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

Friday, January 05, 2007

Stanley Milgram and the NEA

On Wednesday night ABC presented its own re-enactment of the Stanley Milgram experiments on blind conformity to authority, even when authority demands the performance of, otherwise, unthinkable acts. Here is the setup:

The Experiment

In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked those same questions. That was the year Nazi Adolf Eichmann, on trial for his war crimes, denied responsibility for his actions by saying he was simply doing what his superiors told him to do.

Contemplating this rationalization, Milgram came up with a famous and controversial experiment to examine what happens when ordinary people are faced with morally questionable orders. What he learned shocked not only him but the entire world.

In the experiment, conducted at Yale University over a period of months in 1961, an authority figure — "the experimenter" — dressed in a white lab coat and instructed participants to administer what they believed were increasingly painful electric shocks to another person.

Although no one was actually receiving shocks, the participants heard a man screaming in pain and protest, eventually pleading to be released from the experiment. When the subjects questioned the experimenter about what was happening, they were told they must continue.

And continue they did: Two-thirds of Milgram's participants delivered shocks as they heard cries of pain, signs of heart trouble, and then finally — and most frightening — nothing at all.

Now one of the participants who faithfully continued the "shocks" at the urging of the experimenter was a 7th grade teacher. During the debriefing session with this teacher, she acknowledged that at first she had concern about the other participant receiving the shocks, but when the experimenter assured her that the experimenter assumed all responsibility for any ill effects, the teacher then felt relieved and emboldened to continue. This situation, she volunteered, was analogous to the NCLB testing that she administered to her 7th graders, which she knew was causing harm, but which she continued to do because it was not her responsibility. Of course, this point did not even register a hmmm on the ABC reporter's relevance meter.

This 7th grade teacher can hardly be accountable alone for her unethical actions, especially when we see that the professional organization that has offered her a Code of Ethics turn its back on that very same Code. Where is the NEA on this issue of educational genocide against the children of America? How many intellectual and emotional cores of children must be melted down before the NEA bigwigs acknowledge that this policy is destroying children, schools, and the health of our democratic future.

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