Friday, February 19, 2021

Disaster Capitalism And The Abuse Of Youth

In the rush to raise alarm over Terrible Educational Emergencies, folks need to pay closer attention to exactly who they're hurting.

I'm not talking about teachers right now. Yes, teachers get blamed for anything and everything, and it stinks, and we're paying a regular price for it in the increasing difficulty in recruiting people to do the work. 

But the other part of chicken littling about education is the constant declaration that Kids These Days suck. They can't read or write. They aren't ready to hold down a job. And like many other negative trends in education, this has only gotten worse during the pandemic. Now it's not just that Kids These Days can't read and write and math--numerous companies are telling anyone who will listen about the terrible threat of learning loss, and how all of America's children are slowly backsliding, the "days of learning" dribbling out of their ears like meltwater sluicing off a snow-covered roof. They're getting stupider and stupider by the day. They are a lost generation.

Some of the worst moments in my teaching career came in parent-school conferences, sitting in a room with other staff, the student, and the parental units, watching the parents express in not-at-al-subtle ways their low opinion of their child. It is gut-wrenching to see a parent tell their own child everything just short of (and in a couple of memorable instances, not just short of) "I don't know what to do with you. You're lazy and dumb and just a bad person." Those students didn't need pedagogical or instructional interventions nearly as much as they needed to have an adult who actually believed in them. 

In the rush to indict the public school system, the teachers, the unions, some people have turned students into collateral damage, forcing them to live in a world of adults who are constantly broadcasting that Kids These Days are awful failures. And right now, as always, they are directing the worst of it at the students who already get the worst of it--Black, brown, poor. 

Today Chalkbeat is carrying a piece by teacher Selena Carrion that everyone should read-- "Stop calling this generation 'lost.' It's hurtful--and it's wrong." Carrion's experience allows her to remember how to keep her eye on the ball:

All this reminds me not to allow a deficit-oriented “lost generation” narrative to deny them their success. As educators, let’s think about their triumphs and how they are still finding joy and wonder amid chaos.

What would happen, I wonder, if the consultants from NWEA and McKinsey, rather than releasing white papers and "research" and talking to other folks in the education biz had to go stand in front of the actual young human beings and explain to those students that they are falling behind and getting dumber by the minute and are generally failing. What if they had to look into those students' eyes while saying, in effect, "We do not believe in you." 

Here is where market-based philosophy clashes with actual education. You market products by creating a compelling case for a desperate need. "Terrible things are happening," a campaign screams, "and you need to hire us and buy our product if you want to survive, because without us you are not enough." But you teach students by first believing in them, by assuring them that they are enough. You can't have disaster capitalism without a disaster. You can't teach students by telling them that they are a disaster.

These are tough times for schools, and there's no pretending that we are (mostly) accomplishing less than we could have in normal times (though we are also learning about ways that are not worse--just different). But ramping up the alarm and calling our children "lost" just so that someone can sell more testing or market some edu-biz model is wrong, and it's damaging to our children to keep telling them they are lost and losing learning and collapsing mentally and failing to cope. Right now, more than ever, our students need truth and support and people who believe in them. If you're not doing that, take a seat.

1 comment:

  1. The point is not capitalism. The point is that children need time and attention. Teachers will never be able to provide all the instruction children need. Parents are capable of helping their children learn.

    The fact that businesses try to profit off the masses is not a surprise. In a capitalistic system, the saying is, "buyer beware". If parents like the shiny promises the software companies make...if school leaders like the shiny promises, the product sells.

    Time and attention. Maybe some time can be spent helping parents discover ways they can nurture their children.

    Telling parents to back off and stay in their own lane is not helpful. Asking them to take over is not what anyone is asking. But the answer is going to start with supporting what is going on at home because as long as kids are not in the school building, that is where the learning happens.

    The solution to the current situation is not to blame economic models.

    You mentioned that parents criticized their kids. Maybe a worthy initiative is to help parents see things differently.

    You don't need software to do it. You need time.

    If our society cares about its young people growing up, we will all take responsibility to invest our time. How people spend their time is related to their priorities. If no one wants to spend the time, the snake oil salesmen are ready and waiting. And don't think that capitalists have a monopoly on exploitation and abuse.