Will chaos be good for the children of Newark?


Mark and I like to keep things on this blog pretty practical, but every now and then we get into a little theory. Today, I’d like to look at a new theory that’s gaining traction in the upper offices of the New Jersey government. The theory seems to be that the best way to help students learn is to make their lives at school more chaotic and unpredictable. While this educational chaos theory seems completely crazy to me, recent events have shown us that New Jersey’s government is nothing if not crazy.

For those who haven’t heard about what’s happening in New Jersey, Bob Braun reports:

“The state administration of the Newark Public Schools (NPS) is expected to lay off hundreds of experienced city teachers and replace many  with new hires, including more than 300 members of Teach for America (TFA). The report comes from union sources but is supported both by the latest version of the state’s “One Newark” plan and by the Walton Family Foundation website. The foundation is expected to subsidize the hiring of the new teachers.”

Before I continue, I have to admit that this plan makes me extremely angry. Part of me just wants to use this post to highlight TFA’s myriad shortcomings and the Walton Family Foundation’s awful educational program. The idea that the owners of a corporation as aggressively exploitative as Wal-Mart might actually have the best interests of Newark’s children in mind is so laughable that it’s not worth discussing. So let’s talk about ecosystems.

In particular, I’d like to talk about old growth forests. Like veteran public school teachers, these forests have been rapidly disappearing from our nation’s landscape. This makes some of us feel a twinge of sentimental, Loraxy sadness , but does it really matter? We know that experienced teachers are better than new teachers, but are old forests better than new ones?

In many ways, they are. Old forests do a better job absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide than young forests. Old trees are far more effective at sustaining diverse flora and fauna than young trees. And of course, old forests are far better than young forests at producing positive forest outcomes.

Do you see what happens when people like the Walton family and the government of New Jersey declare war on schools,  students, and cities? Teachers like me go crazy and begin comparing old forests and new forests as though they’re actually in conflict. The truth is that we need old forests and new forests; only the lumber industry, seeking ever greater profits from the destruction of ecosystems old and new, would argue otherwise.

And no sane educator would ever argue that only young teachers are bad, or that only veteran teachers are good. I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing that replacing hundreds of veteran teachers with novices is such an obviously bad idea that the people proposing it must not really be interested in improving Newark’s public schools. Like the folks in charge of the lumber industry, these education reformers must see some profit in pitting old and new against each other, and letting the teachers and students on the ground deal with the mess they leave behind.

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