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

Friday, December 14, 2012

"I Built This [Lie]"

As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) virus spreads throughout the United States like a pre-apocalyptic seed of World War Z, I recognize that it is no longer cool to recommend fiction and poetry, especially classic fiction and poetry, as texts we might cull some sense from. [1]

While my literacy scholarship has strongly recommended creative nonfiction and multicultural works as well as nontraditional texts such as comics/graphic novels and film, I stand firmly beside my colleagues Susan Ohanian and Stephen Krashen who have worked tirelessly [2] to protect the sanctity of rich textual experiences for children in classrooms dedicated to student and teacher autonomy—that is, voices raised against the CCSS virus.

First, let me offer the premise:

The Free Market America mantra "I built this" possibly best captures the naive faith the public and its leaders have for market forces in the U.S., along with the no less powerful disdain embraced for the public, the commons.

What is often absent from such a claim is that the so-called free market works on the foundation provided by the commons; the truth is that the slogan should be "I built this lie."

In education, two darlings of free market competition, Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and Teach for America (TFA), are promoted and celebrated as evidence that the public has failed where the entrepreneurial can succeed.

Sounds compelling, especially within the "I built this" mentality. But, wait, if you look and think carefully, KIPP and TFA exist on the foundations of the commons. [3] KIPP and the entire charter school movement (along with all school choice initiatives) exist because public education serves as their safety net, especially for marginalized students, the students lost in the charter school shuffle by attrition, parental choice, and gatekeeping/weeding out policies. TFA is a competitive alternative to traditional teacher certification, but TFA rakes in huge public subsidies and feasts on the charter school movement (see above).

"I built this" is a lie in the sense that it perpetuates the mythology that private trumps public, and that private flourishes without public—whereas the rightful tensions that exist between private and public are far more accurate explanations of when, why, and how either works.

Neither private nor public is a universal paradigm, but without maintaining the essential commons, the private would never succeed.

So for a little context, consider the following:


Percy Byssshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: [4]
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Or how about the wonderful allegory of privatizing the commons, RoboCop?

Or the ultimate examination of consumerism, Soylent Green? [5]

Ironically, I think I have just cobbled together a little required reading list for free market education reformers. What do you think?


[1] I also recognize I ended that sentence with a preposition.

[2] For a masterful use of the word "tirelessly," read Joyce Carol Oates' tour-de-force short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

[3] Thanks to @philipkovacs for this idea when he and I discussed TFA recently on Twitter.

[4] Insert Wendy Kopp, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, et al.

[5] Imagine retooling "Soylent Green is people!" as the consumption of "other people's children" by charter schools.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! I always learn something when I read your essays. Now I know about World War Z and RoboCop, good images for the fight we're waging.