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Meeting the Diverse Needs of Learners


I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to education. Remember when former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum branded President Obama a snob for wanting everyone in America to go to college? Well, I constantly build schools in the air resembling ivy covered college campuses fashioned after antiquity’s trivium and quadrivium. I unabashedly want to produce a society of roaming philosophers, nerdy techies and coffee shop professors. I’m definitely the guy Santorum rankles over.

Likewise, very few statements offend more than, “College isn’t for everyone.” Those other phrases that rattle me would include “Some people are simply good with their hands” and “The military is a good option.” It’s not that these statements are false as much as they are typically code words for black and brown children aren’t smart enough for college. The same sentiment can be heard in romantic renderings of the “glory days” of trade schools or apprenticeship programs.

Urban education’s decline is partially due our engrained distrust in the capacities of children of certain hues and geographies. Consequently, we (individuals and institutions) assume who belongs in college. Being an education snob does not mean preferring an Ivy over an historically black or a state institution. Being an education snob has more to do with wanting to see all selective colleges create welcoming climates to increase the representation of ethnic minorities. However, being an education snob also means thwarting institutions that middle class families don’t want, like auto shop.

But, when we see elementary schools deeming themselves college prep, one must question the notion of college as the only viable option. Tracking of any sort especially at young ages isn’t necessarily good because we may miss developing children’s natural gifts. One could easily argue that the ultimate goal of a public educational system is not to send everyone to college. The goal should be to enhance individuals’ proclivities trusting that our collective innate skills will lead to a productive society.

The reality is that intelligence is much more diverse than what we develop in school and college. In addition, troubled educational systems have left many students unprepared for a four-year liberal arts curriculum. We need a more diverse pallet of schools to meet the varying needs of learners.

It pains me to say, but we need more high schools and community colleges that are career based and experiential. We also need university faculty to step down from their ivory towers and meet students where they are academically. Unfortunately, we need more schools that are designed to help those recently released from secured facilities. New Orleans needs more music conservatories and culinary art schools. These schools should not be considered only for folks not interested in learning. Quite the contrary; the curriculums should be quite rigorous.

I’m an education snob not because I see four-year colleges as better. I just don’t want a lesser product for my children. If we can create schools that would compel Rick Santorum to enroll his kids, then I would be more likely to send mine there. Then again…