"I am shocked by the lack of urgency we are showing for the deplorable situation in our inner-city schools and their neighborhoods…students trapped, going to school in a community devoid of hope or opportunity, should challenge our moral sensibilities" (Brown, 2011, Jersey Journal).
Inner city schools (including those in Trenton, NJ) tend to be plagued by similar and familiar problems. According to a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Urban Affairs (Glickman, et al., 2008), inner city communities continue to suffer from "disinvestment" (lack of funding sources), "outmigration" (whites moving to suburbs), and "abandoned property" and a sense of gloom that is reflected in schools. Also, the inner city is known for low income citizens, "predominantly minority," and their plight is often reflected in schools (Glickman, 557). And the poor conditions in inner cities -- including those neighborhoods in Trenton, New Jersey -- have "…whittled away at inner-city school attendance, funding, and, ultimately, student achievement" (Glickman, 557). In fact the achievement gaps between rich and poor, black and white, and between inner cities and suburbs, is not expected to be resolved any time soon. And the crumbling schools in violent neighborhoods are of great concern and not just to parents, students and educators, Glickman explains. They are a concern to the community as a whole because "…poor schools work against community improvement" (Glickman, 557).
The ironic thing about poor schools in poverty communities is that school staff tends to view "…parents and communities as deficient in providing proper home learning environments for students"; in other words, schools blame communities for their problems. On the other hand, community members tend to blame schools for the poor academic outcomes for their children, Glickman continues on page 558. Families feel too "intimidated to make demands" of the schools because educators have the credentials and parents and community members tend to feel like outsiders. This paper provides a model which can send a strong signal to the inner city communities and schools in Trenton. That model is Four Circles, and although all informed and intelligent people know there is no magic formula for improving communities and schools, by putting forward what we want, what we believe, what we know and what we do, we take an important first step toward a resolution -- or at least a sense of goals toward improvement.
What We Want
J. Gregg Robinson writes in the scholarly journal Urban Review that "…what people believe influences their behavior," and if that is true then what people (including teachers) believe about poverty directly affects how they think and act. Our school should work hard to make students, parents, and administrators -- and the community -- to say what we want in our schools. Believing in the possibility of change in our school is probably the first and most positive step we can take. We can't stop drugs from being sold on the street, and we can't stop gangs from their nefarious strategies; but we can say loudly and with passion that what we want is a new vision, and that only comes when people believe in change.
Meantime, if people believe in change and success (as a way out of poverty), and if they know what they want, that should have a strong bearing on how they function. Hence, the goals attached to the concept, what we want, include: a) teachers having their own classrooms and not having to share with noisy study halls or with other classes which creates a constant disruptions and distractions; b) principals and other administrators who listen to teachers' concerns and viewpoints; c) students who come to class ready to learn and willing to settle in and behave responsibly; d) teachers that aren't distracted by endless bureaucratic meetings; and e) teachers who continue to learn (from colleagues and through continuing education) (What We Want 1).
What we also want is for democracy to survive, and on that subject it was Thomas Jefferson who said that an educated citizenry was imperative for a democratic nation. However, all too often that lofty idea gets trampled on during the political process as candidates use attack ads and appeal to "fear and ignorance" rather than approach rational, positive solutions for these ongoing…