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

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

No Undergrad Left Behind - No Intellectual Left

Eugene Hickok's attack on higher education, intellectual freedom, and academia in today's New York Times should be a wake up call to anyone who believes No Child Left Behind was strictly intended for K-12 and that the United States is not teetering on the edge of fascism.

Americans should have more information about higher education curriculum and teaching. Higher education in this country differs substantially from elementary and high school education, most obviously in what is offered and how it is offered. The academy responds to the demands of disciplines and faculty. It is a culture that cherishes independence and freedom. And it is a culture seriously out of touch with much of America.

The blatant contempt for one of the last bastions of educational freedom and autonomy, universities and colleges, on the part of right wing think tanks and corporate interests is transparent in this dangerous drivel, which even a bright college student at Brandeis and a concerned citizen in Daytona Beach, Florida can see through.

Joe Farbeann, writing in the Brandeis newspaper, The Justice, points out the "absurdity" of it all:

The absurdity of the plan is quite striking. Grade school tests measure basic progress in reading and mathematics, but how can a test go about evaluating college students? After all, it would be difficult and misleading to attempt to judge a chemistry major and a theater major by the same test. Such a program would likely cause colleges to narrow their curricula, cutting interesting, specialized programs in favor of general education courses that would prepare students for the test. Instead of taking a wide array of classes, college students could find themselves stuck in survey courses designed to equip them to pass a test. But why let college students choose what they want to study when Big Brother can do it just as well?

In seeking to apply the principles of No Child Left Behind to colleges, the Bush administration is trying to expand a failed program. The increased standardized testing and increased federal intrusion into K-12 education represented by that law has caused such an outcry that 47 states have either challenged it or are considering doing so. Across geographical and ideological spectrums, there is an agreement that the federally mandated tests are a failure. The conservative state legislature in Utah passed an act instructing school districts to ignore certain portions of No Child Left Behind, and the liberal legislature of Connecticut has challenged it in court. Why take a policy that has caused uproar in grade schools and use it in the even less appropriate environment of universities?

Bill Archer in the Daytona Beach News provides the answer:

Under the banner word of "accountability," the state and federal governments have conspired to create an education system that will mold citizens into the feckless, fearful and forgetfully mindless peons that will do as they are directed, believe what they are told and forget about what true intellectual freedom without boundaries ever felt like. But the "accountability" they refer to has nothing to do with what most of us still remember as accountability.

Hickok and his gang of thugs, who are trying to steal hopes of maintaining and sustaining any possibility for a democratic future, are preying on the fears of the American people, who are increasingly insecure about the chances of realizing the American dream:

For generations, a college education has been a big part of the American dream. Much of the world has come to America to get a higher education. But nothing guarantees that this will be the case in the future. Indeed, for more and more American citizens, that dream is coming into question. It is time for serious reflection and reform in higher education — before it is too late.

Like most good scam artists, the folks at the Heritage Foundation have succeeded in showing their true colors and can no longer hide behind empty rhetoric and lies. All the more reason to make sure college students like Joe Farbeann understand what Chief Justice Louis Brandeis said,

"America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered."

Let's keep it that way -- before it's too late.

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