Sunday, July 08, 2012

None Of This Serves Children

The Texas Republican Party recently released it's 2012 party platform. Under the "education" part of the document they called for an increase in the use of corporal punishment, opposition to mandatory preschool and kindergarten, and support for legislation that would ban the children of undocumented residents from public schools, all of which flies in the face of scientific evidence and common sense, but perhaps the craziest thing of all:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills . . . critical thinking skills and similar programs . . . which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The Center for American Progress, a major progressive think tank, recently released a report entitled Increasing the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Existing Public Investment in Early Childhood Education, in which they seem to be calling for us to double-down on the corporate reform education policies of the past two presidential administrations by bringing standardized testing, the de-professionalization of teaching, and federally mandated curricula, all with an economic focus, into kindergarten and preschool classrooms. It's a report written by two economists and the "money quote" (pun intended) is from yet another economist named James Heckman, this one with a Nobel Prize no less, who warn us once more, breathlessly, that the Chinese are beating us! The report writers say that they "assembled a number of highly respected experts in the early childhood education field, who are listed in the front of this report," but this reporter has been unable to locate said list anywhere on their website. I really would like to see which "experts" signed off on this nonsense.

There are few things upon which the right and left agree in this country, but one of them is to be dead wrong about education policy.

But, you know, we keep hearing how both sides are working hand-in-hand on this, in a bi-partisan manner, to bring us schools with lots of tests that focus on "trivia" instead of critical thinking skills, a top-down curricula that mandates what children learn rather than on teaching them how to learn, young, cheap teachers who could have just as easily have been "trained" to flip burgers, and a carrot-and-stick approach to keeping everyone in line.

Oh, and spankings will be administered until teh children haz learned.

None of this, from either the left or right can be supported by what research tells us about how children learn, brain development, or best practices. None of this supports the purpose of public education in a democracy, which must be civic, not economic. None of this serves children.

The good news, I think, is that our political system is so dysfunctional right now that the two sides, even though they seem to agree on all their key points, will still cancel one another out. The bad news is that this means yet another generation of students, parents and teachers stuck making lemonade from lemons. I could almost live with this situation, one in which those of us most invested (those same students, parents, and teachers) are sort of left alone to cobble together a high quality education for our kids, but now that corporate interests have focused in on the pot of gold represented by the nation's collective education budgets, I don't think they're going to stop, unless we stop them, until they've privatized the whole thing, turning our children into "human resources" in their for-profit education schemes. Money, as it usually does, might well trump ideology in this case. Check out what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's chief of staff Joanne Weiss had to say in the Harvard Business Review about proposed new national education standards, which she admits will do nothing to improve learning:

"(Common Core) radically alters the market . . . Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale."

So as you can see, it's a sort of win-win for right, left and corporations, leaving students, parents and teachers with even smaller, harder and more sour lemons with which to work.

To take a survey of the media landscape, you would think there is very little opposition to what's going on in the nation's capitol or in state houses around the country, but you would be wrong. You rarely see "our side," the side not championed by either of the two political parties, represented in the mainstream media exactly because it is a well-known "fact" that if a point of view is not held by Democrats or Republicans, then it is too fringe-y for serious discussion.  

Diane Ravitch, an education historian and author, who was appointed to high level education department positions by presidents of both political parties, is one of the few voices regularly included in the national debate. I admire Ms. Ravitch immensely, as I do other champions for real education reform such as Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, EdWeek bloggers Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, founder of Parents Across America and Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, director of Race To Nowhere Vicki Abeles, teacher and blogger Dave Reber, and the good folks at both the Rethinking Schools and Shanker Blogs.

There are hundreds of other voices out there as well, many probably more worthy of my list, doing the good work even if we rarely hear their voices outside the blog-o-sphere. And it's adding up. Arne Duncan has complained about the "bloggers" who are opposed to his plans. Bill Gates (the most prominent of the corporate reformers) has called us his "enemies." Despite our invisibility on the national stage we are being at least somewhat effective in pushing back as a grassroots movement outside the confines of the two-party system, but so far they see us as more of a nuisance than a real political force.

There are a lot important issues that need our attention, I know, but this is a biggie. Without higher order thinking skills we're lost. This is a call to get involved, not just for your children, but for the future of America. Read these writers, write those letters, run for office, let your representatives know you will vote on education issues. We can't let the spankers and the testers win.

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Felipe said...

The first paragraph of this post is the scariest thing I have ever seen.
Thanks for raising the awareness

Relationships are a spiritual practice said...

Sadly, this is all too true. Our attachment parented, unconditionally loved little guy will be starting Waldorf preschool when it is time to begin schooling... There is just no way I trust our system to educate my whole child. Thank you for all you do.

kirstie said...

I'm sorry, you are still blogging from America, land of the free aren't you, you haven't somehow relocated to some tinpot dictatorship that also has a region called Texas?

We have quite a bit of nut jobbery being spouted by our current Education Minister in the UK (although, to be fair, the Texas Republicans are in a completely different league, it seems.)

I think the thing these people share is a sketchy knowledge of what actually happens in a classroom and a nostalgic view of their own education, which in many cases happened in a time when it didn't really matter if a large proportion of children spent their days being whipped into line without actually learning how to read (never mind think), because they were all heading for, hard labour, manual jobs anyway.

These jobs no longer exist. (Unless, we would like to export unskilled labour to China...?)

Mark said...

Excellent! And, yes, both the right and left are the problem.

Carrie said...

Looking at the report, when you click on the PDF version the names are listed there. I know a few and they don't surprise me they are on the list. What I find funny is they are making recommendations about programming that is primarily Head Start and there is not one person from that office and/or program listed in the contributors. They reference the block grant which is for child care subsidy, which doesn't pay hardly anything per child an is barely linked to any kind of reporting or standards.... it's just money that flows to providers to pay for care.

If the madness of reporting and assessments and outcomes continues (which it will), what needs to happen is for providers to figure out how to do what they know is right (DAP) within the standards. It's a scarey world when your livelihood is based on how many letters a child can name even if they've moved 5 times in the year, experience trauma like no adult would ever want to experience and don't come to school on a regular basis.