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

Friday, March 02, 2012

Education: Quick Takes

I'll avoid the pitfall of quoting Polonius about brevity (hint: Polonius is a blowhard being satirized by Shakespeare and not passing on pearls of wisdom). So instead, I'll credit Stephen Krashen [1] for his dedication to brief commentary on education reform. Here are a couple quick takes on education worthy of deeper and genuine consideration:

• My home state of South Carolina has a long history of creating controversy around issues large and small. SC, I regret to acknowledge, also tends to take stands that are wrong on some or all levels. Now the current Superintendent of Education in SC, Mick Zais, has joined the Tea Party-like fight against federal education policy by challenging Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—specifically about Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which SC has regretfully already adopted and begun to create new state tests, and NCLB reauthorization policies, including Race to the Top and opting out of NCLB.

Duncan has responded with Orwellian bravado.

This exchange is the battle of who can be more wrong.

Duncan represents the political doublespeak of making claims that mask corrosive policy, and Zais represents calling for the right action for the wrong reasons (yes, SC should reject CCSS and opting out manipulations, but not so the current political regime in SC can implement its own wrong-minded education policies—VAM-style teacher accountability and pay, school choice, etc.).

Educators—administrators, teachers, scholars—need to offer a third option that focuses on educator professionalism and autonomy, the corrosive and powerful influence of poverty and inequity, and a genuine commitment to public institutions.

• In a Twitter exchange with John Kuhn [2], I posed an important element of the education debate that John has helped expose. What degree of culpability do public school administrators and teachers deserve for implementing the policies that most educators believe to be flawed?

John Kuhn challenged my calling for greater culpability by administrators and teachers by making this analogy: [from his Tweet] "but livelihood at stake is a gun to our head. We are only as culpable as someone who robs a bank bc a bomb is strapped 2 them."

Kuhn is one of the bravest and most outspoken advocates for public education on the scene today, and I find his argument compelling, but I have at least one caveat to this analogy: Even soldiers have the moral obligation to reject unethical orders.

All educators in public schools need to re-evaluate what and how we comply with federal and state mandates. This isn't an easy problem or solution, and I am both compelled by Kuhn's argument and steadfast in my own call for autonomy and action to be taken by educators (admitting these are easy calls for a tenured professor, although I taught public school for 18 years and my wife is currently a public school teacher—thus, I am not "out of touch"). Our predicament as educators is best exemplified by Margaret Atwood (In Other Worlds), provocatively:
"As for 'inevitability,' it's the rapist's argument: the thing is going to happen anyway, so why not just lie back and enjoy it? Resistance is futile." (p. 139)
The culpability of educators must not be allowed to dehumanize the educators (and that is the goal of current reformers promoting and creating VAM-style accountability), reduced to blaming the rape victim while ignoring the power and intent of the rapist.

But we must also not dehumanize educators by ignoring our autonomy, our voice, and our call for action.

[1] Follow Stephen Krashen on Twitter: @skrashen

[2] Follow John Kuhn on Twitter: @johnkuhntx

1 comment:

  1. Let’s assume many people cannot speak out because they will lose their jobs. They can certainly make anonymous comments on newspaper websites and Huffpost, and also share information with colleagues. This wold be a huge contribution. Lots of people do this and their insights are incredible. They are also active on twitter, without using their real names, and post and retweet, a great way of sharing information.

    Also: There are lots of people with nothing to fear (e.g. retired teachers and professors) or who have very little to fear (tenured teachers and professors) who claim to oppose the so-called reform movement, and who either do nothing or spend time with efforts that make them feel good but accomplish very little.

    As for the latter, this includes scholars who write long incomprehensible papers in obscure journals and edited volumes that nobody cites and I suspect few people even read. As Chris Hedges points out in Death of the Liberal Class (a totally comprehensible book), this is a great way of feeing good, being a respectable academic, and avoiding all impact and thus any consequences of your position. If scholars like doing this to sharpen their thinking, fine, but if that’s all they do, it doesn’t help much.