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

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Neo-Liberal Historical Revisionism in Education

Dana Goldstein studied intellectual history at Brown before she became a reporter, then a grad student at Columbia, and now another author among the growing tribe of young, privileged white folks with new books intended to make the world safe for corporate education reform.

Goldstein joins Cornellian Amanda Ripley, Yalie Anya Kamenetz, and fellow Columbia alum, Elizabeth Green, in offering their non-educationist and non-scholarly takes on issues ranging from how to make "smart kids," "build great teachers," referee the "teacher wars," or understand "the test." All of this recent and ongoing corporate education popularizing takes place from within the safe confines of Lumina-Gates-supported foundations, where those born of the assurance that there is nothing that don't know go to live up to that reputation.

This is not a review of Dana Goldstein's book on the "teacher wars," which must wait for another time.  It is, however, a moment to recall all that Dana Goldstein doesn't know or pretends she doesn't know about No Excuses schools, Booker T. Washington, or the black industrial education model, a term that might be new to her, since she never bothers to use in describing the philanthropist-approved model for African-American education from the end of the Civil War into the early 20th Century.

Here's what Goldstein told a Salon interviewer recently:
Salon: Aside from your own personal estimation of the virtues and shortcomings of public education, did you come across anything else in your research that really surprised you or caused you to see parts of the school reform debate in a different light?
Goldstein: Yes. One [discovery] was how so many of the roots of today’s “No Excuses” school reform movement — which focuses on strict discipline for kids, has a big emphasis on college attendance and a big emphasis on measurable student achievement — a lot of this actually came from ideas of African-American educational theorists working as far back as the Civil War. One of the interesting things was that this whole ideology of “No Excuses” and tough expectations, strict discipline, I think there’s a difference of hearing no excuses from someone who comes from your own community and hearing no excuses from an outsider. So it’s interesting how these ideas that started in the black community are now part of interracial, multiracial school reform movement.
It is fortunate, here, that Goldstein does not cite any of those "African-American educational theorists" during the Civil War, since there were not any doing any such thing. Indeed, discipline was strict during that era and before in all schools, a time when it was not uncommon to cane children for various rule infractions at school until urine ran down their legs.  But this was part of the "values" of the age, not part of a theoretical positioning by non-existent theorists.

The closest I can come to guessing what Goldstein is talking about is found in her discussion of Anna Julia Cooper, who was born a slave but fortunate enough to attend St. Augustine Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh, NC.  Cooper later went on to earn a PhD from Oberlin and was hired to teach Latin at the most prominent black high school in Washington, DC, where she was principal in 1901when a French visitor admiringly noted students walking silently to and from classes.   Now from this, Goldstein makes the Grand Canyon leap that Cooper's school was similar to the No Excuses corporate chain gangs that are replacing schools across urban America.

How does Goldstein know this?  She offers no references in the text or in her skimpy bibliography that she has any firsthand or secondhand knowledge of No Excuses schools, or that she has even read a book that spells out the no excuses ideology--such as the Thermstroms' book, No Excuses (2004).  What she knows about no excuses schools appears to have come from KIPP shill, Jay Mathews, or other advocates of segregated institutions for cultural sterilization and behavioral neutering of poor kids.

So, Ms. Goldstein, these ideas did not start in the black community in the 19th Century as you claim, despite whatever your guesswork tells you.  Following the Civil War, the systematic indoctrination of black children to accept and become complicit in their own oppression and subjugation started at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, where Booker T. Washington came as a adolescent and earned entrance to the school by cleaning principal Samuel Chapman Armstrong's house in 1872.  Armstrong, a former Union general, had learned what he knew about pedagogy from his father, who was superintendent of the plantation schools of Hawaii, where children were taught to value hard labor over book learning.  Hampton's inglorious and dark stain on American educational history is told by James Anderson is his book, which did not make Goldstein's bibliography, either.

Here is Goldstein's take on Hampton, where black industrial education was born, where students were taught they were morally behind by 2000 years, and that it was irresponsible for black people to vote because of their inferiority--that Hampton that Goldstein describes as "the black normal school where Washington trained" (p. 55).

Sounds nice, doesn't it?  Like maybe Washington took courses in teaching methods or child psychology?  Actually, Washington was trained.  Trained in the value of hard labor, trained that slavery had saved him from moral ruin, trained that social equality was extreme folly, trained to accept his moral depravity, trained that those who are at the top of the social hierarchy have earned that place by their white superiority.  But most importantly, Washington was trained to take what Armstrong had driven into his head and to become the spokesman for segregation and economic exploitation of black folks for generations to come.

Armstrong and the white northern philanthropists that backed Hampton put Booker T. Washington in charge at Tuskegee Institute, which was built on the Hampton Model.  Ditch, hoe, grub, clean, launder--these were the principal "skills" that students learned there for decades.  They also earned a teaching certificate so that became broadcasters of the Hampton-Tuskegee ideology across the South.

Goldstein tells us that Hampton and Tuskegee offered "basic education in reading and numeracy, as well as hands-on vocational training in brickmaking, tailoring, and carpentry."  Tailoring, hah!  Girls learned to sew and knit, enough to make and ship tens of thousands of pairs of mittens for white businessmen who used student labor at Hampton--students who were paid 10 cents an hour. These girls learned enough sewing to serve as domestics in white households--they were not trained as tailors.

And carpentry?  Boys learned to use a hammer and do piecework, but they were not trained as carpenters or builders.  There were not even any vocational certificates offered until almost 30 years after Hampton opened.  These students learned the value of labor and to celebrate their new "character training."

I find Goldstein's facile reading of the Dubois-Washington debate particularly irksome.  Dubois had the temerity to advocate for equal educational opportunity for black folks, while Washington was bowing and scraping his path to be the first black man to lunch at the White House under a president, Teddy Roosevelt, who was an avowed social darwinist and eugenics enthusiast.

Here is Goldstein's gossipy spin on why Dubois was bitterly opposed to Washington's advocacy for second class citizenship and third class education for blacks:
Dubois's bitterness toward Washingto was partly motivated by the fact that the Tuskegee founder's huge success in defining the turn-of-the-century educational philanthropic agenda as a vocational one meant there was little private mondy left over to provide children like Josie with access to higher education" (p. 57).
Really, Ms. Goldstein? Is this what you think?  Do you not know that Washington defined nothing of the philanthropic agenda but, rather, was himself a creation of that same agenda.  Washington took orders from Northern funders and curried favor where he could.  Until he died, he remained a devoted follower of the Northern philanthropists' educational "solution to the Negro problem," which was, of course, to work hard at whatever job was given you and keep your mouth shut. 

Which leads me the last point until I have more time to devote to a proper review.  On page 58, Goldstein goes over the edge with her historical supposing.  In talking about a particularly explicit racist letter that Washington received at Tuskegee from one of his white handlers, Goldstein says, "Villard's racism would have lit a fire under a man like Dubois, but Washington, ever the pragmatist, likely hoped to secure more funding from the industrialist (p. 58).

No doubt Washington did want more funding, but it doesn't seem to occur to Goldstein that Washington grew up being taught by racists whose ideology he came to accept early in life as the way the world works.  If Goldstein wants to call this "pragmatism" or the standing up against racists as hot-headed, she clearly has the most simplistic idea of what pragmatism requires.  Yes, it requires us to do what works, but it forces us, as John Dewey knew, to ask, "works for whom?"  Booker T. Washington spent his life never bothering to ask that question, and it appears that Dana Goldstein's book, which no doubt will earn the seal of approval from Bill Gates and Randi Weingarten, has charted a similar track.

1 comment:

  1. What was the purpose of writing this book? I truly don't understand it. To justify the mess that is rheeform? Thank you for saving me from buying this book.