I finally read the famous article in the New Yorker about a Facebook- facilitated billion-dollar attempt to improve Newark’s schools whose only tangible result was angering everybody to the degree that a riot almost happened.
This is one of two very good articles in the mainstream media that appeared this week (I blogged about the other one yesterday). Short on insights, it is at least well-researched and well- written.
Insights, however, are there for any one who cares to read the piece. The school-reforming philanthropists threw away insane amounts of money on consultants, trying out new hiring practices, metrics to test student success (in the absence of success, it totally matters to improve ways to measure it), conferences, superintendents, charters, merit pay, motivational posters, and God only knows what else. The students and their families were treated like circus animals without the slightest degree of humanity. Of course, the objects of these improvement techniques responded in kind, throwing pouty tantrums of the, “But how am I supposed to get my kid to this new good school when nobody offers any transportation?” variety.
The whole debacle was permeated with such a childish belief in the power of social engineering that it’s scary. Were you aware that Zuckerberg, who was one of the creators of this plan was such an idiot? I wasn’t.
The underlying problem here is that, among all of the narratives floating around the issue, the most crucial one is absent. The attempts to throw money at the problem disregard how unimportant money is here. Yesterday we were all shocked by a story of a mass murderer who slaughtered seven people and wounded seven others. He was from a very wealthy family and neither he nor the schools he attended could have lacked for money.
Money doesn’t raise human beings. Parents do. Tragically, the American culture resists this idea with desperation. Whenever a kid shoots up a school, everybody pities his parents instead of demanding that they take responsibility for inflicting a messed-up product of their faulty upbringing on society.
The most notorious evil-doers known to humanity did not come from schools where teachers were not too bright and there was a lack of motivational posters on the walls. Extremely wealthy families almost never produce brilliant scholars, talented artists, stubborn over-achievers, famous scientists. The majority of biographies of people who made an especially great contribution to human civilization start with, “He was born in dire poverty / she never had a dime to call her own.”
There are things money can’t buy and it’s time we all accepted it.