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

Monday, February 07, 2011

Corporate Primitivism as Education Reform

The corporate education futurologists (Gates, Broad, etc.) who appear hellbent to define tomorrow's education systems represent, to borrow a phrase from Marquard, antiquarians turned to face in the opposite direction.  Let me briefly explain.

In Choosing Equality: The Case for Democratic Schooling, the authors offer this synopsis of the “neo-conservative position” on education reform:
Reform efforts should concentrate on a return to academic basics and more rigorous demands on student and teacher performance.  The program calls for standardizing pedagogy and curriculum, mandating more time on more core curriculum . . . increasing the use of standardized and competitive testing . . . lengthening the school day and year, legislating more stringent promotion and graduation requirements.  Proposals from improving teaching quality center on merit pay, master teacher programs, and test-based competency measures.  A number of proposals also promote corporate models of school management and an emphasis on economic development goals (p. 19).
A summary of “bold” thinking with not a whole lot left out, yes?  You may be surprised to learn, then, that the above summary of "new" reform ideas is from a book published a quarter-century ago.  

How time flies and how little education reform ideas change.  What has changed about this short list of 1985 reform notions advanced by neo-conservatives Ronald Reagan and Bill Bennett is that the “liberal” Obama Administration now promotes all these same priority items as new and bold.  Who knew that when Obama came into office decrying the “same tired battles” on education policy that ending those battles would require the Administration to re-initiate the same tired Republican initiatives from a quarter century ago, which offered then as they do now an education plan grounded in 19th Century psychology and early 20th Century social theory.  And what passed as pedagogical theory then as now was and is a stripped-down version of Frederick Taylor’s time and motion studies for making widgets, then and now applied to children and teachers. 

Perhaps this time around the corporate re-reformers will recapture those learning glory days that remain elusive even as the persistent fiction that fuels the quest provides a constant and ready source of inspiration for a continuing folly continues to block credible federal education policy.

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