Disrupting Education By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Disrupting Education

By Shea Howell

May 15, 2012

Emergency Manager Roy S. Roberts is proving to be even more of a bully than his predecessor, Robert Bobb. Unlike EFM Bobb, Roberts likes to keep his bullying tactics out of the public eye. But his reign in office displays a pattern of intimidation and petty punishments of those who dare challenge him. Roy Roberts’s performance as EM is one of the best reasons to repeal the Emergency Manager legislation, when we ultimately get the right to vote on this.

The core of Mr. Roberts’s failure is his anti-democratic view of education. In a May 10th letter to elected School Board President LaMar Lemmons, Roberts describes his mission. In the opening paragraph Roberts claims, “For anyone who desires what I’m here to accomplish, that is, improved educational conditions to prepare Detroit’s students for 21st Century college and career-readiness, I need all those similarly focused at the table.” This seems to be one of Mr. Roberts’s favorite ways to describe himself and his role, as it is appearing in all sorts of public statements.

This emphasis on individual advancement into a broken and dysfunctional system is both shallow and limited. Further, the letter is written to chastise those members of the elected school board who supported the student walkouts. Roberts says, “I am highly concerned regarding both the educational well-being and safety of our students in light of the your involvement {original phrasing} and that of other Board Members at several student walkouts including those from Frederick Douglass Academy, Western International High School, and Southwestern High School.”

If Roberts had an inkling that the central role of education in the 21st Century is to prepare young people for the responsibilities of self-government, he would have had a very different response to the School Board and to the students. He would have recognized that the board members who supported these students were providing important adult leadership in how to peacefully and imaginatively address serious political issues.

In his work looking at place based education as a way to strengthen the economies of communities and to see students as citizens creating a new culture right now, Professor Gregory Smith identifies four key aspects of education. He notes that in school districts from Appalachia to the fishing villages of the West Coast, innovative education for community change shares the desire to preserve the best of their community cultures, to resist efforts at dehumanization and destruction of the environment, to restore people and places that have been damaged, and to invent new ways of living, working and playing together. Smith sees the kind of education that Roberts upholds as “education to domesticate people.” It is what he calls an “education for compliance, not engagement.” Smith argues that instead of working to “fit students into a system of limited duration, young people need to be involved in creating new cultures. As we make schools more permeable to local knowledge and traditions, we can see that community problems are the basis for learning.” Smith explains that in schools that “create supportive environments that focus on what would be better for the community, kids become able to understand, to make plans and to dream.” He says, “When walls come down, we open up the possibility of rethinking a society that does not work for everyone to one that works for all. In this kind of environment, parents become involved when they see their kids thrive.”

For Roy Roberts an education based on fostering community change is unimaginable. The very idea that education should encourage citizens to Preserve, Resist, Restore and Invent, is beyond his scope. That’s why he “relocated” the Board office. He will not tolerate the possibility of “disrupting teaching and learning during the school day.”

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