Wednesday, March 15, 2017

In The Cracks And Crevices

People tell me that the new federal education secretary is awful. I reckon she is, I mean, she is clearly determined to destroy public education, although I want to follow that reckoning up with the caveat that the previous one was awful too and he, in his way, was equally determined to do so, him with charter schools and the Common Core federal curriculum and her with charter schools and vouchers. Indeed, I sometimes think that the only reason we still have public education in our country is because our nation's founders had the wisdom to leave education to the states and so the Secretary of Education really has little power beyond the bully pulpit and, to a certain extent, the pocketbook.

This isn't to say that our states are significantly better, but at least the politicians that need to be persuaded are far more accessible to real human beings with stories to tell, and that includes both parents and teachers. We at least have a chance with them. We have little chance on the federal level because, ultimately, it's the corporations who have their ear and they are the ones behind the federal curriculum, vouchers, and charters, as Diane Ravitch (who worked in the education departments under both Republican and Democratic presidents) fully details in her book Reign of Error.

Let (your scholar) know nothing because you have told him, but because he has learned it for himself.  Let him not be taught science, let him discover it. If ever you substitute authority for reason, he will cease to reason; he will be a mere plaything for other people's thoughts. ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Ultimately, what corporations seek from education is different that what I seek. They are looking for employees who diligently do their work, comply, and toe the company line. Oh sure, they claim they are after critical thinkers and leaders and whatnot, but that's just window dressing. If that was what they really wanted they would stand opposed to education in which authority is substituted for reason, which has long been one of the defining characteristics of American schooling. But they don't. Instead, they favor a system in which adults make all the decisions about what, how, and when children will learn because ultimately they seek easily managed employees. They sell their educational "ideas" to our elected leaders and the farther away they are from we the people, the more easily they are persuaded to endorse schools that support corporate rather than democratic principles.

You see, corporations are dictatorships that have set up shop in the heart of our democracy. What they need are compliant workers who do as they're told and don't question too deeply. By keeping our nation focused on education as vocational training, preparing children for those "jobs of tomorrow," and making parents anxious about their kids' economic future, they seek to guarantee a steady stream of playthings for their thoughts. This is why they continuously bend the ears of our elected representatives for things like artificially rigorous top-down curricula, ever more de-humanizing quality control measures (high stakes testing), and the guarantee that some pre-determined percentage of our children will land in the reject pile like defective merchandise. I mean that's how they do it in large corporations and they have been amazingly successful given that I've yet to come across a politicians who hasn't bought into their ideas, be they Republican, Democrat, Socialist or Libertarian: they all view our schools, essentially, as factories that produce workers.

The flaw in their system is that there are still a lot of teachers who refuse to toe that line, who come to work each day committed to doing what's best for their students rather than the economy. I can't tell you how many of the teachers I know who hold their noses as they do what they must to avoid being fired, while seeking every opportunity to find cracks and crevices within the system in which children can learn things for themselves rather than always being told what to know. I am not one of those teachers because I have been lucky enough to find a place that embraces the broader, democratic idea of education, but I can't tell you how grateful I am for my public school colleagues who go into their classrooms each day as if into battle, subversively fighting on behalf of their charges' right to something more than mere job training.

This is why the corporate model ultimately favors wresting the control of public schools away from we the people, preferring a full-on privatization of schools by way of charters and vouchers which will slowly drain funding and middle-class students away from traditional schools, weakening them until they finally crumble from neglect. The plan is that these privately run schools, then, without citizen oversight and unionized teachers, will have fewer cracks and crevices in which real teaching can take place.

If this all sounds gloomy, I suppose it is, but I'm not without hope.

One of the corporatists leading the charge against public schools has been Bill Gates via the Gates Foundation. They have literally spent billions developing and promoting the Common Core, high stakes standardized testing regimes, and other education initiatives. Indeed, the Gates Foundation spends more money on education than anything else, yet in their most recent annual newsletter in which they usually boast of their successes, there is not a single mention of education. That tells me that despite it all, our resistance is working: all those teachers, parents, and students are successfully pushing back. I doubt the Gates Foundation has given up, but they have certainly gone silent.

And this is why I'm not in despair over the new secretary. When teachers, parents, and students are united, there is no force in all of society that can defeat us -- not even the wealthiest man in the world. I dream of someday creating the sorts of schools Rousseau envisioned back in the 16th century, but until then, we will defend our children's right to a childhood on the picket lines, at the ballot box, in the streets, and, mostly, in the cracks and crevices where they are finally allowed to "learn it for himself."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have been having this conversation with parents at our co-op preschool. You're right, it doesn't matter what your political beliefs are - this is an issue that goes beyond politics.