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

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Banality of Evil Begins in School

In Hannah Arendt's 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt pointed out that those who commit horrible acts are not only crazy fanatics but rather ordinary people who are willing to carry out terrbile things in an organized, systematic way because it has become "normalized" within the society.

As the Race to the Top - that is to the top scores on standardized tests, becomes the absolute measure of a child's success, degrading, humiliating behavior that destroys the very souls of children that should be abhored is increasingly tolerated and encouraged by those who continue to perpetuate this system for their own financial self interests. As long as parents, educators and the American public continue to accept the normalization of a very sick educational system focused on racing the top via test scores, providing opportunity to those who do not question authority, teachers will continue to leave their humanity outside the school door.

When I studied the Holocaust in high school or when I used to read about genocide during any time in history, I never could understand how it could have happened. However, after researching No Child Left Behind during my two and half years in graduate school, now I understand how it can happen.

Here's a must read story about a charter school in Oakland California that is playing out all across the country. It shows how the push for higher test scores is creating successful test takers who will be quick to take orders when the time comes.

The title of the story from the LA Times is, Spitting in the Eye of Mainstream Education.

Let's make sure that this type of education never becomes mainstream.

Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary procedures redolent of military school. One local school district official was horrified to learn that a girl was forced to clean the boys' restroom as punishment.

Conservatives, including columnist George Will, adore the American Indian schools, which they see as models of a "new paternalism" that could close the gap between the haves and have-nots in American education. Not surprisingly, many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the demagoguery of tolerance."

Another exerpt:

When math ends at 11:40, Zika switches to science. With no lab equipment and an emphasis on textbook learning, it is hard to imagine that American Indian will turn out the next Darwin or Edison. The students have brought in paper towel tubes and, after a discussion of the American space program, Zika leads the class outside, where they have about five minutes for a rare experiment: making rockets. It doesn't go well. With so little time, the experiment more or less fizzles, and then it's lunch. Zika admits it was a mistake; the next day, she'll have the students discuss what went wrong and try again.

After lunch, it's history (Reconstruction and its legacy), and then preparation for a philosophical debate.

"Isa, how do you know you're really sitting here? How do you know you're not a brain in a dish hooked up to a machine?" Zika asks.

"I am because I think I am," pipes up Terae Collins, paraphrasing Descartes. This is as fun as it gets. At 2:10, the students have P.E. -- running and calisthenics. No games.

The class returns at 2:50 for some last-minute homework instructions. School ends at 3. Most stay and do homework until 4 -- just because they can. A face appears at the door. It is De-Zhon Grace, a boy who was in Zika's class until Barack Obama was inaugurated as president. Until then, De-Zhon and his mother had been fairly happy with American Indian.

"I'm a single mom, and I'm trying to raise an African American young man, and I'm very serious about his education," said Chaka Grace.
But on Jan. 20, De-Zhon stayed home to watch the inauguration with his extended family. And that crossed a line for Roberts, who believes that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- should get in the way of class. According to De-Zhon's mother, Roberts said the boy would receive extra work as punishment and that she might rescind his recommendation to a private high school. That, said Grace, "took it to another level for me. . . . I felt that was evil."

She pulled her son out of the school.
De-Zhon, a neatly dressed, well-spoken boy who came back for a visit, conceded that he misses American Indian. "I miss my class; I miss my teacher," he said. There are no televisions at American Indian -- no computers in the classrooms, either -- so there was no way for students to watch the inauguration. But Roberts wants to be clear: They wouldn't have been allowed to watch it anyway. "It's not part of our curriculum," she said.

Could this be one of Duncan's islands of excellence?

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