While I was shooting B-roll footage on the South Side of Chicago, a young man approached and asked what I was doing. I explained I was gathering footage for a short documentary on the new "Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards" that the Illinois Board of Education had approved and was on the verge of being ratified by the Illinois General Assembly. He boiled it down to, "A documentary on education?" He then told me that he had been kicked out of two high schools and never graduated. His mother worked two jobs to provide for him and his sister and he never learned how to read.
As a parent of two children, I asked him how this was possible. Didn’t his teachers in the Chicago Public School system know that he couldn’t read? He shrugged and asked me if I had any work to give him. He was in his mid-20s, looking for work in the middle of an icy, sunny day. I told him I was sorry and that I was leaving for the airport in two hours. Used to these kinds of turn-downs, he grinned and said it was all right. He then pointed to a mural on the side of an abandoned building and said that would be a good shot.
I set up the camera and thought of how far this man’s world was from the new standards that the education leaders in Illinois believed would uplift Blacks and shrink the performance gaps between Whites and Blacks. While most people certainly would have no issues with teachers being "culturally competent" and "responsive" to students, what struck me when I first read the new standards was there was no mention of the word "merit." These new standards would require teachers to subscribe to "progressive values" and "hold high expectations in which all students can participate and lead as student advocates or activists." (The rule-writers recently changed "progressive" to "inclusive" but every aspect of the new standards reflects progressive politics.) How would these "high expectations" help this young Black man out looking for work?