There's a strikingly odd generational irony that underlies the world of reformy stuff.
The architects of this wave of top-down, rigidly created and enforced educational control-freakery, from the legislative creators of NCLB to the corporate underwriters of CCSS are largely Baby Boomers. Bush, Clinton, Obama, Duncan, Gates-- boomers all. Other generations are represented (e.g. David "Babyface" Coleman and Eli "Elder Statesman" Broad), but school reform remains largely one more attempt by my generation to rewrite the rules of society.
It seems so unexpected. How did the generation that rejected its parents' desire for a stable, solid structure, a generation that found a thousand ways to stand for non-conformity-- how did that generation end up demanding that its own children shape up and snap to? How can it be that middle-aged men are now getting out their well-worn vinyl copy of Pink Floyd's The Wall and thinking that those children's chorus singing "Teacher, leave those kids alone" really needs some rigorous educational pummeling? We were going to fight The Man. Somehow, some of us grew up to be The Man on steroids.
Part of the answer is, of course, that no generation is homogenous. For every kid running through the halls of the school and trying to fight The Power with his scruffy jeans and tie-dye (cause The Power hated tie-dye), there was a kid from the same class, neatly dressed, working as a hall monitor and telling people to be quiet and get to class. Nor have all of us grown up to believe that Kids These Days are slack-brained degenerates who need to be pummeled into obedience.
But, as often noted, Bill Gates was not exactly a young Republican afraid to cross the street without parental permission. Nor was George Bush exactly Exhibit A for How To Properly Pursue an Education.
So what has happened? Is this the revenge of the hall monitors, who have finally secured positions of power and are now finally going to make Those Darn Kids behave? Did we decide that little boxes made of ticky tacky are actually desirable-- at least for other people? Is this just the Boomer's well-documented tendency to believe we have Grasped an Important Righteous Truth and must now make everyone else see?
I don't know. I mean, I really don't know, and I am really puzzled. Has the most individualistic, do-your-own-thing generation in modern memory literally forgotten what it means to be a young human searching for your own place in a one size fits all world? How have we decided that our own experience growing up is one that our own children (or at least other people's own children) absolutely must not have?
In The Lego Movie [mild spoiler alert], Will Ferrell is a father who has created an awesome and amazing Lego world. He forbids his son to touch it, and begins gluing it into place so that those blocks can never, ever take another shape. When he realizes what he is doing to his son, and that he has become the villain in his son's story, he relents, and the two begin to create together. (Also, you should totally go see this movie, because it is absolutely fun in the best way-- children laugh at some spots, adults laugh at other spots, and everybody goes home humming that earworm of a theme song).
We need a moment like that. The leaders of reformy stuff need to look some real, live human children in the eye and start creating with them instead of experimenting on them. They need to stop performing Orwellian gymnastics that use the language of opportunity and choices to describe the reality of straightjacketed one-size-fits-all limits.
Most of all, we need to remember what there was to love about our own lives and challenge ourselves to give our children more. Somehow, reformy boomers have grown up, not to be our parents, but something even worse. We do not create a better world with our children by way of "no" and "less," even if we cloak it with the language of "yes" and "more."