Category Archives: politics of education

Privilege of sleep

Last night I woke to use the bathroom at about 1:30 and had some trouble falling back to sleep because one of the fire alarms in the hall was emiting periodic chirps to announce a dead battery. This was frustrating because I didn’t want to change the battery then, but also because the chirps were infrequent and irregularly timed, so, even after standing in the hall for 5 minutes, I couldn’t figure out which one was making the infernal sound. I drifted back off, but at 4:00 I was back in the hall changing batteries for both of them just to be sure.

This lack of sleep is affecting me today in both my concentration and brain power; I’m just not firing all cylinders today. It has gotten me thinking (to the degree that I can) about how simply having the quiet space to sleep a full night is a privilege that not everyone has. I think many students who come to school and fall asleep in class or are cranky or who can’t concentrate are likely suffering from other stuff going on in their homes. An abusive household is certainly not conducive to the sense of safety required to allow yourself to drift off to sleep, and fighting parents, lack of heat, having to put your siblings to bed, or having to care for a parent can all put a young person off their sleep patterns.

It’s worth remembering that many of these lives we come in contact with are complex and that their behavior in the classroom is not necessarily a reflection on their teacher or the school. Coping mechanisms developed to respond to home life may not be terribly well suited to school life, and we need to be aware of this and respond from that knowledge. This is also one more reason why so-called zero-tolerance programs are not necessarily effective since they tend to punish students for things that may be beyond their immediate control.

“Class warfare” in education

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” This he said to a New York Times reporter in 2006 while discussing how little the rich pay in taxes relative to their incomes. He had noticed that he paid a lower tax rate than anyone else in his office, mostly, but not all, secretaries and clerks.

These class discrepancies are not limited to what people pay in taxes, however. Our school system reinforces these income hierarchies by providing good educations to those who can afford it, and withholding it from others, meaning that these socioeconomic disparities remain in place. (And it should perhaps go without saying that I am not talking about individual schools or individual teachers or individual students here, but rather the big picture: schools in poor neighborhoods and town are not as good, are not stocked as well, do not provide as many opportunities as schools in wealthy neighborhoods.)

But how do we talk about changing this since those in power, both politically and educationally are only representing the wealthy? The University of California system just hired a new President. They pilfered him from the University of Texas and lured him in by paying him — are you sitting down? — $828,084 per year. Yes, that’s almost $4 from every single student in the entire system. This was, apparently, approved “by Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders,” but they, too, are largely of the owning class themselves.

I’m not sure what to suggest here, but it’s clear that equalizing our educational system is a pretty big and entrenched issue.