Friday, December 07, 2012

Henry A. Giroux and Jacqueline Edmondson: Public Education in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Public Education in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy
by Henry A. Giroux and Jacqueline Edmondson
Truth Out

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast of the United States, the worst fears became reality for many residents of Maryland, New Jersey and New York. While some property damage and elimination of some services were expected, few anticipated the enormous impact the storm and its consequences would have on public school students and educators in the region hit hardest by the hurricane. As of December 4, 2012, 11 schools remained closed in New Jersey, and more than 100 were significantly damaged. [1] In New York City alone, 48 schools were closed due to storm damage. [2] Many students who returned to schools in the weeks after the hurricane found they needed to bundle up in winter clothing because their buildings remained unheated. [3]

There appeared to be a rush to get children back into schools even though buildings remained unheated and without electricity, portions of some buildings were unsafe and air quality was questionable. Some students were temporarily reassigned to different schools. This was no small matter as classrooms rosters needed to be changed, teachers reassigned, new transportation arranged and lunchtime and dismissal procedures altered.

Some school buildings served as emergency shelters weeks after the storm. At Brooklyn Tech High School in New York City, more than 250 evacuees were moved to the top two floors of the school so that students could resume classes. The principal, Elizabeth Johnson, reported that the school smelled of garbage and human waste because the evacuees, many of them psychiatric patients, were sleeping in classrooms. The school requested extra security. [4]

In an ironic twist of fate, many school and public officials publicly expressed concern about how to make up lost time, by which they meant corporate time - time dedicated to serving the interests of a market-driven culture and mode of learning. Schools in New Jersey and New York require public schools to meet for 180 days. Rather than use such time to connect what students learn to the pressures and issues that bear down on their lives, many school officials were more concerned about how to make up for lost time in in order meet the demands, if not the pressure, to demonstrate student performance on standardized tests. The stories that connect students and teachers to the outside world, even in the midst of a major crisis affecting the lives of students and their families, became irrelevant as the major concern that emerged in the aftermath of the storm was to speed up particular demands on teachers to deliver curriculum based on instruction geared to high-stakes testing. What boggles the mind and reveals how distorted priorities have become in many public schools is that while schools in New York City were overcrowded, unstaffed, and on lists of failing schools in advance of the storm, these issues were either downplayed or were absent in the post-Sandy discussions about the need to address the problems immediately posed by the tragic fury of Hurricane Sandy.

To Read the Rest of the Editorial

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