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"No Excuses" and the Culture of Shame: The Miseducation of Our Nation's Children

Does our constant focus on educational "data" mask a raft of racist and classist policies designed to shortchange poor and minority children? You bet, says one education expert.

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Two aspects of "no excuses" practices must be rejected directly: (1) the deficit perspective at the core of "no excuses" ideology that has its roots in racism and classism, and (2) the "missionary zeal" associated with TFA recruits and advocates for "no excuses" practices (at the exclusion of expertise and experience).

Alfie Kohn has identified the pedagogy of poverty that comprises viewing "other people's children" with a deficit gaze (thus a racist and classist gaze) and seeking an elite core of soldiers to whip those children into shape, a core driven blindly by their "missionary zeal."

From 1991, Haberman's description of the pedagogy of poverty is disturbingly similar to the policies and practices found in TFA, KIPP, and the teacher manual cited above. Haberman concludes, "Unfortunately, the pedagogy of poverty does not work" ( p. 291).

But Haberman, like me here, is not basing his conclusion on metrics, not on test scores or graduation rates. Haberman is making a much more important pronouncement.

Democracy and equity cannot be built upon coercion and inequity.

Racial and economic equity cannot be built on racist and classist policies.

One America cannot be realized by perpetuating two Americas in our schools: One education system that assumes children to be "good" and offers them the freedom and culture of respect and dignity necessary to learn and another education system that assumes "other people's children" are "bad" and offers them "badass" teachers, a culture of shame, and a school environment that treasures quantitative data and silent and still students above anything else.

No metrics can ever justify for me the indignity of "no excuses" practices. None.

In order to have one America, the America of democracy and equity for all, we must have one education system of democracy and equity for all.

Paul L. Thomas is an associate professor of education at Furman University.