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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Guest Post: Against Oligarchical Roundtables In Education

Against Oligarchical Roundtables In Education (and really, everywhere else too)

by Douglas Storm
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.  Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
It’s that simple really.  All we do now is ask the wrong questions and get irrelevant answers because the questions determine the direction we’ll be heading.  The Pynchon quote comes from the stunningly simple book by Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian called Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Schools?  By simple I mean obvious.  When you read it you are just left with a kind of awe-struck response to the clear and obvious abuses perpetrated by that class of Americans we call “owners” or corporate managers.  They have the money, the networks, the connections, the property and the will to assert their will upon us all.  And without us even being aware of it.  If you read no other book about AMERICA–you must read this one.

Missions and Visions disguise motivations and worldview.  The Monroe County Community School Corporation is using “surveymonkey” to allow public comment on their proposed statements of purpose and “belief” (yeah, I know): gathering data, as it were, in a rather stark example of the way the world works these days.  Given that it’s likely nothing the community of parents say will matter (unless they are major contributors to campaigns or major property owners in the county) we can at least examine the proposals in a way that allows us to know what’s coming.

First, I think I’ve said somewhere that the two institutions I think of when I consider these kinds of facile exercises is the Church and the modern Corporation.  This in itself is starkly instructive.
Next, a possibly the primary point to consider: the words used tend to be “of the moment” and in effect are meaningless as to any revelation of content within said institution.  But, a big but, what they do allow is an expansive application of practices to “meet the mission” parameters.  It’s a kind of business contract that is always ambiguous and always interpreted to fit the business ideology.

Finally, we’ve arrived at a pretty clear codification of “secret” meanings over the last decade or so. The Business Agenda determines our practices.  Certain words indicate the willingness of a Board or Superintendent to put that agenda first to the detriment of the community of children and citizens.
I intended to break this down but it’s already been done by Emery and Ohanian so I’ll just insert their analysis and critique where applicable.  The primary question we are always advised to bear in mind (i.e., a correct question to ask), “Whom do these statements serve?”
Read with care…mission statements from school districts across the country.  Ask yourself why every word is there: what does it mean and what does it hide?  Ask yourself who profits.  Which statements seem to be emanating from a public relations echo chamber?  As you read each mission, put yourself in the shoes of the five-year-olds, eight-year-olds, thirteen-year-olds, and eighteen-year-olds in that district.  Does this sound like a happy place to be?  A fit place for a child you love? (Emery and Ohanian, 81)
What is clear from any number of examples is the worldview of the owners of an economic hegemony.  Here are the “draft” Vision and Mission Statements of the MCCSC:
Vision Statement: A World Class Learning Community – For Leaders of Tomorrow
Mission Statement: Maximize student achievement, working in collaboration with parents and the community, to be productive and responsible citizens, who are successful globally.
Plenty of mission statements reek of backroom cigar smoke and corporate-politico handshakes, but take heart: with world-class standards infecting so many education plans, we only found one school board intent on producing world-class children.  Of course technological society and world of tomorrow ooze their way into the rhetoric; they are all just euphemisms for the global economy, which is what this is all about.  As many have noted, it’s a mean economy, cruising the world for cheap labor. (80)
The “core beliefs” that come next all begin with the phrase “We believe…” and form a kind of creed.  See the Nicene Creed for another example of this.

Value 1: All children can learn; we can teach all students; there are No exceptions.
All children can learn what?  We can certainly teach all children that there is only business ideology and success is only to be measured in those terms.  That seems pretty reasonable, right?

Value 2: In the facilitation and development of diverse curricular and extra-curricular programs which result in high levels of student engagement, address student needs, interests, and integrate technology when appropriate.
Wow, that’s a mouthful and all beliefs there are somewhat “open for business.”  We must not see these as independent beliefs but rather beliefs that make the mission and vision possible.  These support the global economic hegemony.  It’s kind of like reading a fortune cookie and then always finishing with the phrase “in bed,” but in this case we’d need to insert a business phrase.  Try any of them and see if they work.  Maybe “to be productive” in some grammatical form works?

Value 3: Children are unique and their self-esteem will be fostered to become successful (ly productive in the global economy for the corporate class).
See, it works.

Value 4: A positive attitude creates a successful working and learning environment.
Hey, don’t even think about complaining or disagreeing with this!

Value 5. District employees are high valued resources (in the production of economic ideology).

Value 6. In an environment in which continuous improvement through Professional Learning Communities is embedded in our culture to ensure high performance.
Continuous improvement sounds exhausting!  But it’s important that we embed a business hierarchy that treats its teachers like soldiers serving the principal (getting order from) who in turn serves the Superintendent who in turn serves the (bypassed board) State economic and ideological agenda. I mean, they’re “embedded” after all!

Value 7: In a safe and secure learning environment.  (Locked Down and Monitored!  Embedded security.)
Traveling under various guises, economics pops up in lots of mission statements.  Not as the actual word but as an underlying theme.  Watch for its permutations: productive employment and productive lives, or, in billionaire Eli Broad’s words, future knowledge workers.  Such language reveals the extent to which the Business Roundtable agenda and myth making dominate school boards. (79)
Judy DeMuth, the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s Superintendent, will speak tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. to the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce to bang the economic agenda drum.  This is a natural venue for her to speak as it is to the business leaders that our schools now bow and march in lock-step to their ideology.

My impression is that business leaders don’t really care about education as a way to offer what we might call “learning and enhancement” particularly when applied to individual quality of life.  It seems to me as if there are only two goals: reduce or eliminate a public cost that they don’t want to pay, because, primarily, “my money should only serve my purposes,” and increase opportunities for market capture.

I think too that there is a real “success” bias now that is ONLY applicable to the financially well-off.  By this I mean, the wealthy only think their way is the right way and if you didn’t get there with them then you have failed at doing things the right and best and proven way.  If you are a failure at understanding and applying this right and only way of conceiving of the human goals of living then why should I (rich, socially successful person) subsidize your stupidity and cost myself (and my children) money.  Also, if you disagree with my ways why would I want to fund an education that might lead to you opposing me from a power base in the future that might harm me?

Of course, I oppose this vision, mission, and core belief litany and offer a simple replacement.
This school will protect children from poverty and coercive ideology.  This school will provide free space where all children will find all the methods of play and creativity we can think of so as to promote as much joy and common caring and understanding as possible.
Chime in.

*Movers and Shakers in “partnership” with Education in Indiana.

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