Saturday, March 24, 2012

Working together to reverse the Law of Diminishing Capacity

The Law of Diminishing Capacity will wreak havoc on our schools as long as our caring stops with our own children, says guest columnist Andrew E. Kelly.
Special to The Seattle Times
really don't care about those kids!
I really live to see my children thrive!
The statements above reflect the way many of us react when we judge neighborhood schools, step into the voting booth and validate school policy in the United States today. Our world has fallen into the trap of the "Law of Diminishing Capacity."
The Law of Diminishing Capacity conditions us to think that "it is enough" to care deeply about our own children. This law excuses our social obligation for caring about any child other than our own. The law allows us to judge those in the food bank line, and pass by a failing neighborhood school serving hundreds — as we drive our children to a program that cares for them well.
This law, I'm convinced, is the root of everything that is wrong with education today. It smacks against social norms from a bygone day when the village really believed that "it takes a village to raise every child."
I will always remember introducing the idea of the "Law of Diminishing Capacity" several years ago to the student body at Procter R. Hug High School in Reno, Nev.
You could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the gym when I brought up the specter of seeing a small child alongside the freeway late at night. I asked the kids how many of them would stop and help. Every hand in the gym went to the ceiling.
I changed the variable of the child on the side of the road: first, a little older; dressed differently, etc. I finally got to the point when most would notstop. I think it was the description of the teenager in pleated Dickies and a blue pressed shirt. Or, it might have been the youth with the dew rag smoking "something."
I have since played this scenario out many times to mixed groups of adults and what I have found is that we are way more judgmental than kids. We sometimes make the decision not to stop and help because of race. We judge based on appearance first, substance second. We are concerned chiefly with our own welfare, the welfare of our children, and little else.
The Law of Diminishing Capacity is devastating to schools and communities. We as parents care deeply about the kind of education our kids receive. Typically, that is where it stops. We may engage with other people who look mostly like us and who shop at similar stores. But rarely do we as citizens of this great country care deeply about all kids.
Can you imagine if in the communities of Seattle or Reno or Washington, D.C., every adult started caring as much for all kids as they care for their own? We would transform schools overnight! We could eradicate the Law of Diminishing Capacity (at least in the school house).
What would happen if I cared that each student had a great teacher, not just my own? What would happen if I cared that every student graduated college-ready, not just my own? What if instead of debating charter schools vs. public schools, we just committed to making all schools excellent?
My dream is that in our lifetime we will be able to be part of reversing the Law of Diminishing Capacity. I believe that creating a system where every school is just as good as the school my child goes to will ultimately allow us to fix the system and realize the potential of each and every child in America. This is the civil-rights issue of my generation.
Andrew E. Kelly is executive director of Abeo School Change in Seattle, a nonprofit that works with schools and educational systems to improve learning for all students

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