...two different things are meant by “education.” We have education in the true, Arnoldian sense of the word, the improvement of one’s mind (and possibly even one’s soul) through the study of “the best which has been thought and said in the world,” which is the goal of a classical liberal education; we also have the Bismarckian sense of education, the conception that commands the attentions of politicians, which understands the schools as factories producing the human widgets that the state requires for its own purposes, economic competitiveness and military preparedness at the top of the list. (A deep problem with state-run systems of education is that they almost always mistake their customers for their products.) [emphasis in original -PNR]Prior to moving to South Dakota and taking up my present duties, I considered for a time the possibility that I might teach in a high school. As part of that, I spent a week or two observing at a large public high school in central Norfolk, Virginia. It was clear that the organizational methods and standardized procedures of the system in place were very much borrowed from mass-production techniques. One moves the student along a conveyor belt (aka a hallway) from one work station to another where the employee uses the standard procedures in place to work on the student before sending him on to the next station. If a child is fairly alert and mildly interested, or if his parents are mildly interested and moderately respectable, the child will learn some basic information and skills that will fit him to eventually take his place at the corner bar after he's done with his assistant manager job at Walmart or Target - the widgets Williamson mentions.
For those students who are particularly interested and whose parents are insistent, there is a parallel track called AP courses. These will provide the child with a fairly good, if culturally and politically biased, education that will equip them for college and eventually for work as bankers, physicians, lawyers - the priestly castes of modern America.
But for those students who couldn't care less and whose parents are no more concerned than their students - which was a significant majority of those students at this particular school - it was no more than a warehouse until those children hit 18, after which they would flounder for a bit until they either had children of their own and start to qualify for welfare benefits, public housing, and all the rest, or they committed some crime and ended up in prison for the next decade or two. In other words, until they could be stashed out of sight in a different warehouse and forgotten.
The key factor in the school as to which track a child was on - warehouse, widget, or priest - was not race. The key factors were the student's motivation and the parents' interest. A motivated student with disinterested parents would do well. An unmotivated student with motivated parents would also likely do well. But unmotivated students with unmotivated parents were lost no matter what the school did. The race-baiters who kill hope by denying any improvement in race-relations or conditions over the last fifty years, together with the hopelessness dependence fosters, meant more Black students lacked motivation themselves as well as lacking motivated parents. I strongly suspect the same is true of the BIA schools in this state. To create conditions where it seems nothing the students or their parents do really matters, either for good or ill, and then expect them to strive for excellence is foolish.
Setting common national standards, whether through Common Core or No Child Left Behind or whatever other politically problematic Washington, D.C. administered program, will not solve the problem. It's not the standards, it's the motivation.
Neither will the "everybody-gets-a-trophy" ersatz self-esteem boosting boilerplate help. Indeed, it's part of the problem because it feeds the notion that nothing you do really matters. To solve the problem of mediocrity in the schools we must first solve the hopelessness by making it clear the choices individuals make do matter. That means not only not resisting inequality, but celebrating it. It most decidedly is fair that somebody who works his tail off, takes risks, keeps going, ends up with far more in the way of success - however you wish to measure success - than the one who does not. My brother (who happens to be Black, by the way) has far more money than I do, but then, he has worked very hard for it over the last 25 years and has taken some major risks that I have not and would not. This is not unfair, but right and proper. He ought to be richer than I.
The field of athletics attracts many Black youths not so much because they are genetically superior athletes, but because it is clear to the Black community that, when it comes to sports anyway, hard work really does pay off. And when it does pay off as, for instance, in the case of Michael Jordan, nobody begrudges him the fruits of his labor. The same goes for the entertainment industry.
To create hope and motivation, one must be able to see that a goal is achievable, and be able to celebrate its achievement. We do that for Black athletes and entertainers. We do not for Black, or any other race for that matter, of entrepreneurs, corporate executives, or most lawyers and physicians (there are a couple exceptions). Culturally, we resent them (at least, until one of our own kids gets into this priestly caste, then they're okay). Until that changes, the culture of the schools will remain the same and the vast majority of Black (and Indian) students will simply be shuffled from one warehouse to the next.