Black and Hispanic students should take iodine tablets and head east

Matthew Ladner

The second episode of HBO’s five-part series “Chernobyl,” titled “Please Remain Calm,” is a powerful work of storytelling.

In the first episode, we see the explosion at the Soviet plant. In the second episode, we follow series protagonist and nuclear scientist Valery Legasov as he struggles to convince a horribly oppressive bureaucratic state to recognize the danger and take appropriate action to combat it.

The series is well worth watching, but the second episode is simply masterful. Anyone who has had to navigate the group dynamics of denial simply cannot help but empathize with Legasov’s increasing desperation as he appears to be the only person who recognizes the scale of the danger and then faces the dawning realization that he has underestimated the peril.

The issues explored in “Please Remain Calm” will resonate broadly, and certainly will parallel issues in the American K-12 debate.

Legasov faces threats from national and local officials determined to deny the situation and who are determined to downplay the significance of the threats. These officials have reputations to maintain and careers to preserve, so ordering an evacuation from a giant radioactive cloud that eventually spreads all the way to western Europe seems hasty to them. Then, when the western Europeans detect the radiation floating in from the east, their disappointment that the truth has been discovered eclipses any concern for the afflicted.

Luckily that sort of thing never happens in K-12 … oh wait, it does. In fact, while I was watching Episode 2, this tweet came to mind:

I actually did read Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error, and found it utterly unpersuasive. It was another example of the “nothing to see here, move along” mentality. Don’t ask too many questions comrade – and mind your tone. The radiation is just the equivalent of a chest X-ray, after all. Is educator and media producer Charles Cole III right here? I certainly think so.

What’s the parallel? Well, we can use the international PISA exam as our Geiger counter.

Cole seems right on the mark to me. If Diane Ravitch would care to look these numbers up for herself and would like to attempt to explain to Cole or anyone else how they are anything less than a disaster for Black and Hispanic Americans, I’d be happy to publish her take.

There are any number of other Geiger counters I could use – NAEP scores, college attendance/graduation rates, state test scores, etc. They all show similar data.

To say that the American public education system works for many kids would be true; but saying three of the reactors at Chernobyl never detonated also would be true. Whether you’re looking at PISA, NAEP – you name it, the graphite is on the roof – the reactor is exposed. American Black and Hispanic students in particular should take one iodine pill a day for as long as they last and get as far east as they can.

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