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

Friday, August 14, 2009

Magic Bullets in the Education Wars

Mike Rose at Truth Dig has a thoughtful piece on the need for complexity in education and in the discourse about education. He argues that the miracle cures, magic bullets, empty, meaningless rhetoric and solutions being proposed by the three stooges ,and the other clowns who have hijacked education over the past three decades in this country, does nothing to improve education. The entire article is worth a read. Here's a small clip:

What miracle talk and magic-bullet solutions share is the reduction of complexity, of the many levels of hard, creative work necessary to make schooling successful in the United States.

More so than many other domains of public policy, education is bedeviled by a binary polemics, a tendency to define an issue in either/or terms and then wage a pitched battle over the (exaggerated) differences. So we have the math wars, the whole-language versus phonics explosion, the knowledge versus process clash, and so on. These are fierce battles in which each side reduces the other’s argument—often to the point of caricature—and then assails it.

The miracle/magic-bullet discourse plays right into this state of affairs, and both emerges from and contributes to it. Part of believing in this single-shot causality requires a simplification of difficult issues and a dismissal of other possible variables and remedies. If you have the single truth, then everything else is a target.

There’s one more concern, and that has to do with failure. What happens when the miracle fades, when the magic bullet doesn’t cure the disease? For some who are ideologically inclined, there is despair, a throwing up of the hands and retreat to the dismissal of public education that we’ve witnessed over the past two or three decades.

I propose that we leave the holy cards at the schoolhouse door, that we admit that educational excellence is achieved through dedicated effort along multiple dimensions—structural, curricular and pedagogical—and that we call a moratorium on the demonizing either/or polemics that create more heat than light. Unfortunately, that moratorium would probably require a miracle—but it’s one I’m ready to pray for.

Mike Rose is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and author of a number of books, including “The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker” and “Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us,” to be published in September.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:08 AM

    Like most of the "problems" plaguing public education and begging for "reform" there are no answers under the capitalist economy we are bound to. That's why it, like so many other things, is so complicated. The solution awaits a fundamental transformation to socialism.