Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Problem That Has No Name

As I mentioned in the previous posting, I believe that part of the problem for the educational resistance movement is a problem of language.

The folks that brought us No Child Left Behind thought that they had made a great branding decision by bundling all the various aspects of their reform program under one title. NCLB was an octopus with many limbs, from high stakes testing to financial boondogglery for remediation to school district evaluations to whatever else they wanted to graft on. The Powers That Were slapped a big label with the NCLB logo on that monster, but when the whole business turned ugly, that giant logo turned out to be a giant target.

If you hated the testing, you were opposed to NCLB. If you hated the government overreach, you were against NCLB. If you hated the overly-prescriptive curriculum materials, you were against NCLB. If you just knew that something was wrong with the whole direction, even if you couldn't put your finger on it, you were against NCLB.

The new wave of reform has corrected that tactical error. CCSS, federal overrreach, high stakes testing, TFA, charter schools, money and power grabs, destructive evaluations of buildings and teachers-- we know all of these things are part of the same toxic trend, the same drive to dismantle American public education and sell the parts for scrap.

But when we want to explain, clearly and passionately, what we are trying to oppose, we have nothing to call it. So we end up either waving our hands vaguely and throwing around phrases on the order of "you know, all that stuff." Or we rattle off the whole laundry list and end up sounding like scattershot crazy conspiracy theorists.

Worse yet, the fact that the Whole Big Mess doesn't have one single name lulls some folks into thinking that we only need to fight one arm of the octopus. Those other arms are friendly and benign; only this one arm wants to strangle us. And because all the arms have different names, the general public-- those folks who don't spend every day poring over blogs about education but whose support we need-- that general public has no idea that these are all parts of the same hungry animal.

Language matters. Language helps frame the discussion. There's a reason that the two sides of the abortion debate call themselves Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. There's a reason that some people call them Public Schools and other people call them Government Schools (three guesses which group supports them). There's a reason that, historically and in so much folk narrative, being able to name something is the key to power over it.

The Giant Education Reform Complex needs a name. I don't have a proposal, but I think about it a lot. It doesn't have to be pretty-- "military-industrial complex" is not very evocative, but everybody knows what it means. But we need something to call this giant mess of reform, and it probably shouldn't have the word "reform" in it because when you are out there announcing that you're against reform, you're already in trouble. Education Complex Takeover. Giant Edu-grab.

I don't have an answer. But I think the question is huge. We know what the beats is. But it needs a name.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely. When people say "education deform" it makes me cringe, since "deform" has absolutely no meaning as a noun. I hope someone can come up with the perfect name for it all that's memorable, accurate, and sinister.