The Real Enemy

The internet is abuzz with reviews of the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones. And although dragons and crowns have very little to do with education and neighborhoods, there is one principle from this TV series that has been part of our argument for rethinking school assignments all along.

Quick Recap:

For those who are less familiar with the Game of Thrones series, the basic plotline surrounds the different families (depicted in the map to the left) who are all vying for power over a kingdom. Although they all share the same belief that the ruler should be from the royal lineage, they disagree on which lineage is the royal one. Being from very different cultures and climates, their different perspectives, customs, and priorities are always at odds with one another (hence, eight seasons of television and 7 books).

However, although not having a governing body is an issue, there is an even bigger problem threatening the kingdom in this story. Beyond the northern border, there is a massive army of dead men armed and marching towards the border to wipe out humanity. But, due to the harshness of the arctic northern climate, few people have seen this fantastic enemy, and therefore, only a few people take the threat seriously.

For the non-fantasy fans, stick with me, I promise to come back to the point.

The show’s producers have spent much of the TV show emphasizing the ways people will ignore this terrible truth. Some ignore it out of fear, “There is a threat that feels impossible to beat, so why give it any of my attention?” Some ignore it out of sheer self-centeredness, “I want the throne for myself, and I don’t have time for fairy tales.” And others still take an apathetic approach, “There’s been doom and gloom before, and men haven’t died out yet. Let’s focus on our battle, and someone else will probably solve that one before it impacts us.”

But for any character who has come face-to-face with the army of the dead, their lives are suddenly altered. Small rivalries lose importance when human survival is at stake.

So, what in the world does all this have to do with Environmentalists for Effective Education?

In the world of Education policy, there are a lot of different “houses” or camps of thought. Each one has its own priorities. For example, we war over whether class size makes a difference in student outcomes. We argue about which curriculum serves our students best or how to best align student outcomes to standards. And these are only a few examples of policies we wrestle over. Although these issues are worth our attention, we sometimes miss the bigger, and more dangerous, threats at hand.

The real enemy, the real monster is the way the traditional school systems create and reinforce concentrated poverty. Research tells us that growing up in concentrated poverty has numerous bad life outcomes. For starters, the current reality of living in poor neighborhoods is hard - bad schools, high crime rates, lack of job opportunities, food deserts, and more. Then, however, high-poverty neighborhoods affect future life outcomes too - like graduation rates, the probability of becoming a single parent or going to jail, college attendance, and even earning power. Considering this, arguments about who should control the current system shrinks in importance compared to what’s happening outside the classroom. But if we focus our attention on the real enemy instead of school-turf petty rivalries, we will simultaneously improve schools overall. How? First, consider why pockets of poverty often exist:

  1. politicians draw school boundary lines

  2. families, who can afford to, chose to live on the side of the line with better schools (‘voting with their feet’)

  3. the quality of life on either side of the line become drastically different.

One side of the line becomes economically healthier and the other side more economically depressed. Those who can’t afford to live “on the good side of the line” are left behind geographically, but also economically and socially. This destructive process of economic segregation also moves job opportunities away from poor areas and to where wealthier families cluster. Jobs are scarce in these poverty pockets

Maybe at this point, you’re laughing to yourself, saying, “Wow, that was a stretch. Concentrated Poverty is not the army of zombies faced on Game of Thrones.” But ask yourself, are you more loyal to a certain tribe of education policies than you are to fighting poverty out in the community? If we could change the fate of more than schools, if we could help entire communities thrive, I wonder if ideological rivals could band together?

In a final episode of Game of Thrones, season seven, a group of rival warriors journey together beyond the kingdom’s border to try and kidnap one of the monsters to prove the threat’s severity to the kingdom. If you’re not convinced that economic segregation threatens our nation, we’ve been trying to take you “beyond the schoolroom walls” to bring you proof in this blog. We’ve even made some plans about how to defeat it. Read more and believe that the threat is real. Now, let’s do something about it.