2012

18 April 2012: Are we teaching the wrong things?

Are we teaching the wrong things?

If you knew or perhaps guessed it is Mark Twain, the greatest of American authors, who said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so” when reading last week’s column, you get an A.  Otherwise, you’re less than proficient and need to repeat 11th-grade English.

To the chagrin of his critics, Twain cranked out, over the course of his lifetime, a wide-range of insightful, incisive, and witty aphorisms.

One that will be most apt for students, once the assess-by-testing crowd is finished, is “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.”  The push to reduce public schools to intellectual killing fields where students are daily drilled-and-killed in preparation of them becoming proper functionaries in a consumerist society is relentless.

Critical-thinking, essential to citizenship in a democratic society, is being jettisoned in the name of performance.

I’ve had a number of dealings with school boards over the years, some even pleasant, and, ironically, I sat on the CCSD BOE for a spell.  I truly do have considerable respect for those willing to step into unpaid positions that frequently put them in difficult and no-win situations with little appreciation.

Nevertheless, when I recall Twain’s acerbic quip, “God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board,” I chuckle.

Twain might have been brutal in his comment, but remember he was dealing with narrow-minded moralists who worked to suppress what is according to Ernest Hemingway the greatest work of American literature: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The assault on public education in the name of reform, like an epidemic, has spread to Clear Creek, to which I stand, paraphrasing William F. Buckley, athwart history yelling, “Stop!”

The movement, embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike, is not a reformation but a revolution, the purpose of which is to either drive a stake through the heart of public education or to reshape it to produce not well-rounded, skilled, critical-thinking graduates but products, themselves trained to produce and consume products.

In Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010), Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education in George H. W. Bush’s administration and a reformed reformer, says reformer is a term the media attached “to those educators and officials who turned to market-based, data-driven reforms to produce higher scores.”

Ravitch declares they “betray their weak comprehension of education by drawing false analogies between education and business.

“They think they can fix education by applying the principles of business…and by developing a good data-collection system that provides the information necessary to incentivize the workforce—principals, teachers, and students—with appropriate rewards and sanctions.”

Ravitch reveals she was once “attracted to the idea that the marker would unleash innovation and bring greater efficiencies to education.”

However, she came to realize the reform movement is snake oil and shibboleths foisted on an anxious public.

The mantra that the market can cure anything is the key economic tenet of faith among conservatives.  That belief, Ravitch notes, “lets us ordinary mortals off the hook, especially those who have not figured out how to improve low-performing schools or to break through the lassitude of unmotivated teens.”

Ravitch cuts to the quick when she states, “One need not know anything about children or education.  The lure of the market is the idea that freedom from government regulation is a solution all by itself.”

Public education, the cornerstone of a functioning democracy, has been a political football since 1957 with the launch of Sputnik.  The politicization soared into space with the publication in 1983 of Nation at Risk by Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, which essentially says we’re producing a nation of dummies, to which I sardonically say, “Maybe we are, but not in the way the report holds.”

Evil teachers and their unions are the cause of this mass epidemic of national stupidity, the “reformers” maintain.  Interestingly enough though, our CCSD teachers are not unionized, something they might want to reconsider.

“If you’re kicking butt and kids are doing really well in your organization, your classroom, if you will, you’re going to get paid more at Clear Creek,” says CCSD BOE newly-installed president Dan Frydenlund.

“And if you’re not and your kids are not performing,” he continues, “you know what?  Maybe Clear Creek is not the place for you.”

So, if I’m a CCSD teacher or principal, what am I thinking in light of the pronouncement by my community’s BOE president?

To be continued.

You Might Also Like