Tuesday, November 13, 2007

America on the edge, Part C: Spelling it [out]!

When I started writing "America on the edge" my focus was gun violence in the United States; nonetheless, profound social questions can seldom be confined, spanning as they do across different sectors of society. Today's post -the third and final one in the series- deals with failing schools in America: a reality that is diametrically opposed to the picture of schools painted in the previous post and arguably a source of concern for Americans, even when it comes to gun violence.

With the same ease one can find in the United States model public schools boasting exemplary facilities -absent from many private schools- and innovative curricula, one can also find failing schools with students unable to read or do basic math despite years of schooling. And such schools are not difficult to spot, located as they are in major metropolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles. The controversial "No Child Left Behind Act" is in many ways problematic [despite some good intentions] and more importantly inefficient according to a recent article published in the New York Times; Diana Schemo argues that shutting down schools -a requirement for those schools judged as failing- presents educators with few solutions as on how to deal with the major of problem of generations of children growing without receiving basic literacy skills.

Overly packed schools with failing students present America with a formidable challenge that spans well beyond the inability of students to perform on the infamous standardized tests; such schools are taking the cohesion of the social fabric to the limits. Social ills are often recruited by proponents of gun ownership as evidence to justify increasing gun violence in what is admittedly an attempt to deflect attention from the abundance of guns that circulate almost freely in society. And while it is true that poverty in conjunction with dysfunctional schools account for much of social instability it would be an unfair stretch to argue that social conditions account for the exacerbation of the gun violence we see all over; in fact, let us be reminded of the fact that many of the deadly incidents occurred in socially stable settings.

Rather than trying to draw the line between the two camps, what is a more enlightening path for the understanding of this major issue is to underline the salient feature of American society to host extreme manifestations of any given behavior. Hence for example the best of best schools and the failing schools coexisting within miles. Or, conversely, fierce proponents in either side of the gun ownership question at times refusing to sit on the same round table, let alone to engage in a meaningful discussion.

A trait of American democracy and a product of the convoluted formation of the nation, tolerance is surely a source of strength in America; yet on occasion it may also be nothing short of a colossal vulnerability.

if registered with the New York Times:
Failing Schools Strain to meet U.S. Standard

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