Saturday, December 18, 2010

I pledge allegiance to…

A few days ago NPR had a story about a truly dysfunctional high school (no link, it's not what this post is about). A lot of ink and computer bytes have been used to document how bad schools are and what should be done about them. The recent documentary Waiting for Superman gets into the act.

The Washington Spectator (alas, a subscription is required for online reading) says that documentary skews the debate and is pushing one particular outcome -- the replacement of public schools with charter schools run by corporations. Even the data from the movie is highly suspect.

This WS article, from the Dec. 15 2010 edition, set off all kinds of warning bells for me. I've already been writing about the corporate takeover of government and now I read about corporate takeover of schools. The corporate agenda has so thoroughly hijacked the debate that even Obama and many Dems use it as a starting point. Dems even push for centralized control over education.

A featured quote is from Barbara Miner of the website, which was set up to counter the documentary.

Should the American People put their faith in a white billionaires boy's club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?

The debate today revolves around accountability with the assumed position that teachers are the problem. Note that teachers tend to come with unions and we know what corporations think of unions. With accountability comes the need to measure outcome. With that student test scores take on primary importance. And with testing comes the focus on subjects that can be readily tested, those with specific right answers such as math and science. When studies show that students these days are obviously not all that good in math the answer is that we must stop coddling them. A strict discipline is what we need! This sounds a lot like the Father Knows Best conservative worldview.

What is carefully not mentioned by the reformers is the consequences of such focus. And what gets left out.

Here are some of the subjects, issues, and ideas that no longer fit into today's school "reform" -- and I'm not even going to get into the lack of music education in public schools (which makes my new career more difficult).

We lose the crucial role of education in a democracy, teaching the next generation what democracy is, it's importance, and what it requires of the empowered citizen.

We lose the concept that education empowers and elevates a community. A primary way out of poverty is through education. New corporate schools are more interested in producing workers content with their station in life.

We lose intellectual curiosity and different thinking.

We lose academic freedom and the contention that creates, which is how we work out what we mean by democracy.

We lose passion and compassion, the sense we're in this together, a defiance of control, a demand for freedom, a commitment to our children (who in may school board meetings are the one constituency not represented, even though the entire enterprise is supposedly for their benefit).

We lose empowered communities, places that feel they can pursue their own development, rather than recipients of charity that demands mandates.

We lose a curriculum of inquiry, critical thinking, imagination, discussion, social ethics, beauty (I guess I am going to mention music), complexity, and reality.

We lose the immediacy of science, that issues are still being explored and debated and have a real context as opposed to unscientific dogma.

We lose inviting an array of community activists, experts, and elders into the classroom.

We lose respect for the profession of teaching.

Education shouldn't be to invite youth to fill the vacant slots in the empire (if there are any). Instead, it should cultivate youth to help envision a future of deeper humanism and caring, and to give them the tools to build that future.

It is time to change the terms of the debate.

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