Thursday, May 1, 2014

Throwing Away

It seems like some kind of joke to call a movement "un-American," but I think the Reformy Status Quo has earned that adjective.

Here's the thing about us as a country, as a culture. We fight. We struggle. We have sometimes extremely violent, deadly battles among the many smaller tribes that make up this country. But as a nation we are built to accommodate all these differences, and so even as we are wracked by all manner of racism and prejudice and everything that can be ugly about how different groups of people co-exist, and even as we thrash and battle to find solutions to these sometimes-huge rifts in our culture, there is one solution that we, as a country, as a culture, never embrace.

We don't throw people away.

That's not who we are. Sure, there are folks, particularly those with money and power, who use their position to try to get rid of Those People or build a wall to keep Those People out. But it's a measure of our culture that people who try to do such things must always spin it or conceal it or hide it behind some other pretense.

Because that's not who we are. We don't throw people away.

But the entire RSQ movement is based on throwing people away. It's the fundamental principle behind all of it. All of it!

We will find the students who don't measure up, and we will throw them away.

If our charter goals is 100% graduation, we will find the students who don't measure up, and we will get rid of them, before they are seniors.

We will start early and weed out all the third graders who can't read well enough yet.

We will accept "no excuses," and if a student won't do things our way, we will throw him away.

We insist that we want great educational opportunities for all students. And in a sense, we do. But if they do not show the proper respect for and use of the opportunities we so generously give them (and we will define "proper," thank you), then those thankless students must be thrown away. Prove you deserve our largesse. If you prove you don't deserve it, you must be thrown away.

If we find a school that doesn't measure up to our yardstick, we will close it. We will throw it away. We will throw the people who work there away. We may even throw the students away.

How do we fix schools? By finding the teachers who don't do as we say, and throwing them away.

Are the school boards and the voters who elect them not performing as we wish? Let's just throw them away.

The dream of RSQ is a beautiful shiny school building, filled with gleaming students and smiling teachers, and out back, where no one can see, is a mountain of all the human and institutional refuse that has been thrown away.

Time after time, the RSQ dream is defined not by what we achieve, but by what-- or whom-- we get rid of. It's not about lifting up or including or improving-- it's all about the weeding out. The throwing away.

Reformsters often reference our international standing, our need to compete. But we did not become a great nation by throwing people away. The Reformy Status Quo isn't just educational malpractice. It's un-American.

EDIT: Charles Sahm just made an important point on twitter, and I'm going to add a response to it here.

I don't believe that reformsters are advocating throwing people away out of evil or ill intent (for the most part). I think many of them are blind to what they are really advocating. So "no excuses" seems like a great way to maintain high standards, and closing bad schools seems like a great way to trim the losers, and firing our way to excellence seems like a workable theory to some people. Hey-- it certainly seemed like a great idea to some folks in private industry.

But I don't think any of these approaches are viable paths to better education, and what I've tried to articulate here is one of the ways in which I think they are dead wrong. They all posit live human beings as The Problem, and they all posit the solution of making those live humans go away. And that simply is not a reasonable or appropriate option in public education.


  1. Your post was on my newsfeed right below this one. Both say pretty much the same thing. Thank you for saying it. Very important.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. The students who struggle, for whatever reason, are going to be lost in education reform, and it is so wrong. It frustrating that the government and reformers are refusing to acknowledge or see the damage they are doing to those who need them the most.