"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, December 19, 2005

America's Secret Weapon

It is interesting to see the evolution (or is that just the cruelty of getting old?) of moderate-turned-neocon, Lamar Alexander. From a soft-spoken school-boyish gubernatorial candidate in his red and black plaid flannel shirt (the common touch, you know) to an angry, red-faced, demagogue willing to carry the water anywhere for an out-of-control Adminstration. Now he is taking the lead in the Bush/Spellings attack on higher education, particularly teacher education programs.

Last week he was in Nashville to testify at the first big meeting of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, where he took the talking points from ED and presented them to ED’s Commission that was supposedly there to hear something they did not already know. This is the kind of fact finding and data gathering that has come to characterize the current nightmare that continues to unfold in Washington. A couple of days later Alexander was writing a propaganda piece for the Chattanooga Times, through which he was once more pumping the talking points that the Bushies are recommending to themselves:
First, I suggested they urge the Administration to make the National Academies’ “Augustine Report” a centerpiece of President Bush’s State of the Union address in January and the focus of his remaining three years in office.
Apparently the Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century's original title, Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, was either too long for Bush to fit into his haiku speech delivery mode—or a bit too apocalyptic for the focus groups. Hey, they could have shortened it to the RAGS Report. Here is my post on RAGS when it first came out. Whatever it is called, RAGS is the inheritor of another famous scare-and-divert document, A Nation at Risk, that Reagan’s crowd pushed out in 1983 to blame the finally-integrated public schools on failed economic policy and bad business decisions among American automakers. By blaming the schools for allowing Japan to gain economic ground , the focus on equity and opportunity got replaced by another round of back to basics, more testing, and voucher promotion as a way for white parents to escape the integrated, and thus ruined, public schools.

Another of Alexander’s recommendations deals with how to pay higher ed for this planned oversupply of engineers and scientists that the Business Roundtable is intent on churning out in order to lower salaries in those areas. You guessed it—the poor will pay. Alexander is using this phony emergency (bad schools allowing China’s rise to power) to free states from federal court consent decrees that have thus far guaranteed a modicum of rights for the poor to health care and other programs through state funding of Medicaid. Alexander would use the China threat to divert that money into higher ed programs in science and technology, which would, essentially, serve the workforce needs of Couple of the Year, Bill and Melinda Gates.
Fourth, I urge the Congress to overhaul the Medicaid program and free states from outdated federal court consent decrees so that states may properly fund colleges and universities.
Having found the funding source, Alexander moves on to the neo-cons' real focus, colleges of education, “the greatest disappointment in higher education today.” Alexander’s covey of cons know that changing the schools is the key to changing everything, and they are intent upon replacing John Dewey’s Democracy and Education with Doug Carnine’s dictator-inspired Direct Instruction. (See Dewey at # 5 on the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries).

Forget those egalitarian and humanitarian dispositions and those pie-in-the-sky notions about emphasizing democratic choice, evolving purpose, and problem-based learning within a growing democracy. The neo-cons want students who can kick China’s ass in math and science, and if it is necessary to steamroll the democratic political landscape in the process, so be it. After all, we need workers, not questioners. Lots of workers, cheap.

Alexander’s final point in his op-ed really builds on the last one and cuts to the heart of matter:
Finally, I hope the commission will put a spotlight on the greatest threat to broader public support and funding for higher education: the growing political one-sidedness which has infected most campuses and an absence of true diversity of opinion.

There is more to this charge of one-sidedness than the academic community would like to admit. How many conservative speakers are invited to deliver commencement addresses? How many colleges require courses in U.S. history? How many even teach Western Civilization?

. . . . How many bright, young faculty members are encouraged to earn dissertations in the failures of bilingual education or on the virtues of vouchers or charter schools?
Is this the type of “scientifically-based” research that Alexander and the neo-cons support for the university? The same type that the Manhattan Institute, Cato, and the Fordham Foundation produce for a fee to justify policies chosen before the facts are known, er, before the propaganda is pumped out to justify the policy? Does he, as former university president (UT), really believe this is the way that his new and improved colleges of education should generate a research base? By choosing to use scientific research to prop up ideological agendas? How is that an improvement?

And now comes the big clincher, where Alexander makes his case for authoritarianism, white elite power, the flag, the war on terror, economic hegemony, and America’s secret weapon: higher ed. Could Alexander be in line to succeed the great Bill Frist as the neo-con version of The Political Apprentice:
I am not surprised that most faculties express liberal views, vote Democratic and that most faculty members resist authority. But I am disappointed when true diversity of thought is discouraged in the name of a preferred brand of diversity.

I salute Secretary Spellings and her distinguished commission, and I look forward to their recommendations. Higher education is America’s secret weapon for its future success. Other than the war against terror, keeping our brain power advantage so we can create new jobs here in the United States and keep our jobs from going to China, India, Finland, and Ireland, is the biggest challenge we face as a nation. Keeping our brain power advantage is the surest way to keep America on top.
Brace yourself--this is just the beginning.

Jim Horn


  1. Anonymous7:30 PM

    >Higher education is America’s secret weapon for its future success.

    Well said! and parental responsibility is where it all starts. You have to build on a solid foundation.

  2. Let higher education be a place where people freely aspire for world peace. Alexander's militaristic rhetoric is repulsive.