of the students as individuals. Noguera lamented how currently “we’re not learning from our successes and from our failures” and strongly advocated the need to shift focus back to the children.

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