Thursday, January 28, 2016

Singing Into The Desert With Hannibal Smith, Or, How the Gift Economy Could Save Public Education

Note:  I decided to rewrite and partially combine two old blog posts from my now defunct education blog because of how education is being discussed as part of the political debates going on right now.

Given the failed education policies we have witnessed over roughly the last fifteen years, we need someone who fights for the underdog, cares about social justice, equality, and good at devising viable plans.  We need  someone like Hannibal Smith to come along and help us do that. That person could beBernie Sanders.   At the very least someone on Senator Sanders' staff needs to pay heed to whatSteven Singer has to say about this subject, especially this warning to appeal to those of us who advocate for true education reform.

The big difference between what I envision and what Singer discusses is that I also include using the gift economy.  In Caveat's post at the Burning Man Journal,The “Gift Economy” isn’t an economy at all, but that’s no excuse for your terrible, terrible gift, he speaks about being given a five foot tall copper staff hand with the only condition being that he hold it high and sing into the desert until the desert answers. Eventually, after he has sung his heart out, the desert did answer.

I have often felt, as I have advocated for Kid O, that I wandered through the desert searching for an oasis. Sometimes when I pour my heart out on Twitter, it feels much the same way. But every so often someone says, "Miss Shuganah?"

I am hoping that the person who calls out next  will be Senator Bernie Sanders.  I am hoping that educators will call out.  I am hoping that many members of many communities will call out.  And more than that, join with me in coming up with a plan for education equality, which would be true education reform.

How do we hold up the banner of education reform, and not have the ghost of George Carlin say, "told ya so." How do we move beyond good intentions? What I'd like to see from Bernie Sanders is a comprehensive plan that does not end up being yet another "terrible gift," that looks good and feels good, but doesn't end up being meaningful, effective and, most importantly, sustainable.

While we should consider federalizing public education as Senator Sanders suggests, we also need to go further than that. We need stakeholders within a community to be more directly involved in how all of our children are educated.

While we should consider federalizing public education as Senator Sanders suggests, we also need to go further than that. We need stakeholders within a community to be more directly involved in how all of our children are educated.

There are MFP (money follows the person) grants that help people with disabilities transition from institutions to quality community settings. What if we could produce this on a larger, more expansive scale and have grants that would lift up entire communities? What if we took the bureaucracy out of this entirely and found ways, within a community, to act as an open stewardship for an entire school district? We could do this through a gift economy, where people donated time and services.

 Think of the meaningful connections we could form. Mentally and physically disabled  kids could help one another. Or an ablebodied kid could tutor a kid like Kid O in math. That may be more of a challenge for most kids, but they would discover that Kid O had, at the very least, the gift of laughter to offer in return, and, at best, an engaged learner. Kid O could benefit from interacting with her peers, and they could gain insight into what life is like for someone who has physical challenges.

The best gifts we can give our children is a well rounded education where we can teach them how to lead authentic, ethical and honorable lives. We could all be enriched by engaging in collaborative efforts to teach all of our children. Some might donate resources. Some may donate time. Some may advocate for a better future for all. The way things are now, school is separate from community. Isn't it time that we reconnected school with the community? We underuse our school buildings. We could turn them into real community centers that served everyone in the community instead of just a certain segment of the population.

Granted, this would take time to develop, but what if communities ran the schools? What if a community took care of a school so that all needs were met? If we could shift attitudes that school is just for kids, then we could rebuild not just schools but entire communities. We are all responsible for the elderly, the disabled and the infirm. Everyone deserves opportunities to be part of a community, be useful and really thrive

Money is funneled into schools in a way that perpetuates inequality. The largest donors get the biggest say, not to mention ego boosts by having charter schools named after them.  That would not happen in a gift economy. As Caveat suggests in his blog post, a lot of people are unclear of the concept. Trinkets are OK. Sandwiches are better .At least they nurture the body.

When Bill Gates throws money at schools, he is allowed to have a say in educational policy that gives him power over communities in a way that is unconscionable. It makes him, as George Carlin would put it, an owner. That places an obligation on schools to produce, ie, capitulate to "owners" by adhering to untenable policies of standardized testing.  In his letter to President Obama,, Bill Ayers reminds us that "Education is a fundamental human right, not a product."

In order to reform education, we need to first strive for educational equality. It's difficult enough for kids in the General Ed population of a school to get ahead, but at least they have a chance. For Special Education students, the game is rigged. The stigma of Special Education is fully in place. Failure is already a given.

All kids could benefit from services to some degree or other. What we need then is a way to match up kids with services. Better yet,provide technology and resources to all kids as needed. This cannot happen under the current system of an unwieldy bureaucracy. We need smaller classrooms in smaller schools for starters. So how do we get there? We need a plan.

While others may be still waiting for Superman, I am waiting for Hannibal Smith.
Why John "Hannibal" Smith? Because, as leader of the A Team, he always seemed able to do the impossible and often with limited resources. Who better to reform education than a man with a vision, raw determination and a keen sense of social justice? Now, granted, he often managed to solve complex problems in less than an hour, but I can just imagine that, if you gave someone like that six months to a year, what they could do with the education system of a given community. Takes someone with ability to analyze, plan, have a passion for equality and social justice and a great sense of humor.

Yes, Hannibal Smith is a fictional character, and he's prone to violence. But there are real people out in the real world who have the necessary qualities. We have them on Twitter. We see them in "meatspace." Reforming education is not impossible. We are not helpless. We simply need to all be dedicated to seeing to it that all children have the resources to ensure for equal opportunities. Instead of waiting for a politician like Bernie Sanders to show us the way, perhaps we should show him.

Oh, one other thing. Hannibal Smith is a quick change artist. Allow me to remove my wig and my mustache. I am Hannibal Smith. You are Hannibal Smith. We are all Hannibal Smith. If we unite with the same steely determination that the A Team used in their fight for all the underdogs, then we can generate the much needed educational equality. We can reform the schools from the ground up. One community at a time. I am determined to ensure that all children have the tools and resources they need to get not just a good education but a great one.  If we all collaborated, we could see a good plan come together.

Imagine if we had a way to support schools without Bill Gates' money and without him and Sam Walton and other "owners" being able to dictate policy. So many schools are spiritually dead. We could, community by community, breathe new life into schools. if we sing into the desert, maybe we will answer one another. Joyfully and Resolutely.

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