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

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Let's Have a Gathering Storm

In 1988 noted historian of education, Lawrence Cremin, responded to the diversionary tactic taken by the Reaganites to blame the schools in A Nation at Risk for the rise of foreign economic competition. In a Carnegie report (as cited by Tyack & Cuban, 1995) on saving urban schools, Cremin pointed out the manipulative strategy to shift the focus of schools from equity to economics by falsely blaming the schools for economic uncertainties:
“to contend that problems of economic competitiveness can be solved by educational reform . . . is not merely utopian and millennialist, it is at best foolish and at worst a crass effort to direct attention away from those truly responsible for doing something about competitiveness and to lay the burden instead on the schools” (p. 35).
If anything has changed since then, it is simply in the intensification of the dishonest demonizing of schools. If another generation can be duped in viewing the schools as the source of economic uncertainty, no one will notice, perhaps, the steady rise of corporate profits or zooming CEO salaries at a time of record layoffs, or the dwindling percentage of federal and state tax revenues paid by corporations while the tax burden shifts downward, or the reduced corporate investment in R&D while corporate lobbyists lead in the pillaging of the federal treasury. Perhaps we won’t even notice that the current fear mongering is intended to create an oversupply of science, math, and engineering folks in order to have a domestic supply that will settle for third world wages and benefits. And maybe, just maybe, the corporate socialists can get taxpayers to take up the slack for their own miserly contributions to the R&D that will guarantee their survival.

One thing that distinguishes the current battle in the war against the public schools is the prominent front opened up against the schools that prepare teachers. If one were to believe the rhetoric oozing from sludgy think tanks and the paid institutes for “research,” those damn Deweyans in the colleges of education don’t care about our economic competitiveness, nor do they take seriously the apocalyptic metaphors in this generation’s equivalent to A Nation . . ., this once called Rising Above the Gathering Storm. . .

And if you were to believe the unwavering stupidity of the NY Times Editorial Board, colleges of education have given up on science education and math education, just as the colleges are somehow to blame for the fact that many American children are taught by teachers who are not qualified to teach math or science.

Is this true? Jane Leibbrand, NCATE VP for Communications, was able to clear that up for Diane Ravitch the other day during Ed Week’s online chat, after Ravitch spouted the Party line by blaming state and college certification programs for the weakness in areas of math and science teaching:
a majority of states now require a degree or the equivalent in subject matter. Candidates must know the subject they plan to teach to be recommended for licensure in accredited schools of education. Knowledge of subject matter is front and center, Standard 1, in NCATE's accreditation system. The problem comes when individuals who never planned to teach enter the system, usually teaching at-risk children in low-income areas. These individuals are not from "ed schools."
Unlike the situation in 1980s, this time America's schools are, indeed, in trouble, but not because they have failed to churn out enough high school graduates intent upon becoming scientists, engineers, or mathematicians. So when you hear the President next week as he reads off the litany of manufactured education shortcomings and seeks to seed fear of the “gathering storm,” remember this: The real threat to America is not from an absence of education reform but, rather, from too much of a particular kind that now threatens to replace the intellectual, cultural, and civic mission of the public schools with a sterile, amoral, and metastasizing competition for test scores that has, as its endgame, the privatization of public schools by vouchers and for-profit charters. In the meantime, the 25-30% of America’s children living in poverty will be left behind again without qualified math and science teachers, just as they were by the last generation’s “reforms.”

It is time for another kind of gathering storm, a real one generated by the loud and clear voices of citizens and teachers, academics, and students, all intent upon taking back our schools, the same ones that once aimed at the preservation of a democratic republic and the full participation in democratic living as primary educational missions.

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