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

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Where Comparisons Between the Movie "Lincoln" and Education Reform Go Haywire

I was at a meeting last evening where three panelists and a moderator had some things to say on the subject of "Is Education for Democracy At Risk?"  It was sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools in Boston and held at the Brookline Public Library.  With such a topic on the agenda, I was eager to see if there was any movement toward action in the "talk-and-compromise" groups that participated, which included FairTest, the Brookline teachers' union, SOS (remember them?), and the academic community, as represented by an academic from teacher education who is also a former State Board of Ed member.  The headliner was Deborah Meier.  It was advertised thusly:
Come listen and join in a discussion of democracy and the future of public education: What can we do to stop the privatization of our public schools and empower parents, teachers and our communities to ensure all our students have the opportunity to learn?
When the moderator is a member of MA's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, how far could this discussion go?  Not far, it proved.  There was, of course, the obligatory mention that is common at such events for the need to speak truth to power, as if power cared a whit about what any of us has to say.  I saw a couple of people shift in their seats--could it be a sign that they are interested in demanding change, rather than endless talk?  Would it be a sign there were others interested in nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience to reclaim our schools?

There was a brief presentation on the goings-on at SOS, the containment vessel for all those teachers threatening to actually erupt to do something to save themselves and their children from further test and punish abuse.  In case you want to know, SOS is electing a Board of Directors that will, I suppose, direct, something.  Perhaps another meeting to update the platform planks?

In her brief remarks, I heard Deborah Meier almost get the point of recommending some action, when she pulled up short to declare her hope that the truth we carry will prevail.  Really?  Because truth is morally preferable to a lie, should we really be hopeful that the oppressive power brokers who live by the lie will be impressed by the truth that they scuttled in order to put in place the test-and-punish system they call accountability?

I heard about the new use for the term "collaboration."  Seems that it is code for recruiting teachers to be peer evaluators so that the responsibility of firing the low scoring teachers will be on the backs of their colleagues.  Thus, teachers become divided and the liability for the system become dispersed when these insane and immoral actions end up in the courts of law.

I heard a good deal about how the new Hollywood blockbuster, Lincoln, should inspire all of us to compromise as Lincoln did.  Having seen the movie the day before, I had a slightly different take.  Yes, Lincoln compromised, hemmed and hawed, and almost lied for the larger cause of getting a constitutional amendment to end slavery.  But it bears remembering that the Civil War was fought to preserve the Union and to stop slavery, and it was not fought with a list of platform planks or talking points or wishful thoughts.

When will it be time, then, dear colleagues, for unions and protest groups and intellectuals and community orgs and teacher educators to fight, to declare war to stop the spread of high-stakes testing and the abuses that go with it?  When will we stop compromising and wishing for truth to prevail, rather than waging war to restore the possibility of democracy in our schools and communities?  When will we stop pretending that more compromise will lead anywhere except deeper into the corrupt and anti-democratic assessment and evaluation system that our teachers and children now suffer under daily?

If there is a lesson to be learned from Lincoln in your further deliberations on how much test scores should weigh on the backs of our teachers and student, it is this: slavery was not acceptable in 50% of the states, nor 35%, nor 25%, or even 10%.  Slavery was unacceptable, period.  The moral high ground is not won by declaration--it is won through sacrifice.


  1. I was happy to see you the other night at this CPS event in Brookline. I do so was hoping that you would had shared your insights and views on your position as to how you propose this monstrous attacks on our public schools be confronted, instead, your comments in the form of Monday morning quarterbacking from the comfort of your home is not what I was hoping to read. This war on our precious children requires so much, and I find it disconcerting how some elements choose to engage in actions that belittle the work I am doing without offering any alternatives of their own. I wish that you had shared this analysis at the session during the conversation period. SOS is not just directing it's "Planks"', your might want to consider joining the campaign to help the schools that were affected by hurricane Sandy, and lots of other causes many of us are engaged daily.

  2. Dear Ruth, It is not my intention to belittle any effort to end the "war on our precious children" and our teachers, too. The sad truth is that after a very successful first effort to confront the people running the war on our children and teachers, SOS was hijacked by the same people who are now cutting deals to spread the rotten Common Core and the poisonous teacher eval schemes that drive stakes into the heart of the teacher-student relationship by turning kids into assets or liabilities.

    My alternative, if you haven't noticed already: Engage any non-violent strategy or tactic that is required to eradicate high stakes testing from our schools. Once we do that, there are many things on my agenda, but none is possible until that happens.

    In regards to my commenting from the comfort of my home, I stood during most the Q&A, with my hand up when responders finished, but the moderator, who is engaged in perpetuating the corrupt and immoral system that I am railing about (when she is not pretending to do otherwise), chose to pick questioners who were more friendly to her compromise and appease strategy--and more friendly, too, to the State's support of corporate welfare charter schools. So I tried to ask the very question that I asked on my blog. Sorry I did not get a chance that evening.

    Re your work in support of Staten Island schools, post-Sandy, I always applaud good charity work, and I will happy to send you a check if you will tell me where to send it.