Thursday, April 3, 2014

Keeping up Appearances

The one thing we Americans like better than solving problems is to look like we're solving problems.

Take, for example, our desire for air traffic safety. After 9/11, we had a national rational urge to beef up security, to do something so that we would never experience such a terrible assault on our nation again. But because every national security issue is also a political issue, we had to consider options that would do something about the problem, and we had to consider options that would make it look like we were doing something about the problem.

And so, we invented TSA. Expert after expert declares that TSA is "just a show." It's kabuki theater to make the public feel that we're covered. But we passed up models like the Israeli airport security model which, not unsurprisingly, actually works (when it comes to dealing with people who want to blow you up, shoot you, and generally hurt you, the Israelis are nothing if not experienced). Instead of the most effective security in the world, we get minimum wage workers in uniform bringing us the biggest legislative placebo effect ever.

If you have a little federal-related paranoia, TSA also further acclimates us to having Big Brother watching us and guarding us and making us ask permission to walk over there, please.

We want to look like we're solving problems, whether we're doing any good or not. Balancing the budget is hard; taking symbolic actions is easier. Fixing the medical system is hard; looking like we're fixing it is easier. Losing weight is hard; taking a pill or a program that makes it look like we're trying to lose weight is easier. Just don't ask, ever, whether the "solutions" are really solving anything.

In my neck of the woods, schools and community folks still love the DARE program, despite the fact that it has been shown repeatedly to have no effect at all on student drug use (well, except for the places where there is a correlation with INCREASED drug use). It's a program that makes it look like we're doing something, so hurray!

Common Core State Standards are a very American solution, and they've been met with a very American respnse.

Because the one thing we rarely say is, "Well, that looks pretty. But does it actually do any good?" Mostly we shrug and accept that our trip to Omaha now includes an extra six hours of time spent being searched and stood in line and treated like we might have explosive bomb juice stashed in our underpants.

Here, folks-- we're going to implement these standards that, we swear, are going to make schools stronger and better. Here, Americans. Take this test.

People have been slow to look at these education "fixes" and ask, "Well, that looks pretty. But does it actually do any good?" It is one of the great frustrations of Fighters in the Education Resistance-- if people would just ask a few simple questions:
               * Does it work?
               * How do you know?
Those questions alone would be sufficient to sink the high stakes test-driven corporate status quo.

But people keep not asking. And in the meantime there are flurries of activities and increasing numbers of glossy ads and slick tv spots and lots of Very Important People are acting as if these things work, so it certainly looks as if Very Effective Things are being done to fix Every Education Problem Ever. From the ignoring of teachers to the launching of important sounding acronyms, the reform wave makes sense if you assume that the Masters of Reforming Our Nation's Schools were trying to come up with something that looks like it will fix education. (This appearances trick also works when you want to look like you're getting rid of CCSS.)

And if you look like you're fixing education, it helps to keep you from looking like you're up to anything else, like looting public education.

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