Puzzlements. Why all this hooplah about reforms that are clearly not working? If "open education" was dismissed based on so-called science (I never did know what evidence they had), how can this new wave of reform be picking up more steam in the midst of a blitz of data proving it wrong-headed?
Assuming, as I have for some time, that the current "reform" mania around public education is the offspring of not one but at least four, five, et al currents, all alive and well in the political climate of the past few decades, can we actually stop it, or even slow it down by noting that it defies reality—and surely all sound research. Maybe not, but it is worth a try.
Yes, the facts are blithely ignored by quite intelligent and well-meaning people, but maybe a siege of facts will finally get heard. .
Examples of what is ignored:
1) If unions are the problem how come the states with no teachers unions have not shown any evidence of being even as innovative as places like NYC or Chicago or LA where teacher's unions have been generally cast as the enemies. Maybe what has united many is just the chance to eliminate one of the strongest unions left in America. Having gotten rid of most unions serving the private sector and made organizing new unions nearly impossible, there is only one strong union base left: the public sector.
In the past half century, as Richard Rothstein of EPI has documented in Income Stagnation and Inequality, the percentage of workers who are members of unions is below that of any other democratic modern nation—and less than half of what it was at its peak. Given that most public sector unions are not allowed to strike and must pay heavy financial penalties if they do, their political influence is what they have long been focused on. If they are eliminated as a source of financial help to candidates and above all of organized manpower on behalf of candidates, then corporate money—freed from all constraints by recent court decisions—can truly run public life with virtually no organized opposition.
If we confront far more inequality than at any prior time in our history, and if we truly believed all that anti-communist propaganda about the virtues of a strong middle class, free trade-unionism and free-enterprise, we would be worried about throwing out the first two and resting it all on the third. The centralization of media power in the hands of a few people of international wealth and the internationalization of much of America's private enterprise also undermines even the liberal pro-capitalist western propaganda of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Everybody but "the workers of the world" seem to have united.
2) It also fits a climate of glorification of "individual responsibility," while in fact, as David Brooks notes in the NY Times, real personal responsibility has been thoroughly trashed. Who paid ANY price for their intentional disregard of the public good in the Wall Street and Housing boom, et al? A lady was executed in South Carolina the other day for plotting the death of her husband. But the death of our economy and the enrichment of a small group of con artists has gone almost entirely unpunished—except the punishment inflicted on the victims.
I liked David Brooks' column (Sept. 24th) on the "responsibility deficit". I might even order the Philip Howard book he recommends. Where inequity does not make it a farce, I too want government to lay its hands off. My default position is always one of free choice. But when 2% of Americans hold so much power over 98%, "free," choice is not free. Brook's notes that teachers "have to obey a steady stream of mandates that govern everything from how they treat an unruly child to the way they teach." Then we accuse them of failing to be held accountable!
I am even against involuntary schooling, in the abstract. But in the world we live in I know who will and who will not become educated better to their own self-interests. Maybe with more attention to the potential of "public" discourse we might even begin to honestly talk about what we mean by being held "accountable"—and to whom. Jamie Vollmer (in Schools Cannot Do It Alone), who comes at this from a businessman's background making ice cream, notes: "We are witnessing a campaign to annihilate the emotional and intellectual ties that bind the American people to their public schools. And it is working."
The arguments of the disparate forces that joined on behalf of the Duncan agenda—from the strict free-enterprisers to the civil rights activists-- needs to be considered. One piece of good news. Among many of those attracted by the idea of "getting tough" on our schools on behalf of the underdogs—especially children of color—there is a shift that I can detect. What we are not seeking is going back to pre-NCLB/Nation at Risk practices, and our arguments need to be clear on this point.
Puzzlements are the beginnings of wisdom, as I begin to unravel this dilemma.