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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Petrilli's polemic against Alfie Kohn: Half-reactionary, half-mendacious

"What a teacher can do – all a teacher can do – is work with students to create a classroom culture, a climate, a curriculum that will nourish and sustain the fundamental inclinations that everyone starts out with..." — Alfie Kohn

Far from improving education, high- stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity. -- Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002).With a shameful broadside against the esteemed Alfie Kohn, Fordham's Michael Petrilli demonstrates once more why he's the darling of The Hoover Institution and all the other fringe-right think-tanks. I don't know what I found more disturbing about Petrilli's recent piece: the endless parade of straw-men he marshals, or his constant allusion to long discredited meritocracy myths.

What made me retch was this passage: "...KIPP network, which boast high student achievement and a well-rounded curriculum." As someone who writes alongside professors most familiar with the cultural sterilization and criminal attrition rates that KIPP has the dubious distinction of being renowned for, the passage was incredulous. In the end, of course, Petrilli's choice of corporate charters is proof positive of all Kohn's arguments. The latest from the KIPP front only serves to make Petrilli's shrillness on this more glaring.

In a way I was glad to see Petrilli wax honest about how there's a concerted effort to train the poor, while teaching the affluent, as evidenced by his reference to Hirsch et al. When social justice insists that testing is not teaching, we forget that the right-wing doesn't want entire swaths of the populace educated (at least in terms of critical thinking), but rather wants them trained to be compliant. In that context, Petrilli's gushing about the wonders of standardized tests for what he terms "importance of basic knowledge and skills" (read as teaching minority children to say "would you like fries with that?") makes perfect sense. This theme is compounded by Petrilli's unsubstantiated assertion that somehow the right kind of education leads to a "path to the middle class," when we know that schools alone can't fix the ills of our our society. Only Petrilli could write that the right-of-center Education Trust is "very liberal" without one iota of irony. Truth is, EdTrust—West's Arun Ramanathan is easily as reactionary as Petrilli is, maybe more so.

Near the end of his tirade Petrilli attempts to absolve the reactionary plutocrats comprising the "Billionaire Boys Club" of malfeasance by trotting out names from the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) as supposed evidence that their funders and the rest of the corporate cabal somehow support "civil rights." Absent from Petrilli' obsequious defense of the one-percent — who are bound and determined to privatize everything in sight — is the whole fund-to-advocate paradigm that most NPICs operate under today. I touch on fund-to-advocate in NCTQ's LAUSD report's highly questionable veracity shows Bill Gates' pervasiveness and perniciousness, but a longer treatment is indicated in the near future. In Los Angeles, this trend of NPICs pedling their donors' ideologies in order to secure revenue streams is so bad, activists started the Occupy United Way! group in response.

The proliferation of cash strapped 501C3s willing to advocate any policy their donors dictate is one of the most odious and insidious ways that the "Billionaire Boys Club proper" and their like-minded counterparts with names like DeVos, Bradley, Koch, Hastings, and Scaife, control both policy and discourse. This comes with the added benefit of providing the appearance of support from groups ostensibly associated with civil rights. Naturally advocating policies that exacerbate segregation by both race and class are anathema to civil rights, but that doesn't stop opportunists nor funding hounds in the non-profit sector from being willing mouthpieces for the plutocrat class. For the real civil rights perspective on corporate education reform, see Brian Jones essays on how charter schools claiming "civil rights" is incongruous with reality.

Given the time, I'd dismantle Petrilli's entire diatribe against Kohn paragraph by paragraph. That said, I'm in the midst of my school board campaign, helping community members and United Adult Students in their struggle to save LAUSD Adult Education, assisting Micheltorena families fight a charter colocation, and providing material support for Adelanto families successfully fighting the Parent Revolution's hostile takeover of their school, so time is at a premium right now.

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