This morning in her Washington Post column, Valerie Strauss publishes a reflection on the ongoing financial crisis in the School District of Philadelphia from the point of view of Anne Pomerantz, a linguist and lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Pomerantz shares tragic details about closing schools, slashing staff, in increasing the size of classes in Philadelphia, all of which make it so much harder for teachers to know and support each child. She describes how the very words we use shape our thinking about schooling.
Advocating for the use of the term, “schooling” rather than “school,” Pomerantz points to school reformers’ language that diminishes the humanity of our conversation about public education. We continually hear talk about “low-performing schools” as though the school building itself is somehow tainted—which makes us less worried about closing such schools, even though they may be supporting children in myriad ways we never name.
Pomerantz quotes Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, who rejects an even more reductive and de-humanizing way of talking about schooling: “When our discussions are framed around high-performing ‘seats,’ and expanding access to those ‘seats,’ we dehumanize the process and easily lose sight of the true meaning of ensuring Philadelphia’s students a safe, welcoming, and rigorous environment to learn.”