From My Bookshelf: A Search for Common Ground

A Search for Common Ground by Frederick M. Hess and Pedro A. Noguera

While I fully appreciate the attempts that Rick Hess and Pedro Noguera made in forms of letters to better understand, not necessarily agree, on topics ranging from school choice, testing, and accountability to diversity and equity in our polarized political climate of barbs, sloganeering, and tribalism, something was missing.

Both men make it clear they have spent much of the past few decades on opposing sides of educational debates, with Pedro mostly on the Left and Rick mostly on the Right. And that they were both old enough to have developed strong convictions over decades of research, writing, speaking, and teaching. Therefore, I tried to read the letters through their lenses and found that they were able to find common ground on many issues that are quite complex.

At the same time, I have always been slightly peeved by the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas coming from policy makers, think tanks, philanthropists, and politicians. Even though it is absolutely necessary to discuss the purpose of schooling and how schools can be funded and run, there are often a lot of missing voices.   

While I cannot speak for others, there were moments I felt a bit disparaged when reading this book through my own lens as a person with a disability. Throughout the letters, there were much discussion about students with disabilities, children in foster care, homelessness, children in unstable homes or communities, children in single-parent households, English language learners, poverty, and race. How do we test “them?” How do we close “their” achievement gaps? How expensive it is to educate “them?” What schools do “they” end up in? How do we build equity for “them?” What stories about “them” that should be included in civics and history lessons? What are the roles of “their” parents? How to train and retain teachers to work with “them?”

But I keep asking, can we have courageous conversations without othering people in terms of “them” being a “problem” in our schools? Instead, we should ask, how can we better lives? And embrace and sustain the humanity, geniuses, abilities, and diversity in all of us? How can we share common knowledge and collective responsibility but all the while cherishing our individuality among a range of cultures and languages?

Indeed, these are tough questions.

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