Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"It's Turning Us Into Individuals That Devote Our Lives To Achieving A Rank"

When I write about the scourge of high stakes standardized testing in our public schools, I usually do so from the perspective of pedagogy, research, and the socio-emotional impact on the young children who are subjected to a testing regime. In yesterday's post, I also touched upon the impact corporate education "reforms" are having on our children as citizens in a democracy. I pointed out that our political leaders, of both parties, continue to promote the notion that the sole purpose of public education is job training, rather than, as is actually the case, to educate children so that they will be able to handle the rights and responsibilities of self-governance.

I've never heard a politician talk about public education without evoking those mythical "jobs of tomorrow." What incredible hubris. No one knows what those jobs will be five years from now, let alone two decades into the future when the young children we are teaching seek to take their place in the economy. They tell us "the Chinese are beating us," they say "we are falling behind," they crow, as the president did in his most recent Weekly Address that we are "competing against the world." It's as if they view education as a kind of competition, like a cock fight or something, in which we're tossing our kids to a winner-take-all arena that will turn them into lean mean economic machines.

This is emphatically not why we have public education in a democratic society. Certainly, it is important that citizens are able to contribute economically, but narrow economic self-interest cannot stand as the be-all end-all of citizenship. A good citizen contributes socially, artistically, politically, spiritually, as a neighbor, and as a member of a family. A good citizen is someone up to the challenge of self-governance, is someone who thinks critically, and who thinks for himself. A good citizen is someone who knows when and how to stand up for her own beliefs even when those around her disagree. A good citizen questions authority and is wary of those who insist upon obedience. A good citizen is someone who has a well-rounded education that includes not just literacy and numeracy, but also a working knowledge of science, the humanities, the arts, as well as the fundamental tenants of physical and emotional health. Not only that, but a good citizen is a life-long learner, someone who is motivated by the ongoing search for wisdom and truth.

I will point out that most of the traits that make for a good citizen will, if exercised in the workplace, get you fired. That's because the skills and habits of citizenship stand opposed to the dictatorship of the traditional corporate pyramid where those at the top do the thinking and everyone else obeys. When we turn our schools over the vocational training, we emphasize traits that are contrary to those necessary for a functioning democracy.

There are those who argue that this is the overt goal of corporate education "reformers," to prepare our children for compliance and obedience. I'm not sure it's intentional so much as that those with their hands on the levers power are, in their hubris, blind to anything else. Either way, the results are the same: schools designed to place our children at the service of the economy rather than the other way around.

Yesterday, a reader pointed me to this excellent video of the great Noam Chomsky discussing the impact of our high stakes standardized testing regime on our youngest citizens. "It's turning us into individuals that devote our lives to achieving a rank," which is, after all the highest good in a corporation, but the lowest in a democracy.

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1 comment:

MissFifi said...

This is right on.