. . .a pupil attitude factor, which appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the “school” factors together, is the extent to which an individual feels that he has some control over his own destiny. James Coleman, 1966
Sunday, December 30, 2012
“Charter School Performance in New Jersey,” includes a repudiation of everything that the Hoover Institute has advocated. It compares outcomes for 77% of their study's charter school students with those of their peers in traditional public schools (TPS). It finds that in four of the five major cities with the most charters (Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, and Paterson) that charter students learn significantly less than their (TPS) peers in reading, and there are no differences in learning gains in math. CREDO’s charter school advocates acknowledge that, “much of the motivation for developing charter schools aims at improving education outcomes for students in poverty," as they report that low income charter students received no significant benefits in reading.
Obviously, the above paragraph cherry-picks the study’s findings. But, is it less objective than Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s claim that the study was a “rigorous, independent analysis” and “the results are clear – on the whole, New Jersey charter school students make larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers?"
CREDO candidly reports that New Jersey charters serve less than 2/3rds as many special education students. Even more worrisome is the chart which showed that their charters serve no IEP students with the most severe and multiple disabilities. Moreover, these choice supporters admit that their methodology may understate the ineffectiveness of charters. It disproportionately excludes grade repeaters who are more likely to be classified as English Language Learners and/or special education students. In perhaps the most telling statistic on the extent of charters “creaming” the easier-to-educate students, New Jersey has 22,981 charter students but the CREDO database of includes only 60 grade-repeating charter students who could be matched in reading.
Again, the above paragraph is informed by a point of view. But, is it more biased than the CREDO conclusion that “it is not possible to discern the underlying causes for the differences in these figures (on ELL and IEP students’ disparities)?” Can anyone believe that CREDO does not know why charters serve smaller numbers of the hard-to-educate students?
Seriously, we've had enough spin! As Bruce Baker concludes in his analysis of the paper, "there are some strategies by some charters (as well as some strategies empowered by some district schools) that are working well," but "THE CREDO REPORT PROVIDES ABSOLUTELY NO INSIGHTS IN THIS REGARD." And that brings us back to the difference between the CREDO study and the way it is mischaracterized by its sponsors. As Julia Sass Rubin asks, "how can an institution that claims to be academically objective put out a press release that is so misleading about the study’s findings?"
Even if CREDO simply intends to produce social science-influenced papers, they should remember why they first tackled the issue of school reform. Even if they are successful in using their briefs to defeat educators who hold different beliefs, what will they have accomplished? What is the point of brass knuckle politics to expand charters if they they don't perform any better than the results that CREDO scattered throughout its study?
Saturday, December 29, 2012
"There is no evidence that standards and tests improve school achievement. The money budgeted for standards and tests to enforce the standards should be used to protect children from the effects of poverty." — Professor Stephen Krashen
The following is my edited commentary in response to comments by a CCSS supporter on the Professor Ravitch post: A Teacher of Latin Writes In Defense of Fiction.
Kaye Thompson Peters, I've grown weary of the trite "apple and oranges" device that you employ everywhere in your stalwart defense of Corporate Core. You even used it in a gushing apology for Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on Hoover's fringe-right EdNext. While you might not be uncomfortable that Pearson Education, Inc. has been promoting your writings on CCSS, it does cause some of us consternation. When discussing CCSS in relation to NCLB and RTTT, we're not conflating apples and oranges, we're discussing a bushel of rotten apples foisted on us by a bunch of billionaires suffering from the Shoe Button Complex.
To be sure, the revenue minded corporate overlords who coined Corporate Core have never considered high-stakes standardized testing a separate issue from their imposition of CCSS. They are one in the same and they serve the same set of goals in the neoliberal project of privatizing public schools. The Gates Foundation and the Duncan led Department of Education (my apologies for that redundancy) have been quite effective in convincing surrogates (some even in the AFT and NEA, sadly) to crow that they aren't inextricably linked. Such propaganda is so transparent that astute people see right through it. Ms. Peters, CCSS isn't a solution to, but instead it is a deliberate doubling down of, the vile policies of NCLB and RTTT.
Privatizer Dr. Catherine Thome's explanation for the impetus of Corporate Core tells us all we need to know about who stands to gain from CCSS:
"All students must be prepared to compete with not only their American peers in the next state, but with students around the world."
David Coleman's contempt for literature in English classes (at least for working class children) reflects both his corporate pedigree and that of his plutocrat handlers. It is no "red herring" to point out this glaring fault of CCSS, but I do agree with Mr. Heller that there are other fundamental flaws to this nationally imposed corporate curriculum. We need far more "Grapes of Wrath" and far less "FedViews" in this society. Sandra Stotsky does an excellent job taking on Coleman's corporate aims in her piece reproduced on the Parents Across America site.
Ultimately we must resist CCSS. Susan Ohanian, Professor Stephen Krashen, and the Schools Matter camp are leading the way on this. My recent short on Schools Matter has some great resource links for fighting CCSS.
Friday, December 28, 2012
"... the revolution in business ... will, over time, take place in education, too. We will move away from a system that assumes every child of a particular age moves at the same pace in every subject, and develop a system directed to the particular talents and interests of every pupil."
(a) John Dewey
(b) Susan Ohanian
(c) Tony Blair
(d) Robert Reich
The answer is (c), Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK, 1997-2007. According to Roland Meighan (http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=305041), it was quoted by Michael Barber in the Guardian, January 30, 1996.
Here is more:
“Education is about more than exams. We are right to be concerned about how our children seem to be falling behind. But we are also right to insist that education is about something more … education is about opening minds not just to knowledge but to insight, beauty, inspiration. Schools and colleges which are good academically are often also dedicated to helping every student develop as an individual. They create a community of learning that is about personal growth as well as personal achievement.” (Tony Blair, Speech given at Ruskin College, Oxford
December 16th 1996. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/000000084.htm)
Thursday, December 27, 2012
The debate over fiction vs. non-fiction in the Common Core is diverting us from a more important question: should we have common core standards?
The rational for the standards is the belief that our schools are “broken.” There is no evidence this is true: Middle class American students who attend well-funded schools score at the top of the world on international tests. Our unspectacular scores are because US has such a high percentage of child poverty, 23.1%, the second-highest percentage among 34 economically advanced countries. High-scoring Finland has less than 5.3% child poverty.
Poverty means poor diet, poor health care, and little access to books; all have a devastating effect on school performance.
There is no evidence that standards and tests improve school achievement. The money budgeted for standards and tests to enforce the standards should be used to protect children from the effects of poverty.
University of Southern California
Re LA Times editorial: “What students read,” Dec. 27, 2012: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-1227-fiction-20121227,0,5254333.story
Levels of child poverty: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
Impact of poverty:
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13;
Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report;
Berliner, D. 2011. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., and Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers.
Neuman, S.B. and Celano, D. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities: An ecological study of four neighborhoods. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 1, 8-26.
Impact of standards and tests:
Loveless, T. 2011. How well are American students learning? The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education. The Brown Foundation: Houston.
Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v14n1/.
OECD 2011. Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264096660-en
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog (http://dianeravitch.net), December 20, 2012, commented about the amount of detail in the standards:
“ (The excessive) amount of detail reduces flexibility, ownership, and increases dependency on publishers and corporation produced curriculum and assessment. It leaves little room for education; to draw out and support the development of student’s unique talents. It leaves little time for teachers to realistically prepare thoughtful curriculum or accomodate developmental differences. Instead it promotes a highly prescribed training of children.”
Agreed. What this excessive detail also does is
(1) dictate the order of presentation of aspects of literacy
(2) encourage a direct teaching, skill-building approach to teaching.
Both of these consequences run counter to a massive amount of research and experience.
There is very good evidence from both first and second language acquisition that aspects of language and literacy are naturally acquired in a specific order that cannot be altered by instruction (e.g. C. Chomsky, 1969, The Acquisition of Syntax in Children from 5 to 10. Cambridge: MIT Press; Krashen, S. 1981, Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning, Pergamon Press, available at www.sdkrashen.com).
There is also very good evidence that we acquire language and literacy best not through direct instruction but via “comprehensible input” – for literacy, this means reading, especially reading that the reader finds truly interesting, or “compelling.” (e.g. Krashen, S. 2010.The Goodman/Smith Hypothesis, the Input Hypothesis, the Comprehension Hypothesis, and the (Even Stronger) Case for Free Voluntary Reading. In: Defying Convention, Inventing the Future in Literacy Research and Practice: Essays in Tribute to Ken and Yetta Goodman. P. Anders (Ed.) New York: Routledge. 2010. pp. 46-60. Available at www.sdkrashen.com)
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
"When you go to doctors, they don’t take all your blood, they only take a sample." — Professor Stephen Krashen
Professor Diane Ravitch had a brief comment entitled The True Goals of Education? this morning where a reader suggested a sort of whole child approach based on virtues as opposed to tedious test preparation. That in itself wouldn't merit much attention, but oddly one of the readers posted a comment suggesting that those self-same virtues were the stated intent of Common Core State Standards. The following was my response to that assertion:
For the plutocrat sponsors* of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to suggest that it has any goals beyond imbuing corporate servitude, compliance, petty jingoism, and acceptance of austerity is nothing short of pernicious propaganda.
Certainly David Coleman and Co. coined their "four C's" well after the fact, and clearly this was in response to to cogent criticisms by actual educators including Susan Ohanian, Professor Stephen Krashen, and others.
- Common Core State [sic] Standards
- Stephen Krashen brings Common Core debate to pages of the Sunday New York Times in time for the testing debate at the AFT convention
- High Tech Testing on the Way: a 21st Century Boondoggle?
Everything in Corporate Core Curriculum is designed to discourage critical thinking skills, and this is why CCSS won't be required outside of public schools (eg. charters, parochial, and private schools). There definitely won't be any canned corporate curricula sponsored by the Gates Foundation inflicted on the children of privilege at schools like Sidwell Friends.
Like its fellow malignant projects "No Child Left Behind" and "Race to the Top," CCSS has goals directly aligned to neoliberalism:
- Cause the appearance that the public school school system is broken, and that market solutions (charters/vouchers) would fare better.
- Control the curriculum and combat any chance that "dangerous" curricula that might cause people to resist neoliberalism or question corporate dominance is taught.
- Further sort students by race and class, and further subject them to endless mind numbing test preparation. Ultimately discouraging any critical thinking skills in any class outside those running society.
- Serve as the perfect excuse for union busting and the total deprofessionalization of teaching. Ultimately leading to low cost, but highly profitable delivery of necessary information (informational texts anyone?) to those not deemed as needing critical thinking. Real teaching will continue to exist in the hallowed halls of elite private schools for scion of the ruling class.
- Obscene profits for charlatans like Pearson, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Gideon Stein, and everyone else associated with the diverse markets connected to school privatization, real estate, and the standardized-testing-industrial-complex.
We must resist Corporate Core by every means posible. Paris 1968 is a good model for us to follow. If we don't, we may as well begin writing our eulogies for public education today.
* I'm not saying Mr. Mindlin is working for one of them. He did, after all, say the so-called "four C's" were "allegedly" at the heart of CCSS.
Monday, December 24, 2012
A list of technological requirements (minimum and optimal) to implement common core. No mention of how much it will cost. But it will clearly cost a lot. And we are told that this is “an ongoing process” – in other words, the boondoggle will continue forever. Not an experiment done with a modest sample to see if it will work, but imposed on nearly the entire country.
Please see our article written nearly a year ago, discussing this:
High Tech Testing on the Way: a 21st Century Boondoggle?
Stephen Krashen and Susan Ohanian http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in- dialogue/2011/04/high_tech_testing_on_the_way_a.html
Sunday, December 23, 2012
A Life of Indentured Servitude for a Chance at a College Diploma: When the American Dream Goes Nightmare
Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans who earned bachelor’s degrees, according to Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski of the University of Michigan. Now the gap is 45 points.While both groups improved their odds of finishing college, the affluent improved much more, widening their sizable lead.Likely reasons include soaring incomes at the top and changes in family structure, which have left fewer low-income students with the support of two-parent homes. Neighborhoods have grown more segregated by class, leaving lower-income students increasingly concentrated in lower-quality schools. . . .
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Posted: Friday, Dec. 21, 2012By Ann Doss Helms
The barrage of new state tests being rolled out this year is “an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars” that won’t help kids, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison said Thursday.
He joins a band of superintendents across the country fighting the push to use student testing to rate teachers and schools. Earlier this month, the superintendent in Montgomery County, Md., called for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing and an end to “the insanity” of evaluating teachers on test scores, according to The Washington Post.
Morrison said he’s working with Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr, as well as a network of district leaders inside and outside North Carolina, to try to counteract the national testing craze.
“I am very troubled by the amount of testing we are being asked to do,” Morrison told The Charlotte Observer editorial board. “We can teach our way to the top, but we cannot test our way to the top. We’re getting ready in the state of North Carolina to put out 177 new exams.”
Those tests will take too much time from teaching, won’t be effective for improving student or teacher performance, and will soon be replaced by new exams tied to national Common Core standards, Morrison said.
It’s a sharp change of direction for the leader of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Just two years ago, then-Superintendent Peter Gorman spent county money to create dozens of new exams to be used for teacher ratings, only to have them scrapped after he resigned in 2011.
Morrison took office in July and has been meeting with citizens and teachers, including some who opposed Gorman’s testing program. In recent weeks, Morrison has raised questions about the new state tests, but has mostly focused on the problems created by unknown new tests and delayed scores for students.
In a wide-ranging discussion with the Observer’s editorial staff and a reporter, he was emphatic about his opposition to the current plan.
“Why are we in a rush to do all of this testing, then use it for accountability for schools and use it for accountability for teachers?” he said.
Starr got national attention for his testing remarks at a Washington Post Live education panel earlier this month. According to a Post education blog, Starr said national education leaders are trying to do too much too fast, and concluded “We need a three-year moratorium on all standardized tests.”
Morrison said he’s part of a consortium with Starr in suburban D.C., along with leaders of districts in Fairfax County, Va., and Gwinett and Fulton counties in suburban Atlanta. He said he and other North Carolina superintendents have met with state Superintendent June Atkinson to raise their concerns that the new exams will do more harm than good.
Morrison said CMS has little power to stop the testing on its own. North Carolina has received a $400 million federal Race to the Top grant that includes the use of testing for teacher evaluations, he said, and “we couldn’t decide to pull out – there would be some pretty intense consequences for that.”
Morrison said he supports valid tests that measure how well students have mastered material and how well teachers have presented it, but he said the state needs more time to develop tests that deserve public confidence. He also called for more emphasis on improving teacher quality, rather than identifying those with low test-score ratings.
“We’re in this idea that we’re going to find all these bad teachers and we’re going to test them and we’re going to get them out of the field,” he said. “Well, where is the quality influx to get into the field?
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/12/21/3739031/morrison-177-state-tests-waste.html#storylink=cpyIn 2013, Morrison and the school board will refine a long-term plan for CMS. Morrison has created 22 task forces to study key issues, including one on an accountability system, which could include how to move ahead with testing and ratings.
The War Against Teachers
If the US is to cease its slide into a violent, anti-democratic state, we must rethink the relationship between education and democracy, and the very nature of teaching.
The tragic deaths of 26 people shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., included 20 young children and six educators. Many more children might have been killed or injured had it not been for the brave and decisive actions of the teachers in the school. The mainstream media was quick to call them heroes, and there is little doubt that what they did under horrific circumstances reveals not only how important educators are in shielding children from imminent threat, but also how demanding their roles have become in preparing them to negotiate a world that is becoming more precarious, more dangerous - and infinitely more divisive. Teachers are one of the most important resources a nation has for providing the skills, values and knowledge that prepare young people for productive citizenship - but more than this, to give sanctuary to their dreams and aspirations for a future of hope, dignity and justice. It is indeed ironic, in the unfolding nightmare in Newtown, that only in the midst of such a shocking tragedy are teachers celebrated in ways that justly acknowledge - albeit briefly and inadequately - the vital role they play every day in both protecting and educating our children. What is repressed in these jarring historical moments is that teachers have been under vicious and sustained attack by right-wing conservatives, religious fundamentalists, and centrist democrats since the beginning of the 1980s. Depicted as the new "welfare queens," their labor and their care has been instrumentalized andinfantilized ;  they have been fired en masse under calls for austerity; they have seen rollbacks in their pensions, and have been derided because they teach in so-called "government schools." Public school teachers too readily and far too pervasively have been relegated to zones of humiliation and denigration. The importance of what teachers actually do, the crucial and highly differentiated nature of the work they perform and their value as guardians, role models and trustees only appears in the midst of such a tragic event. If the United States is to prevent its slide into a deeply violent and anti-democratic state, it will, among other things, be required fundamentally to rethink not merely the relationship between education and democracy, but also the very nature of teaching, the role of teachers as engaged citizens and public intellectuals and the relationship between teaching and social responsibility. This essay makes one small contribution to that effort.
The War Against Public School Teachers
Right-wing fundamentalists and corporate ideologues are not just waging a war against the rights of unions, workers, students, women, the disabled, low-income groups and poor minorities, but also against those public spheres that provide a vocabulary for connecting values, desires, identities, social relations and institutions to the discourse of social responsibility, ethics, and democracy, if not thinking itself. Neoliberalism, or unbridled free-market fundamentalism, employs modes of governance, discipline and regulation that are totalizing in their insistence that all aspects of social life be determined, shaped and weighted through market-driven measures.  Neoliberalism is not merely an economic doctrine that prioritizes buying and selling, makes the supermarket and mall the temples of public life and defines the obligations of citizenship in strictly consumerist terms. It is also a mode of pedagogy and set of social arrangements that uses education to win consent, produce consumer-based notions of agency and militarize reason in the service of war, profits, power and violence while simultaneously instrumentalizing all forms of knowledge.
The increasing militarization of reason and growing expansion of forms of militarized discipline are most visible in policies currently promoted by wealthy conservative foundations such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute along with the high-profile presence and advocacy of corporate reform spokespersons such as Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee andbillionaire financers  such as Michael Milken.  As Ken Saltman, Diane Ravitch, Alex Means and others have pointed out, wealthy billionaires such as Bill Gates are financing educational reforms that promote privatization, de-professionalization, online classes, and high-stakes testing, while at the same time impugning the character and autonomy of teachers and the unions that support them.  Consequently, public school teachers have become the new class of government-dependent moochers and the disparaged culture of Wall Street has emerged as the only model or resource from which to develop theories of educational leadership and reform.  The same people who gave us the economic recession of 2008, lost billions in corrupt trading practices, and sold fraudulent mortgages to millions of homeowners have ironically become sources of wisdom and insight regarding how young people should be educated.
Attesting to the fact that political culture has become an adjunct of the culture of finance, politicians at the state and federal levels, irrespective of their political affiliation, advocate reforms that amount to selling off or giving away public schools to the apostles of casino capitalism.  More importantly, the hysterical fury now being waged by the new educational reformists against public education exhibits no interest in modes of education that invest in an "educated public for the culture of the present and future."  On the contrary, their relevance and power can be measured by the speed with which any notion of civic responsibilities is evaded.
What these individuals and institutions all share is an utter disregard for public values, critical thinking and any notion of education as a moral andpolitical practice .  The wealthy hedge fund managers, think tank operatives and increasingly corrupt corporate CEOs are panicked by the possibility that teachers and public schools might provide the conditions for the cultivation of an informed and critical citizenry capable of actively and critically participating in the governance of a democratic society. In the name of educational reform, reason is gutted of its critical potential and reduced to a deadening pedagogy of memorization, teaching to the test and classroom practices that celebrate mindless repetition and conformity. Rather than embraced as central to what it means to be an engaged and thoughtful citizen, the capacity for critical thinking, imagining and reflection are derided as crucial pedagogical values necessary for "both the health of democracy and to the creation of a decent world culture and a robust type of global citizenship." 
This is clear by virtue of the fact that testing and punishing have become the two most influential forces that now shape American public education. As Stanley Aronowitz points out,
Numerous studies have shown the tendency of public schooling to dumb down the curriculum and impose punitive testing algorithms on teachers and students alike. Whether intended or not, we live in an era when the traditional concepts of liberal education and popular critical thinking are under assault. Neo-liberals of the center, no less than those of the right, are equally committed to the reduction of education to a mean-spirited regime of keeping its subjects’ noses to the grindstone. As the post-war "prosperity," which offered limited opportunities to some from the lower orders to gain a measure of mobility fades into memory, the chief function of schools is repression. Instead of talking about the relationship between schools and democracy, the new educational reformers call for the disinvestment in public schools, the militarization of school culture, the commodification of knowledge and the privatizing of both the learning process and the spaces in which it takes place. The crusade for privatizing is now advanced with a vengeance by the corporate elite, a crusade designed to place the control of public schools and other public spheres in the alleged reliable hands of the apostles ofcasino capitalism.  Budgets are now balanced on the backs of teachers and students while the wealthy get tax reductions and the promise of gentrification andprivate schools .  In the name of austerity, schools are defunded so as to fail and provide an excuse to be turned over to the privatizing advocates of free-market fundamentalism. In this discourse, free-market reform refuses to imagine public education as the provision of the public good and social right and reduces education to meet the immediate needs of the economy.
For those schools and students that are considered excess, the assault on reason is matched by the enactment of a militaristic culture of security, policing and containment, particularly in urban schools.  Low-income and poor minority students now attend schools that have more security guards than teachers and are educated to believe that there is no distinction between prison culture and the culture of schooling.  The underlying theme that connects the current attack on reason and the militarizing of social relations is that education is both a Petri dish for producing individuals who are wedded to the logic of the market and consumerism and a sorting machine for ushering largely poor black and brown youth into the criminal justice system. There is no language among these various political positions for defending public schools as a vital social institution and public good. Public education, in this view, no longer benefits the entire society but only individuals and, rather than being defined as a public good, is redefined as a private right.
Within this atomistic, highly individualizing script, shared struggles and bonds of solidarity are viewed as either dangerous or pathological. Power relations disappear and there is no room for understanding how corporate power and civic values rub up against each other in ways that are detrimental to the promise of a robust democracy and an emancipatory mode of schooling. In fact, in this discourse, corporate power is used to undermine any vestige of the civic good and cover up the detrimental influence of its anti-democratic pressures. It gets worse. A pedagogy of management and conformity does more than simply repress the analytical skills and knowledge necessary for students to learn the practice of freedom and assume the role of critical agents, it also reinforces deeply authoritarian lessons while reproducing deep inequities in the educational opportunities that different students acquire. As Sara Robinson points out,
In the conservative model, critical thinking is horrifically dangerous, because it teaches kids to reject the assessment of external authorities in favor of their own judgment - a habit of mind that invites opposition and rebellion. This is why, for much of Western history, critical thinking skills have only been taught to the elite students - the ones headed for the professions, who will be entrusted with managing society on behalf of the aristocracy. (The aristocrats, of course, are sending their kids to private schools, where they will receive a classical education that teaches them everything they'll need to know to remain in charge.) Our public schools, unfortunately, have replicated a class stratification on this front that's been in place since the Renaissance. As powerful as this utterly reactionary and right-wing educational reform movement might be, educators are far from willingly accepting the role of deskilled technicians groomed to service the needs of finance capital and produce students who are happy consumers and unquestioning future workers. Public school teachers have mobilized in Wisconsin and a number of other states where public schools, educators and other public servants are under attack. They have been collectively energized in pushing back the corporate and religious fundamentalist visions of public education, and they are slowly mobilizing into a larger social movement to defend both their role as engaged intellectuals and schooling as a public good. In refusing to be fit for domestication, many teachers are committed to fulfilling the civic purpose of public education through a new understanding of the relationship between democracy and schooling, learning and social change. In the interest of expanding this struggle, educators need a new vocabulary for not only defining schools as democratic public spheres, students as informed and critically engaged citizens, but also teachers as public intellectuals. In what follows, I want to focus on this issue as one important register of individual and collective struggle for teachers. At stake here is the presupposition that a critical consciousness is not only necessary for producing good teachers, but also enables individual teachers to see their classroom struggles as part of a much broader social, political and economic landscape.
Unlike many past educational reform movements, the present call for educational change presents both a threat and a challenge to public school teachers that appear unprecedented. The threat comes in the form of a series of educational reforms that display little confidence in the ability of public school teachers to provide intellectual and moral leadership for our youth. For instance, many recommendations that have emerged in the current debate across the world either ignore the role teachers play in preparing learners to be active and critical citizens or they suggest reforms that ignore the intelligence, judgment and experience that teachers might offer in such a debate. At the same time, the current conservative reform movement aggressively disinvests in public schooling so as to eliminate the literal spaces and resources necessary for schools to work successfully.
Where teachers do enter the debate, they are objects of educational reforms that reduce them to the status of high-level technicians carrying out dictates and objectives decided by experts far removed from the everyday realities of classroom life. Or they are reduced to the status of commercial salespersons selling knowledge, skills and values that have less to do with education than with training students for low-wage jobs in a global marketplace. Or, even worse, they are reduced to security officers employed largely to discipline, contain, and all too often, turnstudents  who commit infractions over to the police and thecriminal justice system .  Not only do students not count in this mode of schooling, teachers are also stripped of their dignity and capacities when it comes to critically examining the nature and process of educational reform.
While the political and ideological climate does not look favorable for the teachers at the moment, it does offer them the challenge to join a public debate with their critics, as well as the opportunity to engage in a much needed self-critique regarding the nature and purpose of schooling, classroom teaching and the relationship between education and social change. Similarly, the debate provides teachers with the opportunity to organize collectively to improve the conditions under which they work and to demonstrate to the public the central role that teachers must play in any viable attempt to reform the public schools.
In order for teachers and others to engage in such a debate, it is necessary that theoretical perspectives be developed that redefine the nature of the current educational crisis while simultaneously providing the basis for an alternative view of teacher work. In short, this means recognizing that the current crisis in education cannot be separated from the rise and pernicious influence of neoliberal capitalism and market driven power relations, both of which work in the interest of disempowering teachers, dismantling teacher unions, and privatizing public schools. At the very least, such recognition will have to come to grips with a growing loss of power among teachers around the basic conditions of their work, but also with a changing public perception of their role as reflective practitioners.
I want to make a small theoretical contribution to this debate and the challenge it calls forth by examining two major problems that need to be addressed in the interest of improving the quality of "teacher work," which includes all the clerical tasks and extra assignments as well as classroom instruction. First, I think it is imperative to examine the ideological and material forces that have contributed to what I want to call the deskilling and commodification of teacher work; that is, the tendency to reduce teachers to the status of specialized technicians within the school bureaucracy, whose function then becomes one of the managing and implementing curricular programs rather than developing or critically appropriating curricula to fit specific pedagogical concerns and the particular needs of students. Second, there is a need to defend schools as institutions essential to maintaining and developing a critical democracy and also to defending teachers as public intellectuals who combine scholarly reflection and practice in the service of educating students to be thoughtful, active citizens.
Devaluing and Deskilling Teacher Work
One of the major threats facing prospective and existing teachers within the public schools is the increasing development of instrumental and corporate ideologies that emphasize a technocratic approach to both teacher preparation and classroom pedagogy. At the core of the current emphasis on the instrumental and pragmatic factors in school life are a number of important pedagogical assumptions. These include: a call for the separation of conception from execution; the standardization of school knowledge in the interest of managing and controlling it, the increased call for standardized testing, and the devaluation of critical, intellectual work on the part of teachers and students for the primacy of practical considerations. In this view, teaching is reduced to training and concepts are substituted by methods. Teaching in this view is reduced to a set of strategies and skills and becomes synonymous with a method or technique. Instead of learning to raise questions about the principles underlying different classroom methods, research techniques and theories of education, teachers are often preoccupied with learning the "how to," with what works or with mastering the best way to teach a given body of knowledge.
What is ignored in this retrograde view is any understanding of pedagogy as a moral and political practice that functions as a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge, values and identities are produced with particular sets of classroom social relations. What is purposely derided in conservative notions of teaching and learning is a view of pedagogy, which in the most critical sense, illuminates the relationship among knowledge, authority and power and draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge. Pedagogy in this sense addresses and connects ethics, politics, power and knowledge within practices that allow for generating multiple solidarities, narratives and vocabularies as part of a broader democratic project. As Chandra Mohanty insists, pedagogy is not only about the act of knowing, but also about how knowledge is related to the power of self-definition, understanding one’s relationship to others and one’s understanding and connection to the larger world.  In the end, pedagogy is not, as many conservatives argue, about immersing young people in predefined and isolated bits of information, but about the issue of agency and how it can be developed in the interest of deepening and expanding the meaning and purpose of democratization and the formative cultures that make it possible.
Technocratic and instrumental rationalities are also at work within the teaching field itself, and they play an increasing role in reducing teacher autonomy with respect to the development and planning of curricula and the judging and implementation of classroom instruction. In the past, this took the form of what has been called "teacher-proof" curriculum packages. The underlying rationale in many of these packages viewed teacher work as simply the carrying out of predetermined content and instructional procedures. The method and aim of such packages was to legitimate what might be called "market-driven management pedagogies." That knowledge is broken down into discrete parts, standardized for easier management and consumption and measured through predefined forms of assessment. Curricula approaches of this sort are management pedagogies because the central questions regarding teaching and learning are reduced to the problems of management, regulation and control. While such curricula are far from absent in many schools, they have been replaced by modes of classroom instruction geared to a pedagogy of repression defined through the rubric of accountability. This approach works to discipline both the body and mind in the interest of training students to perform well in high-stakes testing schemes. It defines quality teaching through reductive mathematical models. 
Pedagogy as an intellectual, moral and political practice is now based on "measurements of value derived frommarket competition ." Mathematical utility has now replaced critical dialogue, debate, risk-taking, the power of imaginative leaps and learning for the sake of learning. A crude instrumental rationality now governs the form and content of curricula, and where content has the potential to open up the possibility of critical thinking, it is quickly shut down. This is a pedagogy that has led to the abandonment of democratic impulses, analytic thinking, and social responsibility. It is also a pedagogy that infantilizes both teachers and students. For instance, the Texas GOP built into its platform the banning ofcritical thinking .  Not too long ago, the Florida legislature passed a law claiming that history had to be taught simply as a ledger of facts, banning any attempt at what can loosely be called interpretation.
The soft underlying theoretical assumption that guides this type of pedagogy is that the behavior of teachers needs to be controlled and made consistent and predictable across different schools and student populations. The more hidden and hard assumption at work here is that teachers cannot be intellectuals, cannot think imaginatively and cannot engage in forms of pedagogy that might enable students to think differently, critically or more imaginatively. The deskilling of teachers, the reduction of reason to a form of instrumental rationality, and the disinvestment in education as a public good is also evident on a global level in policies produced by the World Bank that impose on countries forms of privatization and standardized curricula that undermine the potential for critical inquiry and engaged citizenship. Learning in this instance is depoliticized, prioritized as a method and often reduced to teaching low-level skills, disciplinary-imposed behaviors and corporate values. Neoliberal disciplinary measures now function to limit students to the private orbits in which they experience their lives while restricting the power of teachers to teach students to think rationally, judge wisely and be able to connect private troubles to broader public considerations.
Public schools have become an object of disdain, and teachers labor under educational reforms that separate conception from execution, theory from practice, and pedagogy from moral and social considerations. As content is devalued, history erased and the economic, racial and social inequities intensified, public schools increasingly are hijacked by corporate and religious fundamentalists. The effect is not only to deskill teachers, to remove them from the processes of deliberation and reflection, but also to routinize the nature of learning and classroom pedagogy. Needless to say, the principles underlying corporate pedagogies are at odds with the premise that teachers should be actively involved in producing curricula materials suited to the cultural and social contexts in which they teach.
More specifically, the narrowing of curricula choices to a back-to-basics format and the introduction of lock-step, time-on-task pedagogies operate from the theoretically erroneous assumption that all students can learn from the same materials, classroom instructional techniques and modes of evaluation. The notion that students come from different histories and embody different experiences, linguistic practices, cultures and talents is strategically ignored within the logic and accountability of management pedagogy theory. At the same time, the school increasingly is modeled as a factory, prison or both. Curiosity is replaced by monotony, and learning withers under the weight of dead time.
Teachers as Public Intellectuals
In what follows, I want to argue that one way to rethink and restructure the nature of teacher work is to view teachers as public intellectuals. The category of intellectual is helpful in a number of ways. First, it provides a theoretical basis for examining teacher work as a form of intellectual labor, as opposed to defining it in purely instrumental or technical terms. Second, it clarifies the kinds of ideological and practical conditions necessary for teachers to function as intellectuals. Third, it helps to make clear the role teachers play in producing and legitimating various political, economic and social interests through the pedagogies they endorse and utilize.
By viewing teachers as public intellectuals, we can illuminate the important idea that all human activity involves some form of thinking. No activity, regardless of how routinized it might become, can be abstracted from the functioning of the mind in some capacity. This is a crucial issue, because by arguing that the use of the mind is a general part of all human activity we dignify the human capacity for integrating thinking and practice, and in doing so highlight the core of what it means to view teachers as reflective practitioners. Within this discourse, teachers can be seen not merely as "performers professionally equipped to realize effectively any goals that may be set for them. Rather [they should] be viewed as free men and women with a special dedication to the values of the intellect and the enhancement of the critical powers of the young." 
Viewing teachers as public intellectuals also provides a strong theoretical critique of technocratic and instrumental ideologies underlying educational theories that separate the conceptualization, planning and design of curricula from the processes of implementation and execution. It is important to stress that teachers must take active responsibility for raising serious questions about what they teach, how they are to teach and what the larger goals are for which they are striving. This means that they must take a responsible role in shaping the purposes and conditions of schooling. Such a task is impossible within a division of labor in which teachers have little influence over the conceptual and economic conditions of their work. This point has a normative and political dimension that seems especially relevant for teachers. If we believe that the role of teaching cannot be reduced to merely training in the practical skills, but involves, instead, the education of a class of engaged and public intellectuals vital to the development of a free society, then the category of intellectual becomes a way of linking the purpose of teacher education, public schooling and in-service training to the principles necessary for developing a democratic order and society. Recognizing teachers as engaged and public intellectuals means that educators should never be reduced to technicians, just as education should never be reduced to training. Instead, pedagogy should be rooted in the practice of freedom - in those ethical and political formations that expand democratic underpinnings and principles of both the self and the broader social order.
I have argued that by viewing teachers as intellectuals we can begin to rethink and reform the traditions and conditions that have prevented teachers from assuming their full potential as active, reflective scholars and practitioners. I believe that it is important not only to view teachers as public intellectuals, but also to contextualize in political and normative terms the concrete social functions that teachers have both to their work and to the dominant society.
A starting point for interrogating the social function of teachers as public intellectuals is to view schools as economic, cultural and social sites that are inextricably tied to the issues of politics, power and control. This means that schools do more than pass on in an objective fashion a common set of values and knowledge. On the contrary, schools are places that represent forms of knowledge, language practices, social relations and values that are particular selections and exclusions from the wider culture. As such, schools serve to introduce and legitimate particular forms of social life. Rather than being objective institutions removed from the dynamics of politics and power, schools actually are contested spheres that embody and express struggles over what forms of authority, types of knowledge, forms of moral regulation and versions of the past and future should be legitimated and transmitted to students.
Schools are always political because they both produce particular kinds of agents, desires and social relations and they legitimate particular notions of the past, present and future. The struggle is most visible in the demands, for example, of right-wing religious groups currently trying to inject creationism in the schools, institute school prayer, remove certain books from school libraries and include certain forms of religious teachings in the curricula. Of course, different demands are made by feminists, ecologists, minorities, and other interest groups who believe that the schools should teach women's studies, courses on the environment or black history. In short, schools are not neutral sites, and teachers cannot assume the posture of being neutral either.
Central to the category of public intellectual is the necessity of making the pedagogical more political and the political more pedagogical. Making the pedagogical more political means inserting schooling directly into the political sphere by arguing that schooling represents both a struggle to define meaning and a struggle over agency and power relations. Within this perspective, critical reflection and action become part of a fundamental social project to help students develop a deep and abiding faith in the struggle to overcome economic, political and social injustices, and to further humanize themselves as part of this struggle. In this case, knowledge and power are inextricably linked to the presupposition that to choose life, to recognize the necessity of improving its democratic and qualitative character for all people, is to understand the preconditions necessary to struggle for it. Teaching must be seen as a political, civic and ethical practice precisely because it is directive, that is, an intervention that takes up the ethical responsibility of recognizing, as Paulo Freire points out, that human life is conditioned but not determined.
A critical pedagogical practice does not transfer knowledge but create the possibilities for its production, analysis and use. Without succumbing to a kind of rigid dogmatism, teachers should provide the pedagogical conditions for students to bear witness to history, their own actions and the mechanisms that drive the larger social order so that they can imagine the inseparable connection between the human condition and the ethical basis of our existence. Educators have a responsibility for educating students in ways that allow them to hold power accountable, learn how to govern and develop a responsibility to others and a respect for civic life. The key here is to recognize that being a public intellectual is no excuse for being dogmatic. While it is crucial to recognize that education has a critical function, the teachers’ task is not to mold students but to encourage human agency, to provide the conditions for students to be self-determining and to struggle for a society that is both autonomous and democratic.
Making the political more pedagogical means treating students as critical agents; making knowledge problematic and open to debate; engaging in critical and thoughtful dialogue; and making the case for a qualitatively better world for all people. In part, this suggests that teachers as public intellectuals take seriously the need to give students an active voice in their learning experiences. It also means developing a critical vernacular that is attentive to problems experienced at the level of everyday life, particularly as they are related to pedagogical experiences connected to classroom practice. As such, the pedagogical starting point for such intellectuals is not the isolated student removed from the historical and cultural forces that bear down on their lives but individuals in their various cultural, class, racial and historical contexts, along with the particularity of their diverse problems, hopes, and dreams.
As public intellectuals, teachers should develop a discourse that unites the language of critique with the language of possibility. In this instance, educators not only recognize the need to act on the world, to connect reading the word with reading the world, but also make clear that it is within their power individually and collectively to do so. In taking up this project, they should work under conditions that allow them to speak out against economic, political and social injustices both within and outside of schools. At the same time, they should work to create the conditions that give students the opportunity to become critical and engaged citizens who have the knowledge and courage to struggle in order to make desolation and cynicism unconvincing and hope practical. Hope in this case is neither a call to social engineering nor an excuse to overlook the difficult conditions that shape both schools and the larger social order. On the contrary, it is the precondition for providing those languages and values that point the way to a more democratic and just world. As Judith Butler has argued, there is more hope in the world when we can question common sense assumptions and believe that what we know is directly related to our ability to help change the world around us, though it is far from the only condition necessary for such change.  Hope provides the basis for dignifying our labor as intellectuals; it offers up critical knowledge linked to democratic social change, and allows teachers and students to recognize ambivalence and uncertainty as fundamental dimensions of learning. As Ernst Bloch insists, hope is "not yet in the sense of a possibility; that it could be there if we could only do something for it."  Hope offers the possibility of thinking beyond the given - and lays open a pedagogical terrain in which teachers and students can engage in critique, dialogue and an open-ended struggle for justice. As difficult as this task may seem to educators, if not to a larger public, it is a struggle worth waging. To deny educators the opportunity to assume the role of public intellectuals is to prevent teachers from gaining control over the conditions of the work, denying them the right to "push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look,"  and to model what it means for intellectuals to exhibit civic courage by giving education a central role in constructing a world that is more just, equitable and democratic in dark times.
What role might public school teachers play as public intellectuals in light of the brutal killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School? In the most immediate sense, they can raise their collective voices against the educational influence of a larger culture and spectacle of violence and the power of the gun lobby to flood the country with deadly weapons. They can show how this culture of violence is only one part of a broader and all-embracing militarized culture of war, arms industry and a Darwinian survival of the fittest ethic, more characteristic of an authoritarian society than a democracy. They can mobilize young people to both stand up for teachers, students and public schools by advocating for policies that invest in schools rather than in the military-industrial complex and its massive and expensive weapons of death. They can educate young people and a larger public to support gun regulation and the democratization of the culture industries that now trade in violence as a form of entertainment; they can speak out against the educational, political, and economic conditions in which violence has become a sport in America - one of the most valuable practices and assets of the national entertainment state. The violent screen culture of video games, extreme sports, violent Hollywood films, television dramas and other cultural productions do not just produce entertainment, they are mainly teaching machines that instruct children into a sadistic culture in which killing is all right, violence is fun and masculinity is defined increasingly through its propensity to make celebrities out of killers. This is a culture that serves as a recruiting tool for the military, makes military force rather than democratic idealism the highest national ideal and war the most important organizing principle of society.
Public school teachers can join with parents, churches, synagogues, Mosques and other individuals and institutions to address the larger socioeconomic and ideological values and practices that legitimize a hyper-masculinity fueled by the death-dealing assumption that war and a primitive tribalism make men, irrespective of the violence they promote against women, gays, students and people with disabilities. America is obsessed with violence and death, and this fixation not only provides profits for Hollywood, the defense industries and the weapons industries, it also reproduces a culture of war and cruelty that has become central to America’s national identity - one that is as shameful as it is deadly to its children and others. The war on public school teachers and children has reached its tragic apogee with the brutal and incomprehensible killing of the young children in Sandy Hook. What kind of country has the United States become in its willingness allow this endless barrage of symbolic and material violence to continue? Why has violence become the most powerful mediating force shaping social relations in the United States? Why do we allow a government to use drones to kill young children abroad? Why do we allow the right-wing media and the mainstream press to constantly denigrate both teachers and young people? Why are the lives of young people one of our lowest national priorities? Why do we denigrate public servants such as teachers, who educate, nurture and safeguard young people? What kind of country betrays its teachers and denigrates public education? How does the violence against teachers and students destroy the connective tissue that makes the shared bonds of trust, compassion and justice possible not only in our schools but also in a democracy?
Friday, December 21, 2012
The next week, a letter appeared in the Surfside News accusing the organizers of the dinner of aiding and abetting “criminal misconduct. Illegal aliens break our laws by virtue of their presence here. When they work, they break more laws, to say nothing of committing identity theft with forged and stolen documents.” He called the organizers “a political cancer” and said that “This group of nitwits and neophytes seems not to care that there are home grown Americans who need the caring and services they so freely provide to these interlopers.”
He went on to say that “One should notice that the aliens have little interest in our language, culture, customs or much of anything else. We can do nicely without them because they lack the American spirit.”
(You can read the whole thing in the Malibu Surfside News, Dec. 13, available online.
Below are responses from me, and from Travis Crisco, both published in the Malibu Surfside News, December 20, 2012
Letter from Stephen Krashen
Steven Granville Jones (“Core concern,” December 13) is upset that several local residents helped organize a Thanksgiving dinner for day workers associated with the Malibu Workers Exchange, claiming that at least some of them are illegal aliens who “have little interest in our language, culture, customs of much of anything else.”
Workers associated with Malibu Workers Exchange are mostly Spanish speakers. People sometimes get the impression that Spanish speakers do not speak English because many of those they have met have been in the US for only a short time. But they acquire the language quickly: A study of Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants revealed that 80% said they could speak no English when they arrived in the US, but only one and a half years later, this was reduced to 40%, quite impressive considering that few have the chance to take classes.
Studies also show that in general Spanish speakers in the US speak English as well as speakers of Asian/Pacific Island languages. Research also consistently shows that the children of immigrants typically speak English better than their home language by the time they reach adolescence.
Jones claims that day workers are taking jobs away from locals. This is unlikely: The average worker associated with centers such as the Malibu Worker Exchange works only about 20 hours a week. Day workers in general make up less than 1 percent (0.2%) of the state’s employed labor force.
Taking jobs away? Gonzales, D. 2007. Day Labor in the Golden State. California Economic Policy, Public Policy Institute.
A study of Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants …: Krashen, S. 1997. Do illegal aliens acquire English? CATESOL News (California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) 29 (3): 1,7.
In general, Spanish speakers speak English as well as …: Krashen, S, 1999. Under Attack: The Case Against Bilingual Education. Culver City: Language Education Associates.
Letter from Travis Crisco
Editor: This letter is in response to the inflammatory letter written by Steven Granville Jones about the Malibu Community Labor Exchange and those who support it.
My name is Travis Crisco, I have been working in Malibu for seven years and coming here with my family for my entire life. I was formerly the manager/IT director of the now shuttered PCH Collective, an institution which loyally supported and contributed to this community for over six years.
For the last several months I have been volunteering my time at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, establishing a computer lab for all of the people who come there each day looking for work. Over the last few months I have been able to get to know many of the people who come down there each day trying to find work in the Malibu community.
I personally take issue with many of Mr. Jones’ statements and find that they pander to the worst of the racist stereotypes held by many right wing elitists. The people that come to the exchange looking for work are no different in spirit than my immigrant ancestors who came here in search of the American dream in the late 1800s. If one asks many natural born citizens in this country the common belief given our current economic situation is that the American dream is dead.
If someone wants to see where the American dream is still alive and well, it is with people like those who dare to risk everything looking for a better life in the U.S. for themselves and for their families.
I work at the labor exchange three days a week helping hard-working, self-motivated, dedicated people every day look for work, learn English, and learn basic computer skills to better themselves.
These are not freeloaders taking jobs away from the community. I sincerely doubt that many of the sons and daughters of local residents are lining up to dig holes, paint fences, clean corrals, etc. They do the jobs that local children don’t have to do because they have had an opportunity to have a good education with the added benefit of being born in the U.S.
Many of the people looking for work at the labor ex- change every day are not illegal immigrants, we assist those of all ethnic backgrounds and many who speak English very well. We also provide a safe place for the local home- less to spend their day, look for work and have a meal.
I challenge Steven Jones to spend a couple hours at the labor exchange getting to know the people who he is so callously bashing before vomiting out more tired and slanderous statements against good people trying to do some- thing positive for the less fortunate.
Malibu Community Labor Exchange
Thursday, December 20, 2012
"But I've also been disheartened, once again, by the commercialization of tragedy. I've been appalled by news coverage that quickly bleeds from respectful to rapacious, as reporters and cable bookers find ever more angles to keep the story alive. I'm horrified by advocates and education pundits who seize upon Newtown as a 'hook' to place an op-ed or push their favorite talking points and agenda items. And I'm sickened that, in a few weeks, this industry of callow self-promotion will have casually forgotten its heart-rending sorrow, with everyone racing off to capitalize on the next Twitter meme."
To this I posted:
"Rick, take a moment to consider and then at some appropriate time (I am not being sarcastic) please address the root cause of your concern: 'the commercialization of tragedy.'
"The free market ONLY mantra in the U.S. cannot be allowed a pass here. Maybe, just maybe, this could be a turning point for some reasonable and honest considerations of when the Commons trump the corporate, the commercial, and the invisible hand.
"The Commons are the home of social agreements about what matters and about what is ethical.
"Commercialism is about what sells, ethical be damned.
"And it is exactly there that I turn against free market ideology for one of the most important Commons in a free society, universal public education.
"Again, I am entirely serious here, peace to you and to the possibility a new dialogue can come from this."
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
An audio recording of this excerpt from "New England Reformers" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1844) read by Douglas Storm.
The same insatiable criticism may be traced in the efforts for the reform of Education. The popular education has been taxed with a want of truth and nature. It was complained that an education to things was not given. We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms. We do not know an edible root in the woods, we cannot tell our course by the stars, nor the hour of the day by the sun. It is well if we can swim and skate. We are afraid of a horse, of a cow, of a dog, of a snake, of a spider. The Roman rule was, to teach a boy nothing that he could not learn standing. The old English rule was, 'All summer in the field, and all winter in the study.' And it seems as if a man should learn to plant, or to fish, or to hunt, that he might secure his subsistence at all events, and not be painful to his friends and fellow men. The lessons of science should be experimental also. The sight of the planet through a telescope, is worth all the course on astronomy: the shock of the electric spark in the elbow, out-values all the theories; the taste of the nitrous oxide, the firing of an artificial volcano, are better than volumes of chemistry.
One of the traits of the new spirit, is the inquisition it fixed on our scholastic devotion to the dead languages. The ancient languages, with great beauty of structure, contain wonderful remains of genius, which draw, and always will draw, certain likeminded men, — Greek men, and Roman men, in all countries, to their study; but by a wonderful drowsiness of usage, they had exacted the study of all men. Once (say two centuries ago), Latin and Greek had a strict relation to all the science and culture there was in Europe, and the Mathematics had a momentary importance at some era of activity in physical science. These things became stereotyped as education, as the manner of men is. But the Good Spirit never cared for the colleges, and though all men and boys were now drilled in Latin, Greek, and Mathematics, it had quite left these shells high and dry on the beach, and was now creating and feeding other matters at other ends of the world. But in a hundred high schools and colleges, this warfare against common sense still goes on. Four, or six, or ten years, the pupil is parsing Greek and Latin, and as soon as he leaves the University, as it is ludicrously called, he shuts those books for the last time. Some thousands of young men are graduated at our colleges in this country every year, and the persons who, at forty years, still read Greek, can all be counted on your hand. I never met with ten. Four or five persons I have seen who read Plato.
In alluding just now to our system of education, I spoke of the deadness of its details. But it is open to graver criticism than the palsy of its members: it is a system of despair. The disease with which the human mind now labors, is want of faith. Men do not believe in a power of education. We do not think we can speak to divine sentiments in man, and we do not try. We renounce all high aims. We believe that the defects of so many perverse and so many frivolous people, who make up society, are organic, and society is a hospital of incurables. A man of good sense but of little faith, whose compassion seemed to lead him to church as often as he went there, said to me; "that he liked to have concerts, and fairs, and churches, and other public amusements go on." I am afraid the remark is too honest, and comes from the same origin as the maxim of the tyrant, "If you would rule the world quietly, you must keep it amused." I notice too, that the ground on which eminent public servants urge the claims of popular education is fear: 'This country is filling up with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them from our throats.' We do not believe that any education, any system of philosophy, any influence of genius, will ever give depth of insight to a superficial mind. Having settled ourselves into this infidelity, our skill is expended to procure alleviations, diversion, opiates. We adorn the victim with manual skill, his tongue with languages, his body with inoffensive and comely manners. So have we cunningly hid the tragedy of limitation and inner death we cannot avert. Is it strange that society should be devoured by a secret melancholy, which breaks through all its smiles, and all its gayety and games?
But even one step farther our infidelity has gone. It appears that some doubt is felt by good and wise men, whether really the happiness and probity of men is increased by the culture of the mind in those disciplines to which we give the name of education. Unhappily, too, the doubt comes from scholars, from persons who have tried these methods. In their experience, the scholar was not raised by the sacred thoughts amongst which he dwelt, but used them to selfish ends. He was a profane person, and became a showman, turning his gifts to a marketable use, and not to his own sustenance and growth. It was found that the intellect could be independently developed, that is, in separation from the man, as any single organ can be invigorated, and the result was monstrous. A canine appetite for knowledge was generated, which must still be fed, but was never satisfied, and this knowledge not being directed on action, never took the character of substantial, humane truth, blessing those whom it entered. It gave the scholar certain powers of expression, the power of speech, the power of poetry, of literary art, but it did not bring him to peace, or to beneficence.