Monday, June 2, 2014

Civic Irresponsibility

For the true opponents of public education, these are heady times, because as the battle for public education heats up, these folks can see nothing but clear sailing. It's not a question of finding a path to victory-- it's just a matter of deciding which path of many they would like to follow and which allies they would like to invite to the after-party.

On the one hand, they could continue to buddy up to the Reformsters. The Reformsters have done them the favor of strapping public education into a straightjacket of reformy nonsense-- a set of lame, amateur standards tied to punitive high stakes tests of no educational value, used to create a punishing system of evaluations. The Reformsters are sure that public schools and public school teachers are failing, and they are going to keep making up data gathering systems based on how well those systems prove that failure exists. Reformsters are determined to drive career teachers away and hamstring the ones who stay. The Reformsters will use Common Core as the backbone of a system designed to reform public education into oblivion.

On the other hand, we have the Tin Hat crowd who oppose CCSS and all that comes with it-- because it all proves that government schools cannot be trusted and have always been waiting to indoctrinate young people into evil ways. They don't see reformy stuff as a perversion of public ed, but as an expression of public education's true nature, and they are arming themselves to fight back against the evil beast.

In other words, if public education is the girl next door, Reformsters are the ones who dress her up like a twenty-dollar hooker to "help fix her up," and the Tin Hat crowd are the ones pointing and hollering, "I told you! I always knew she was a dirty whore!"

Waiting in the wings? The moustache-twirling uncle who has been planning to steal her inheritance.

There's another group, a group for whom the problem of public education is similar to the problem of welfare, health care, and other social programs. The problem is simple. They don't want the government taking their money just to turn around and spend it on the little people, the poor people, Those People, the people whose lowly station in life is just proof that they are inferior and undeserving.

So they work both sides. They're busy whispering in ears one one side ("Hey, maybe you should have her show even more boobage!") and while tickling earlobes on the other ("Oh my God! Do you believe how trampy that trampy tramp is?!")

Watch out!! The feds are destroying local control-- destroy the Department of Education!! Beware! The standards aren't being pushed strongly enough-- make those school districts toe the line!

Then there are occasional moments like this extraordinary tweet from Neal McClusky of the Cato Institute

I'm thinking of the story from Frederick Douglass's autobiography. His owner's wife had taken to teaching the little boy to read; her husband took her aside to instruct her strictly in the proper non-education of slaves. Because throughout history, people who have wanted to maintain control of their lessers have understood that withholding education from the lower classes is an excellent way to keep them in their place.

What's American is to make the tools of socio-economic mobility, starting with education, available to all. It is an ideal that we have had trouble living up to at times for a variety of reasons including gender and racial prejudice.

But these days public ed is in more peril than ever. We have people who want to dismantle it and make money from the parts. We have people who want to tear it all down. And we have people who simply don't want to have to use their good money to educate Those People. Say what you will about Rockefeller and Carnegie-- they had at least a rudimentary sense of civic responsibility. These days we're looking at people who believe that civic responsibility is great as long as they don't have to actually give up money or power to indulge it.

They will call themselves champions of freedom, and they are, sort of. But it's the freedom of poor folks to take on the great grinding engine of life and society with nothing but a pea-shooter loaded with grit. And they are fans of their own freedom-- the freedom to be in complete control of their own lives, free from any need to worry or care about what happens to the lesser beings who are their countrymen in name only.


  1. You are certainly on a roll today!! Spot on, as usual!

  2. Let's reauthorize ESEA/ NCLB to make standards work and draw the line about what standards apply to and what they do not.

    Standards are of industry.

    Standards work for environments. Let's apply standards to ensure an equitable learning environment for every child.

    In U.S. public schools, standards could create healthy lunches. Kudos, First Lady Michelle Obama for taking on this important charge. Brains work best with healthy food and the binary bar can establish minimal expectations for fresh fruits and vegetables.

    In U.S. public schools, standards could create equitable building conditions. Is asbestos present? Is the water in the water fountains safe? Does the roof leak? Standards can sort for such inequities.

    In U.S. public schools, standards could create reasonable class sizes. The binary bar can establish a minimal expectation for class size capacity.

    In U.S. public schools, standards could address issues of access to technology for students. The binary bar can establish minimal expectations for technology in a building.

    In U.S. public schools, standards could create time expectations for movement or exercise. Brains need exercise to work their best. The binary bar could establish a minimal amount of time spent each day moving.

    In U.S. public schools, standards could create expectations for a robust library and certified librarian. The binary bar counts well. Flood schools with interesting books.

    In U.S. public schools, standards could create a reasonable range of per pupil expenditures. The binary bar could establish the range of spending per child a school operates within.

    In 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind and took effect in 2002. NCLB applied an idea of industry which is systemic, to learning which is individual, the standard.

    Standards are not of intellect.

    In U.S. public schools, standards cannot measure learning. Standards sort learning with a binary bar of proficiency. Brains are far too complex for learning to be reflected or evaluated using a binary bar. Standards are regulatory measures of what should be in the mind of a child and simply do not apply to a learning brain.

    Learning is not a binary process. It's not an industrial process. Learning is complex, and learning is organic. Learning is so organic that it occurs in the a vital organ, the brain.

    NCLB brought standards into education and linked them with school accountability, teacher effectiveness and student achievement. And standards do not work with learning as the binary bar does not work with the complexity of learning. The measure is flawed. The application is flawed. And we've already had 12 years of failed standards-based reform since the passage of NCLB. How many more years do we need until we figure out a simple truth? Standards are not of learning. Standards are of industry.