Unemployment Training: The Ideology of Non-Work Learned in Urban Schools

Martin Haberman
Distinguished Professor
School of Education
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

For many urban youth in poverty moving from school to work is about as likely as having a career in the NBA. While urban schools struggle and fail at teaching basic skills they are extremely effective at teaching skills which predispose youth to fail in the world of work. The urban school environment spreads a dangerous contagium in the form of behaviors and beliefs which form an ideology. This ideology “works” for youngsters by getting them through urban middle and secondary schools. But the very ideology that helps youth slip and slide through school becomes the source of their subsequent failure. It is an ideology that is easily learned, readily implemented, rewarded by teachers and principals, and supporting by school policies. It is an ideology which schools promulgate because it is easier to accede to the students’ street values than it is to shape them into more gentle human beings. The latter requires a great deal of persistent effort not unlike a dike working against an unyielding sea. It is much easier for urban schools to lower their expectations and simply survive with youth than it is to try to change them.

The ideology of unemployment insures that those infected with it will be unable to enter or remain in the world of work without serious indepth unlearning and retraining. Urban youth are not simply ill prepared for work but systematically and carefully trained to be quitters, failures, and the discouraged workers who no longer even seek employment. What this means is that it is counterproductive to help urban schools do better at what they now do since they are a basic cause of their graduates living out lives of hopelessness and desperation.

The dropout problem among urban youth–as catastrophic as it is–is less detrimental than this active training for unemployment. We need be more concerned for “successful” youth who graduate since it is they who have been most seriously infected. They have been exposed longest, practiced the anti-work behaviors for the longest period, and been rewarded most. In effect, the urban schools create a pool of youth much larger than the number of dropouts who we have labeled as “successful” but who have been more carefully schooled for failure.

The fact that this ideology is not a formal part of the stated curriculum but caught in school does not make urban schools any less accountable for its transmission. These anti-work learnings are inhaled as youth participate in and interact with school policies, administrators, teachers, safety aides, and the entire school staff. Community and religious watchdog groups who seek to control the values taught in schools focus on prayer and sex education. They are oblivious to the actual values caught in schools. Following is a brief description of the beliefs and behaviors which comprise this unemployment ideology.

Nowness. (What is the unit of school learning time?) In urban schools learning is offered in disconnected jolts. The work of the day is unconnected with the work of preceding days or subsequent ones. Life in urban schools is comprised of specific periods and discrete days each of which is forced to stand entirely on its own. If homework is not done, or books not taken home (behaviors which are universal for males and almost so for females by the completion of the upper elementary grades), everything students are taught must be compressed into isolated periods of “stand alone” days. Teachers and principals, as well as students, survive one day at a time.

By focusing on what can be learned in one period or in one activity educators claim to “meet the needs of students” who are frequently absent and would always be playing catch-up. (In some urban schools there is 100% turnover between September and June in some classes.) Another rationale for this disjointed curriculum is the number of pull out and special programs which legitimize youngsters missing classes. But the most common reason offered for teaching “Nowness” is the claim that students seldom remember anything they have been taught before. The introduction of any new concept or skill inevitably requires an extensive review of everything that might have preceded the concept. For example, an eighth grade teacher tries to give a lesson on election results. S/he quickly discovers that most of the class cannot explain the difference between the city, county, state, or federal levels of government. The teacher can either back up and spend the period trying to teach these distinctions or offer the lesson to the few who might understand it. Some youth have learned to play dumb in order to keep teachers from ever offering their planned lessons. In most cases, however, students are genuinely ignorant of the most elementary concepts teachers must assume they know in order to offer the required curriculum.

Nowness is the operating norm of the urban school. A successful period or activity is one in which students are expected to prepare nothing and to follow up in no way.

In the absence of connections with what students have already been taught (several times) and should already know, and with little certainty that the students will remember today’s lesson tomorrow, much of what goes on in urban classrooms resembles daytime television; brief, jejune activities which may generate a superficial passing interest but which require no real involvement. One can tune in to a program such as Jeopardy any day without falling behind. There are always new words so that viewers need not remember the previous day’s words. And best of all, the rules are quickly given anew each day. The person who tunes in for the first time knows as much as the person who has been watching every day. Anyone can show up and play the game.

Teachers promulgate Nowness because, like their students, they are trying to simply get through each day with the least hassle. But there is no way to learn any ideas of any consequence or develop skills to any level of proficiency if Nowness controls the conditions of learning. Education is a process of building connections and this process is hard work, hard work for students and even harder work for teachers. By “going with the flow,” teachers and schools support the students’ misconception that the unit of time in which anything can be taught and learned is something less than one hour.

Showing Up. (What is the minimum standard of satisfactory work?) “The Deal” in urban schools refers to a tacit working agreement between students and teachers.The student does not disrupt the class. In return, the teacher ignores his/her doing nothing. Simply attending is thus transformed from passive existence into a virtue. Being there is all that matters. Work is not expected, merely the absence of negative behavior. Teachers purchase this peace with a passing grade of D- to answer the student who says, “If I never showed up I would get an F. I showed up. I deserve better.” By passing students for just being there, school policies and teacher behaviors systematically teach youth that existence is an action. In effect, that if you do nothing bad you deserve something. While attendance is a necessary condition for learning, it is not a sufficient condition. By rewarding inaction, uninvolvement and a detached presence, urban schools promulgate the dangerous myth that the minimum standard for “doing” satisfactory work is showing up.

Make Me. (Who is accountable for what students learn?) Urban schools are conducted as authoritarian institutions. Principals are not replaced because their students are not learning but because the building is out of control. The need for safety from the surrounding neighborhood as well as the need to create an internally safe environment are, of course, understandable and desirable. Unfortunately, this perceived need for authoritarianism also controls the conditions of offering the curriculum and the learning environment of the school. Urban youth believe that the principals, teachers, and staff run everything; that school is essentially “their deal not ours.” They see endless rules, a prescribed curriculum, and the pedagogy of poverty (Haberman, 1991). This directive pedagogy supports the students’ perception that it is not only the teacher’s job but his/her responsibility to see to it that they learn. Students describe good teachers as the ones “that made me learn.”

Urban schools reinforce the student perception that teachers bear final responsibility for what they learn. By allowing (indeed rewarding) students for being passive witnesses, the schools support these student perceptions that all relationships are essentially authoritarian rather than mutual. As youth see the world, they are compelled to go to school while teachers are paid to be there. Therefore, it is the job of the teacher to make them learn. Every school policy and instructional decision which is made without involving students–and this is almost all of them–spreads the virus that principals and teachers rather than students must be the constituency held accountable for learning. In a very real sense students are being logical. In an authoritarian, top-down system with no voice for those at the bottom, why should those “being done to” be held accountable?

Excuses. (How often can you be late or absent and still be passing?) Of all the unemployment values urban schools teach, they teach this one best! Students believe that they can be late or absent as much as they want provided they have a good excuse, someone’s permission, or a written note. What is taught or what is missed is of little or no consequence. What matters is the quality of one’s excuse. And if one has valid excuses, there is no limit to the number of “excused” latenesses or absences a student may have and still be “passing.” The value says “if it’s not your fault you are absent, then it’s as good as being there.” And “being there” passes.

In a recent survey urban middle school students were asked the questions, “How many times can you be late (or absent) in a month and hold a regular job?” Over half the students responded you could be late as often as you had a good excuse. Almost half responded you could be absent any time you had a good excuse.

In discussing these responses with urban youth, none has ever suggested that students have the responsibility of making up for missed work–or even finding out what was missed. If the issue of missed work is raised, students seem only able to respond with the validity of their excuse. It is beyond the realm of their consideration to deal with the issue of the missed work itself. If reviewing missed work is raised as a direct question (i.e., “How do you learn what you missed?”), students respond, “Review is what teachers do.”

Non-Cooperation. (Should you have to work with people you don’t like?) Urban youth typically respond to differences with their peers by threatening or using force. Any body language or verbal interaction is brief and merely an initial preface to the escalation process. The value students bring to school is one of “might makes right.” Indeed, “might is the only determinant of right.” Schools seek to teach nonviolent options, peer mediation, and even engage in negative reinforcements as a consequence of overtly aggressive behavior. But in spite of the large number of suspensions, expulsions, and other authoritarian school responses, most of the day-to-day behavior of students is not dealt with by teachers and principals in terms of detention or suspension. The overwhelming response of the school to students’ inability to get along with each other is to separate potential combatants. If this were not done, the urban schools would resemble the floor of the Roman Coliseum. Efforts of urban teachers to use cooperative learning in urban schools require heroic, consistent efforts to contravene the street values students bring to school. It is easier and more common for principals, teachers, and safety aides to simply separate students than it is to teach them to get along.

Students come to expect segregation from rivals as a prevention to the problem of fighting. They do not practice peaceful coexistence or improved communication as an alternative to violence. This is because they have been taught the street values of power and control and the school has done nothing to disprove the efficacy of these values in their daily lives. Teachers and principals can’t be there when students need them in the everyday situations they encounter outside of schools. Students (and their parents) believe therefore that they must learn to take care of their own “business.” The problem is that, in school, where educators do control the environment there is no systematic training regarding alternatives to violence. The easy way out is for educators to pretend that violent behavior is irreversible in urban youth and the simplest strategy is the best one: separate potential combatants.

The effect of implementing this strategy–consistently for 13 years–is to solidly reinforce in youngsters the ideology of noncooperation; that is, you should never have to work with anyone you don’t like or can’t get along with.

Respect. (On what basis does one gain or give respect?) The naive or uninitiated might assume that schools teach students to respect those who know a lot, or can learn a lot or who at least try hard. In urban schools these values carry such little weight with students that they are unobservable. Indeed, in many schools trying hard or demonstrating initiative is regarded as a negative–a form of toadying to authority. The basis of gaining or giving respect is power. The critical question is “Who can do what to whom?” Between the system and the students, as well as among students, the issue is couched as respect–respect for the power to hurt indirectly or directly.

In response to the question, “When is it o.k. to hit people?” urban middle school youth provide an interesting array of being “dissed.” Included on their list is, ‘He talked crazy” and “He looked at me funny” (Haberman & Dill, 1995). There is no question that urban youth believe that words or glances which they perceive as provocative require a physical response. They use being provoked as a justification for hitting or even killing the offender.

The issue here is not the students’ street value per se but how schools reinforce those values rather than teach, or even try to teach, any alternatives. The concept that one “earns” respect by doing good things is unheard of among urban youth and requires explanation. Respect is something they extend to the powerful–as toward the Godfather and something one is afforded by virtue of simply looking at a person and knowing his/her potential to inflict physical harm.

School policies and educators who try to respond to youth in terms of power are doomed to failure. There are no legal means for schools to really hurt the students. And once students reach the age or size when parents can no longer control them, the school is perceived as powerless by the students (i.e., schools can no longer report them and get them beaten up at home). Once this age when no power consequences can be administered is reached, the schools and teachers have no basis for being afforded students’ respect.

The option open to schools is to not accept the power value and from earliest grades upward to never use it (Haberman & Dill, 1995). It is only by seeking to relate to and control by internal and gentle means that the school has any hope of contravening this power value (Haberman, 1994). Admittedly, it is harder work to try to relate to youth in mutual rather than power terms, but to continue present school policies actively teaches youth that school is no different than the street–just less effective. It’s all a question of who can do what to whom.

Authority. (How should you deal with the people in charge and with the rules?) Students’ approach to school authority is undergirded by their belief that any system is out to get them. The criminal justice system, the welfare department, health care providers, and the housing authority are just a few of the systems that families in poverty interact with on an continuing basis. Because urban schools relate to students and their families in the same impersonal, controlling, legalistic ways as these other institutions, students and their families extend their “we-they” stance to the schools. They perceive of school as another institution with which they must contend. If we combine the “Make-Me value (i.e., “The teacher is responsible for making me learn”) with the Respect value (i.e., “You give and get respect on the basis of who has the power to physically hurt you”), then adding this Authority value becomes an especially potent force for preparing youth for a life of nonwork. It is hard to imagine getting far in either a part-time dumbo job at one extreme, or in a professional career at the other, by seeking to show that the bosses or the organization are screwed up.

The dysfunctional nature of how urban schools teach students to relate to authority begins in kindergarten and continues through the primary grades. With young children, authoritarian, directive teaching that relies on simplistic external rewards still works to control students. But as children mature and grow in size they become more aware that the school’s coercive measures are not really hurtful (as compared to what they deal with outside of school) and the directive, behavior modification methods practiced in primary grades lose their power to control. Indeed, school authority becomes counterproductive. From upper elementary grades upward students know very well that it is beyond the power of school authorities to inflict any real hurt. External controls do not teach students to want to learn; they teach the reverse. The net effect of this situation is that urban schools teach poverty students that relating to authority is a kind of game. And the deepest, most pervasive learnings that result from this game are that school authority is toothless and out of touch with their lives. What school authority represents to urban youth is “what they think they need to do to keep their school running.” Students do not identify with the school as “ours.” They do not own the rules and regulations but regard them as those of the school authorities. Making school authority look bad or stupid is the value being caught. “Pulling teachers’ chains” so that they blow up and look helpless, or showing that school rules can be bent or circumvented is a school sport. It is also clear that in this game the score is students 73, educators 6.

Peers. (Who are the people you should care most about pleasing?) There’s nothing new about the fact that peers are the strongest influence on adolescent behavior. What is different today is the nature of the street values youth bring from the neighborhood into the school. What adults see as irrational or bad behavior is actually quite sensible. If one lives in a violent neighborhood, is learning to take care of oneself less reasonable than reporting violence to authorities? If one is faced by constant attack from several adversaries, is it foolish to be part of a group that offers protection?

What urban youth learn, better and better the longer they stay in school, is that schools can’t really hurt them but that other youth can and will. And the best protection is to not be isolated and alone with no one to look out for you. Educators expect and assume that they will become the focus of students’ “respect.” Teachers, principals, and other school staff constantly refer to the students’ need for role models and explain that they would like to serve as those models for the youth in their schools. Youngsters, however, extend respect to those who can inflict hurtful consequences and extract respect from those they can hurt. The insistence of school authorities that violence must be reported and dealt with by school and legal authorities must be ignored by the youngsters because authority can never be there with the frequency and pervasiveness necessary to stop the violence. There are not sufficient school safety aides and police to protect every youngster all day, every day. The fact is that violence is a normal condition of everyday urban living. This means that when youngsters see their peers as the most influential and important people in their lives it is a normal response.

It is unlikely that any urban school program or teaching staff is shaping, controlling, or teaching its students more than a fraction of what peers are teaching each other. And most typically, this influence is focussed on what not to do; don’t carry books, don’t do homework, don’t take responsibility, don’t prepare, don’t remember. The central core of this peer influence is not to participate in middle or high school but to simply be there and witness it. (“Show up and see what they try to get us to do today.”) While the media and even educational analysts focus on the smaller number of students who act out and challenge authority in overtly aggressive ways, they ignore the great majority of urban youth whose behavior in school might best be described as passive resistance. What does 13 years of practice at being part of a peer group playing “try and make me” portend for one’s subsequent functioning in the world of work?

Messing Up. (How often should people be given another chance?) Urban schools pander to the student belief that no matter how often one does something wrong or neglects to perform an expected behavior, s/he “deserves” another chance. To not provide an endless other chance is defined as “unfair.” (In extreme cases the student may be required to look remorseful or even apologize.) In no case, however, do students believe anything should preclude another chance. Even murder does not impact this essential piece of urban school ideology. Evaluators of prison schools for adolescents still ask, in all seriousness, how many of the parolees return to their local schools and graduate? (This is used as an indicator that the prison school is more effective than if parolees never return to their schools or just take GEDs.)

To counter the charge that they cannot control students and make them learn, urban schools adopt strategies to deceive the public. In one strategy, “suspended” students simply choose another school and must be admitted if that school is under their quota. The school system then claims it has a rate of 100 percent nonsuspension when they simply have a lot of student movement. This is called “the dance of the lemons.” Other districts support alternative schools in which they warehouse the several thousand “troublemakers.” Ostensibly, these youngsters are still being educated and will return to their regular schools. In truth, most of these students are ghosts; they disappear but are still carried on the attendance rolls for purposes of state support. Every urban district has thousands of such ghosts; some tens of thousands. If all the ghosts on the books actually showed up, no urban school district would be able to cope without a new bond issue for building significantly more schools.

In an effort to gain public approval, urban schools are the victims of their own overblown promises. They accept the street value that it is their job to make students learn rather than to do everything possible to encourage them to learn. From here it is a short step to supporting and enhancing the ideology that always getting another chance is “only fair.” An urban school may suspend (or expel) a youngster for carrying a weapon. But what does it teach “successful” youth with 13 years of experience at never completing their assignments and always getting another chance? What are the implications of carrying this virus into the world of work?

Explaining Success. (How should students account for doing something well?) When urban youth are asked to explain why they have done something well, they offer several explanations: ability (e.g., “I’m just good at that”); luck (e.g., “I’m a good guesser”), or connections (e.g., “My friend picked me for that”). The explanation they cite least in order to explain success is effort. There are several reasons for this. First, they espouse Nowness which precludes effort that connects today with yesterday or tomorrow. Second, and even more important, it is not cool to try hard at school activities. If one tries hard and fails, it shows that one is stupid. If one tries hard and succeeds, it shows that one is not as smart as the individual who expends no effort and succeeds. The value caught in urban schools is that the best thing an individual can do is to be perfect with no effort or preparation at all.

Teachers frequently misinterpret this piece of student ideology. They assume students don’t want to learn because they won’t accept extra help or actively resist teachers who try to give them extra help. These rebuttals are especially strong when teachers offer help in front of peers. How much can people learn if they believe they are not supposed to make mistakes in front of peers? How much can people learn if they pretend (or really believe) that they are supposed to know things without effort or study?

Schools that emphasize knowing but ignore effort foster this value. Instruction that does not make engaging students in active effort the teacher’s highest goal plays into the students’ proclivities to see effort as a sign of inadequacy and weakness. Every time a school emphasizes right answers and grades at the expense of persistent effort, it misses teaching what it is that leads to achievement and success. In every field of human endeavor the best explanation of success is effort. A quote attributed to Edison states: “The difference between coal and diamonds is that diamonds stayed on the job longer.” What does learning to reject effort portend for a future “worker?”

Relevance. (Should people have to learn things that are irrelevant?) In discussions of relevance, ends and means are often confused. Relevance is an important concern related to how connections are made between content to be learned and students’ life experiences. This does not mean teachers give up trying to teach content that is beyond the current life experiences of urban youth in poverty. Indeed, the very purpose of education is to push students beyond their present understandings and open their minds and imaginations to the universe of ideas, past and present, in all realms of learning. To do anything less is to lower expectations and standards. Making the content relevant by limiting content to students’ current life experience is not meeting student needs but pandering to ignorance. Everyone’s experience is one important way of knowing and a starting point for understanding the world. Education adds other ways of knowing to the process of experiencing things directly. Educated people learn from the experiences of others (e.g., literature, history), from science and research, from theories and explanations, from imaginative ideas, religion, intuition, the arts, and countless other sources. If one is limited to learning only that which is presently understandable, one is a hostage and not a beneficiary of personal experience. A convoluted focus back on oneself may lead one to see great “relevance” in preparing to pack grocery bags or sell drugs but not much relevance in learning the skills needed to make machines that make machines that assemble reapers to harvest crops. The criterion of immediacy should not be used to limit learning. Genuine relevance must be viewed in terms of the potential for helping students live out their future lives in neighborhoods and communities yet to be developed.

Purpose. (Is it reasonable to expect work to be fun?) The learning of skills to any advanced and useful degree is frequently not fun. Learning concepts can also be hard work. In many cases learning can involve genuine drudgery. The converse is not true; that is, the fact that school work can be boring drudgery is not evidence that useful learning is occurring.

Many urban youth not only believe that a good teacher can make you learn but that s/he can always make it fun as well. Naturally, every effort should be made to make as many things as pleasant as possible, interesting, and certainly engaging for students. But fun cannot be the ultimate standard for judging the work of teachers. Students frequently must learn hard and complex things. Many of these “things” require memorization, intense concentration, and repetitions which are fatiguing.

If schools accede to and support an ideology that “good learning is always fun,” what do they actually teach students about work? Should good feelings come from having fun activities, or should one be taught to feel good by accomplishing things?

Staying on Task. (How often can people come and go and still be considered working?) In urban schools students come and go all day. No 45 minutes is like the time that preceded it or the time that will follow. Urban schools report 125 classroom interruptions per week. Announcements, students going, students coming, messengers, safety aides, and intrusions by other school staff account for just some of these interruptions. It is not unusual for students to stay on task only 5 or 10 minutes in every hour. Textbook companies and curriculum reformers are constantly thwarted by this reality. They sell their materials to schools with the assurance that all the students will learn X amount in Y time. They are continually dismayed to observe that an hour of school time is not an hour of learning time. Many insightful observers of life in urban schools have pointed out that it is incredibly naive to believe that learning of subject matter is the main activity occurring in these schools. If one observes the activities and events which actually transpire–minute by minute, hour by hour, day in and day out–it is not possible to reasonably conclude that learning is the primary activity of youth attending urban schools. What does the process of changing what one does every 45 minutes and even the place where one does it portend for fulfilling a job in the world of work? If one is constantly being reinforced in the behaviors of coming, going, and being interrupted, what kind of work is one being prepared for?

Ignorance. (Who bears the responsibility for knowing the rules?) School is a place that teaches students that the best way to circumvent the rules is to not know them. The value caught in school is that someone else must always prove you were informed that something is not allowed in order for you to be held responsible for doing something wrong. Juvenile justices frequently hear youngsters explain their behavior in court in terms of “No one told me this was a crime.” While this is no defense in the real world, it is the precise value caught in urban schools. Rules are sent home. Parents are asked to sign that they read them. Students are told things over and over endlessly as if “don’t destroy another person’s property” is a hard word to spell and must be drilled on over and over. The student who doesn’t “learn” the rule is taught it again. This makes the classroom rules and the school rules no different from any other form of school learning: “something the teacher is responsible for making me learn.”

If this approach to teaching responsibility were not sufficiently counterproductive, it combines with other values such as Excuses. Teacher: “Why didn’t you know you had only 5 minutes to get to class?” Student: “I was absent the day you explained the rule.” What does this learning portend for participating in the world of work?

Investment. (Whose school is it?) These 14 parts of the ideology (and there are many others) interact in ways which teach youth that they have no stake in the process of schooling. If the school were to be torn down, it really wouldn’t matter. Students would be sent someplace else. The students’ perceptions, beginning at a very early age (third grade for many) is that this whole process is irrelevant to me, my life and my future. The countless ways in which urban schools communicate the message that students are unnecessary to the process teaches this value. One of the major differences between star teachers and quitter teachers in urban schools centers on this point. Star teachers convince students that “I need you here.” That “We couldn’t do what we need to do in this classroom without your total participation.” Failure teachers communicate the reverse: “This is my class. If you can’t shape up, I’ll suspend you.” With this latter as the operating norm in the urban schools, is it surprising that youth are taught to have no investment in the building, the program, or any other aspect of the school? What does it portend for future workers if they are trained to believe that whether or not the total organization succeeds or not has nothing to do with them?

The Implications of the Ideology for Future “Workers”

The “successful graduates” who carry this urban school virus are unlikely to get a job or keep one. In order for an individual infected with this ideology to actually work the job would have to be characterized by the following conditions:

  1. There is no screening process for getting the job beyond showing up.
  2. There is no previous training required. Whatever the job involves can be explained in a few minutes–certainly less than 45.
  3. There is a “boss” who will watch what you do and see that you do it.
  4. The “boss” is always there.
  5. The “boss” is responsible for what you do.
  6. You can come and go as much as you want and still keep the job.
  7. If you are late or absent, you can simply start working again without having to make up for or even know what you missed.
  8. You don’t have to talk to or work with anyone you don’t like.
  9. You don’t have to listen to anyone but the boss.
  10. There is nothing to do to prepare to come to work.
  11. There is nothing to do after quitting time.
  12. You get paid for the time you spend at work, not for what you accomplish.
  13. No matter how long you work, the job never changes.
  14. You can get a raise because of the length of time you have “worked.”
  15. You don’t have to really respect anyone who can’t hurt you.
  16. It won’t matter if the place is successful or the work gets screwed up; that’s not your problem.
  17. It won’t matter how many mistakes you make; you’ll get another chance.
  18. The work is fun.
  19. You don’t have to remember or follow the work rules if no one tells them to you.
  20. You don’t have to work (i.e., stay on task) more than a few minutes an hour.

Meeting these conditions will limit the jobs people can have to very, very few. These jobs would have to involve many others who do the very same work so that any absence will not matter. The job is likely to be part time, because staying on task as well as coming and going is a problem. The job is likely to be of little importance since how well tasks are actually done is not a primary concern. The job is likely to be menial since there is almost nothing to know. The job is likely to be one in which the success of the organization is not tied to worker effort. These and the other limiting conditions would even make a part-time job putting laundry into washing machines in the basement of a hotel problematic.

What Can Be Done?

What urban educators must do is first sensitize themselves to these issues. Will educators recognize that the ideology cited in this paper is really being caught in urban schools? Second, will those involved agree to stop supporting the spread of this ideology? This will mean some honest, lengthy staff meetings, parent meetings, and student meetings to develop a new set of work goals for the school. Before the third step of teaching genuine work values can be implemented, a school will have to spend a full year (or more) on the second step of trying to stop teaching the current ideology.

What is currently happening in urban schools is not teaching and learning. The primary activity is a war of socialization. Will the educators socialize the students to the world of work or will the students continue to socialize the educators into the nonwork ideology? At present, it is no contest. Urban youth and street values are the clearly dominant force. School curriculum and even more, the day-to-day life of the school supports the ideology of youth in poverty rather than the values which lead to success and achievement in the larger society.

I recognize that a call to stop doing things will not be viewed by many as very constructive. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the most radical and most positive things urban educators can do is to stop reinforcing and enhancing the current antiwork values practiced in urban schools. Stopping these practices will mean harder work for teachers and more control problems for administrators. Can we imagine making the work of urban educators still harder?


Haberman, M. (1991, December). The pedagogy of poverty vs. good teaching. KAPPAN, pp. 290-294.

Haberman, M. (1994). Gentle teaching in a violent society. Educational Horizons, 72(3), pp. 131-135.

Haberman, M., & Dill, V. R. (1995). Building a gentler school. Educational Leadership, 52(5), pp. 69-72.