Thursday, December 29, 2011

We Must Resist

You're about to be told one more time that you're America's most valuable natural resource. Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources? Have you seen a strip mine, have you seen a clear cut in the forest, have you seen a polluted river? Don't ever let them call you a valuable natural resource. They're going to strip mine your soul. They're going to clear cut your best thoughts for the sake of profit unless you learn to resist. Because the profit system follows the path of least resistance and following the path of least resistance is what makes a river crooked! ~Utah Phillips

The term "human resource" has long rubbed me the wrong way, dating back to the days when I was one myself. Phillips puts that emotional response into words that resonate for me. It's a dehumanizing term, one that objectifies human beings, casting us in a role to be exploited. It's bad enough what happens with natural resources: this is no way to treat human beings.

Any day now, I expect to hear the term "student resources" to refer to our children as they become increasingly commodified by the for-profit education sector. Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm describes the birth and rise of this industry so well that I don't want you wasting any more time reading my lesser insights. But for those in too much of a hurry to click through right now, I'll provide a few highlights.

After describing how policies like the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" (and, I would add, the hardly different Obama administration's "Race To The Top") have created a massive, taxpayer funded testing industry that publishes, grades, and interprets some 50 million tests a year, Grimm writes:
Requirements to provide free tutors for faltering students set off another frenzy among education entrepreneurs, wanting a chunk of the $900 million a year the federal government provides for extra help. This sort of business opportunity lead to an interesting lead paragraph in a New York Times story: "Tutoring companies, rushing to tap into money available under the federal No Child Left Behind law, offered New York City principals thousands of dollars for school projects, doled out gift certificates to students and hired several workers with criminal backgrounds.

And about charter schools:
Maybe charter operators are just savvy marketers, who know how to avoid difficult students who could bring down the overall test scores and damage the school brand. The Herald's series on the charter movement last week revealed some discomfiting statistics indicating some of the more successful charters in Miami-Dade indulge in clever cherry picking . . . the kids left behind by No Child Left Behind would be the very children, most of them poor, that the reforms were supposed to rescue.

Online education offers the next big cache of public millions available to the education industry . . . Stay-at-home kids are the hot, new commodity on the education markets. No rent. No heating bills. No janitorial staff. No zoning controversies. No fights in the hallways. Lots of money for software and computer-ready courses and online charter schools with plenty left over the keep the stockholders happy.

Grimm draws a picture of a near future, if it is not here already in some parts of the country, when our kids will be valued not as people, but how much they as resources add to the fiscal bottom line. It's a powerful, concise piece, one I really hope you read.

It's one thing to attempt to treat adults as exploitable resources, but when our government turns our children over to these for-profit companies who owe their allegiance not to the children, the American people, or education, but to stockholders, it's an outrage. We must learn to resist, because "the profit system follows the path of least resistance" and we simply cannot allow this to happen to our children. Their education, indeed their childhood, is far too important.

The state of Florida is clearly farther along the path to privatizing its educational system than we are here in Washington State, at least in the Seattle School District where parents, teachers, and administrators are already sort of passively resisting these mandates, but it's only a matter of time before we're called on for active resistance. These companies are wealthy, able to afford the price of lobbyists and congressmen. We must resist by refusing to take the tests, demanding instead a more accurate, realistic and professional way to measure progress. We must resist by demanding that educators not be concerned by the demands of stockholders, but instead focus on providing the highest quality education to our children. We must resist by insisting that some things, our children certainly among them, are too important to entrust to the doomsday machine of profit above all else.

And most of all we must resist by rolling balls.

We must roll them uphill and down, over and over, learning real things. We must roll them up and down alone and with friends, letting them go then racing them down. We must roll them instead of sitting in a room in which someone tells us the answers in the name of efficiency without considering efficacy. We must roll balls because we are not resources, but people, and this is the way people learn. That is the real bottom line.

"Make a break for it, kids! Flee to the wilderness!" The one within, if you can find it. ~Utah Phillips

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Aunt Annie said...

In the race to prove a political point- that the testing was, in fact, effective- I've seen manipulations such as making the pre-testing (before the government-sponsored coaching) far more difficult than the post-testing, so that all students appear to improve regardless of the quality of the actual teaching. You can NOT measure learning with statistics, and statistics are NOT pure and incorruptible.

Cody Moss said...

Hear, hear Tom. How do we, in a society that turns even the most sacred of things into a commodity, rise above this system? As you know, I'm 100% in agreement with your proposal of learning by doing. Doing, in a way that sparks a child's mind to problem solve through experimentation. Instilling that it is okay to make mistakes, make as many as possibly in fact. Then help the child learn from those mistakes.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I read the article by Grimm, and yes, this is disheartening indeed.
I agree that one good way to resist the consequences of all this money thrown in the wrong direction, is by continuing to do what we do best - teach developmentally approriately, and all the ways we know how.
This is one way to touch the future, I think - by giving our young children an early childhood education that is hands on, and sensitive, and right and true, we are also teaching the new generation, and of course one day these children will have a say in the way our world, goes - and surely there is hope in this.
Thanks for being a wonderful resister!

Carrie said...

It's sad there's those wanting to turn profit on our children as students. Race to the top has become just as bad as NCLB at this point. It forced states to put measures in place that will actually penalize many - including more testing. Michigan has added a Kindergarten entry test and a quality rating system for child care as part of this. Now there's also legislation to allow more charter schools as well.

In addition to that though the government has now introduced a re-competition model for Head Start. There are for-profit companies waiting in the wings to bid on these grants as soon as they come up. That's a great way to ensure quality programming.

marcie jan bronstein said...

Beautifully stated TT. Stay the course...sometimes people need to hear things for like forty years, or maybe four hundred posts, before they finally get it...