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

Friday, February 20, 2015


Our elite leaders in education have left a great deal of what sheep leave everywhere… for others to clean up. One of the big results of an elite education leading to an elite ruling class is just that. It has strengthened, and exacerbated a two-tier class system in this country. Simply put, regardless of what income percentile group you may be in you are either elite or common. You are either them or us. You are either a winner or loser. They compete in everything. They have since elementary school. To them the world is a zero sum game. We can see it in the language they choose to describe premises of their reform movement: COMMON CORE. RACE TO THE TOP.

A bit of history.

Commonizing attempts to make the U.S. more competitive actually started with the use of Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management in public (at the time called common) not private schools, during the industrializing economy of the early 20th century. That was when we were “ruled” by the Fords, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and other corporate leaders (Robber Barons) of their day. Their congressional and Presidential henchmen allowed them to rule the economic roost.

For years, most institutions and schools operated under the Frederick Winslow Taylor assumption of a century ago. This assumption presumed that the masses were drones that badly needed coercion, strict instruction, precise direction, and threats with punishment because they fundamentally disliked work and would avoid it if they could. “Work,” Taylor stated, “consists of simple, not particularly interesting tasks. The only way to get people to do them is to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully”. That is what we often call classroom management. (Think of the straight rows and folded hands on desk total obedience model.) Think of what today’s education policy makers are saying about teachers and how they want them to work.

In education today, it seems as if our reformers still live by the standard of industrial America developed a full century ago by Taylor. Captains of industry (robber barons) supported scientific management, as it was called, in order to make their employees more productive. Their belief in the “mediocrity of the masses” (as supported by empirical testing) has fostered a systemic, algorithmic approach that has made “mediocrity the ceiling of what can be achieved.” Today’s policy makers want to turn teachers into industrial employees, churning students out like Ford workers churned out Model T's.

Taylor, who as a member of the elite of his era, attended Exeter and was to go to Harvard until his eyesight deteriorated, and his followers turned efficiency into the justification for such changes. The industrial leaders of a century ago believed implementation of scientific management would benefit both workers and society at-large. Today’s policy makers have bought it hook, line, and sinker.

The best example of Frederick Taylor’s ideas at work in education today are high-stakes standardized tests--tests which have a significant effect on funding for schools and the careers of individual students and teachers. Although these exams can create enormous tension for students and administrators, it is teachers whose lives are most affected by them. Thanks to mounting pressure to get students to score high marks, teachers must concentrate on teaching the curricula chosen by test-designers, rather than local school boards or themselves.

The other major example of history repeating itself is in the meaning of "common". According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the primary meaning of “common” is: "Of or relating to a community". However two other definitions are: "Characterized by a lack of privilege or special status" and "lacking refinement".

Common Core proponents claim to use the first definition, but given the fact that only public (common) schools are required to follow these “national” standards the latter 2 definitions may actually apply. The elite’s private schools do not have to follow anything common.

CORE can be defined as: - the usually inedible central part of some fruits...I leave the conclusions to you.

All of this produces greater inequity, retards social mobility, and increases the isolation of the elite in our society. As the new ruling class tightens its grip, its members become more and more isolated from  “commoners” with the result being a smugness and arrogance they assume is their superiority as “the best an brightest”.

Beware you “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

William Deresiewicz provides us with some data about our 250 most “selective colleges”

% of students from top quarter of income distribution
% of students from bottom half of income distribution


“As of 2004, 40% of students from at [even] the most selective state campuses came from families with incomes of $100,000 and up…. The decade since, it’s safe to say, has only made the situation worse.”

Once again we can easily track why this happens besides increased tuition.  These elite sheep have been manufactured. As every product has it’s production costs, so do they. To pass inspection they must be able to be admitted to the top universities or colleges. What does it cost families to do this? Even without actual dollar amounts we can see how expensive an elite student is to produce.

First, a family must be able to afford either a top-notch private school or live in a community whose public schools are as good or better.

Second, regardless of the quality of the school, these families are convinced they must pay for tutors, test prep, music lessons, paid for community service programs, enrichment camps, sports equipment and travel teams, and any other means necessary to game the system.

Who can afford all of that? We know. So do they. More from Deresiewicz:

Less than half of high scoring SAT scores are by students from low income schools even enroll at 4-year schools. Or as Paul Krugman puts it, “ smart poor kids are less likely than dumb rich kids to get a degree.”

We are not talking about the Roaring Twenties here. “One study found that 100 (.3%) of all US high schools…account for 22% of students at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Of those, ALL BUT 6 are private!!!!” (The caps and !!! are mine.)

The universities know too. They know who butters their bread. Even with some new generosity, they must have a certain percentage of “full payers” and need to cater to their donors and “legacies”.  They need to service the upper and what they call upper middle-income classes to survive.  As a result they produce one big happy family of students, future faculty, funders, administrators, corporate leaders, and policy makers who “know how to do things right” even if they don't “do the right thing”.

Whew. As a result, doing things right means belonging to a meritocracy. Meritocracy needs data and algorithms. It means success on tests and high scores. It translates into how they decide who is good and who is bad. Anything unmeasurable, by those standards is bad. Funny how that word slipped in.

Why do they do it? They believe it. They have been raised to believe it. They have become it. To deny it would be to deny themselves. This is how they were measured as great. They think their sense of entitlement is due to them because their SAT, AP, GPA, GRE, scores were higher. We are “hot shit”, and that is how you need to become “hot shit” too. Too bad if you cant afford the manufacturing process. They have, too often lost touch with real people. They don't often grow up with plumbers, electricians, cops, or union members. As a result, their version of service (TFA) and government intervention (Race To The Top and Common Core) is condescending.

They are “excellent sheep” who, for all intents and purposes, have been raised in a bubble pasture. They are what they have been fed. They will seek to raise their lambs in that same protective pasture and create a world based only on what they know. They have merit and everyone else does not. They do everything to justify their own position and ideology.

Ironically, we have seen this all before. E. Digby Baltzell, most noted for his creation of WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) wrote in his Protestant Establishment, “History is a graveyard of classes which have preferred caste privilege to leadership.” According to him, the WASPs reached their peak during another period of extreme excess, the roaring twenties. I will spare you the consequence. I trust you remember.

What do we do now, you ask? We know some level of inequity will always exist. The key as Deresiewicz says “is to prevent that inequality from being handed down.” “Above all it means eliminating inequality in K-12.” That would take equitable funding nationwide or providing low-income families with what they need to compete from the beginning as they do in Finland Canada, and Singapore.

I ask, how can we do that without a change in our excellent sheep who, according to Caitlin Flanagan, “preen ourselves on our progressive views on race, gender, and sexuality, but we blind ourselves to the social division that matters the most, that we guard most jealously, that forms the basis of our comfort, our self respect, and even of our virtue itself: class.”

The answer is Deresiewicz’s. “If we are to create a decent, a just society, a wise and prosperous society where children can learn for the love of learning and people can work for the love of work, then that is what we must believe.  We don't have to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we need to love our neighbor’s children as our own. We have tried meritocracy. Now it is time to try democracy.”

David Greene
Author: Doing The Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks
Save Our Schools Treasurer

TWITTER: @dcgmentor

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:14 AM

    While your blog has a catchy title, I don't see any recommendations for how we might fix education policy. Please elaborate?

    You write, "That would take equitable funding nationwide or providing low-income families with what they need to compete from the beginning as they do in Finland Canada, and Singapore." Easier said than done. How about some more specifics. If you can clearly articulate a plan that can be implemented and, yes, even adopted as policy, many American educators would be willing to work with you to make that happen. Sincerely, Leslie Rose