Posts Tagged 'NCLB'

The Betrayal of New Mexico Public Education

Betrayal is an interesting word with many connotations. Generally the word is taken to mean the violation of some form of contract, trust, or confidence – a breech of faith. In my opinion, the children, parents, and teachers of New Mexico were betrayed by the passing on of Hanna Skandera to continue her odious mission in the office of Secretary of Education.

Skandera is a gift that keeps on giving who came to us courtesy of the current Governor’s billionaire campaign contributors including $10,000.00 directly from the Koch boys and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors Association which was gifted with $1 million also from the Kochs.

Skandera, lacks even the most basic of qualifications for the position she holds, the authority she wields and she is paid $125,000.00 a year – more than any classroom teacher could ever dream of earning. Is it ironic that Skandera could not be hired as a classroom teacher in a New Mexico public school? The New Mexico requirements for a teaching certificate at the elementary level are:

1.  A Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

2.  30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching.

3.  6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01.

4.  A minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics,language arts,reading, history and so forth.

A starting teacher, having met the qualifications above makes on average $32,000.00. Skandera has not met these minimum qualifications and yet is paid 4 times what a qualified starting teacher is paid. Consider for a moment the inversion of values expressed in this distortion. Consider also how insulting and demoralizing it is to be evaluated by a political operative who is less qualified and less experienced than you are.

Skandera was a foot-soldier for one of the major proponents of for-profit public education, Jeb Bush and his coterie of “reformers”, coming as she did from Florida where teachers have been harassed and made miserable to the point of resignation. Many well qualified and dedicated Florida public school teachers quit rather than endure the harassment. Of course Bush doesn’t know anything more about education than do his minions – what they do know is that public education is a soft target and there’s lots of money to made privatizing it.

School teachers are not known to be hard line activists and teaching results are not linear with regard to children’s ages and individual abilities across a school population thus making teachers held to so-called “objective standards” vulnerable. There is, of course, no such thing as a “standard” child but standardized tests are rationalized as ammunition to attack teachers. Also, teacher unions are not famous for weeding out their weak and incompetent colleagues. A quick look at New York City’s infamous  “rubber rooms” confirms that, so there is plenty of blame to go around. Teachers unions desperately need, as do unions such as carpenters and plumbers and electricians do,  to weed out incompetence. This would require in-union testing and rating just as journey-men carpenters have to pass their union’s internal testing regimes. The resulting ratings are unassailable.

However, no matter how you calculate the situation, destruction of public education and replacing it with for-profit assembly lines is clearly not the answer to the question of school reform nor are major initiatives with clever propaganda-like, dissembling names such as  “No Child Left Behind” which have been exposed for the scams they are. Our current President and his hoops playing buddy  are just as dangerous and have been as harmful to public education as Republicans. Neoliberals are like Trojan Horses welcomed within the gates of civility but containing barbarians.

While Republican Senator Mark Moores of Albuquerque considers the day a victory for Skandera it is, at the same time, a terrible and tragic loss for the children and their families, our dedicated teachers, and the schools and communities of New Mexico. They have all been betrayed and at great cost to the embattled social contract which requires children to be educated by and for the community — not by corporations. The future of public education in New Mexico has been betrayed as well and the only apparent solution is an unrelenting effort to unseat Martinez and her gang and send the carpet-baggers packing in the next election. It can be done – it must be done.

Occupying The Narrative

OK, folks, today’s assignment will be to explore the influence in your home state by an organization called ALEC, or American Legislative Exchange Council, and what to do about it.

Let’s begin with a little quiz:

1. Are you aware of the Washington DC-based organization, ALEC, which is funded by the largest corporations and wealthiest individuals in the U.S.?

2. Are you aware that ALEC exists to write what they euphemistically call “model legislation” to hand to your elected officials for them to introduce to your legislature for the purpose of passing business-friendly laws which will govern your life and the education of your children? No mention will be made that these new laws were created in Washington DC and not by your legislator.

3. Do you know that New Mexico’s ABCD-F Act is based on ALEC model legislation and that every bill having to do with education in the 2012 Legislature was originated by ALEC as “model legislation”?

4. Are you aware that the highly publicized Occupy-crashed banquet in Santa Fe was hosted by ALEC for sympathetic legislators?

5. Do you know about the all-expenses-paid sojourns at exclusive resorts to encourage legislators to introduce and pass ALEC-provided “model legislation”?

Does any of this trouble you? I hope so. It certainly bothers me.

A group of legislators in Wisconsin have now introduced a bill that would require that organizations which introduce legislation through compliant legislators register themselves as lobbyists. I would call it the “Truth in Legislating Act.” The story, reported in the Madison Capital Times on Feb. 17, quoted the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Mark Pocan:  “ALEC is like a speed dating service for lonely legislators and corporate executives. … The corporations write bills and legislators sign their names to the bills. In the end, we’re stuck with bad laws and nobody knows where they came from.” It goes without saying that this form of legislative monkey business is patently dishonest and it seems to be endemic across the U.S. as legislators are wined and dined by ALECian lobbyists, fat-cat donors to their political campaigns who also designate individuals to be appointed to critical positions of authority (e.g. our very own Hanna Skandera) at the state level. This same pattern has been seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states, as well as New Mexico.

The authors, of a March 2012 Phi Delta Kappan article, Julie Underwood and Julie Mead, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wondered how such a consistent pattern of legislation could appear across the country. “How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?” they asked. Their conclusion after considerable research shows ALEC to be behind it. The UW-Madison professors, no fans of the organization’s motives, wrote that “ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.”

For your edification, here is a list of New Mexico legislators with published ALEC ties:

House of Representatives

Senate

And here is a list of New Mexico legislation inspired by ALEC:

HB 386 (introduced 2/7/11) “Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts” is similar to ALEC’s “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act”

HB 318 (introduced 2/2/11) “Crime of Organized Retail Theft Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Organized Retail Theft Act”

HB 45 (introduced 1/10/11) “Eminent Domain Federal Property Condemnation” (Sponsor: Rep. Paul C. Bandy) is based on ALEC’s “Eminent Domain Authority for Federal Lands Act”

SB 324 (introduced 1/31/11) “Licensure of Secondhand Metal Dealers”[8] is similar to ALEC’s “Responsible Scrap Metal Purchasing and Procurement Act”

House Joint Memorial 24 (introduced 1/27/11), “Requesting Governor to Withdraw New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative” is similar to ALEC’s “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives”

HB 229 (introduced 1/27/11) “Parental Notice of Abortion Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Parental Consent for Abortion Act”

SB 195 (passed 2/17/10) “Sunshine Portal Transparency Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Transparency and Government Accountability Act”

HJR 5 (introduced 1/20/10) “Resolution to Allow Health Care Decisions” is based on ALEC’s “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act”

HB 105 (introduced 1/19/05) “Income Tax Deduction for Organ Donation” is similar to ALEC’s “Organ Donation Tax Deduction Act”

This is a list of ALEC education “model legislation” which became bills introduced in the New Mexico Legislature.

ABCD-F Act — passed

Education Accountability Act

Having to do with schools, teachers and administrators:

Career Ladder Opportunities Act

Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act

+ Great Teachers and Leaders Act

A further report on legislation introduced by New Mexico legislators on behalf of ALEC can be found at: ALEC inspired bills in the 2011 legislative session.

How we deal with this legislative infusion for the benefit of powerful corporate and financial interests is a question that must be answered before our entire body of law has been replaced by laws written by those interests and for their benefit How do we deal with legislators who are willing to sell out their constituents in return for an expenses-paid trip to an exclusive resort or a fancy meal?

Strategy vs. Tactics

I think attacking ALEC, which has millions of dollars in its war chests donated by the largest corporations in the world, is a futile strategy. Also, attacking the legislators who so willingly surrender their responsibilities for paltry rewards—“atta boys” and banquets from ALEC and its sponsors—will not pay off; what will work is to identify them as such publicly.

Shouting and chanting and storming meetings are tactical; educating is strategic. It is imperative that the narrative high ground be seized, that the narrative be occupied and educative. There is no need to attack ALEC when simply pointing out to the public who they are, what they do, whom they have bought and the effect on people’s lives and well-being would be sufficient. Of course this will take patient, concerted and continuous effort to pull off, but then the 2012 legislative elections aren’t until November. There is hope. There is still time to organize and to keep the narrative going long enough and strong enough to occupy that narrative. And, it is much easier to address these issues from high ground than by slinging mud and thus alienating the public.

It must be realized, I believe, that the general public does not have the interest or faintest clue about the machinations and goals of ALEC. That sort of apathy illustrates the general reality gap between activists and Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public and, if the issues are polarized along political party lines, the gap gets wider. In any event, the ethical and moral issues here have nothing to do with party because there are ALEC toadies with outstretched palms on both sides of the aisle. They are neither Democrats or Republicans but ALECians.

The campaign against ALEC must always, I think, focus on the issues and the impact of those issues on the public For those whose support you seek, the story has to become their personal narrative. If you do this right, ALEC-free candidates will come looking for you. And when they seek your support it wouldn’t hurt to require a solemn pledge to not succumb to ALEC. Think of yourselves as educators, Occupy, and you are on the road to effecting significant social change. The only people you want to alienate are the ones you don’t like, not the ones whose support you need to create change. At all costs avoid becoming the narrative yourselves; remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the truth.

Sources:

ALEC Exposed home page <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC State Chairmen <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_State_Chairmen>

ALEC model legislation <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC model legislation – education <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Bills_Affecting_Americans%27_Rights_to_a_Public_Education>

list of politicians <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians>

New Mexico legislators w ALEC ties <http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians#New_Mexico_Legislators_with_ALEC_Ties>

Originally appeared at The Light of New Mexico:http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

A Momentary Lapse …

A Momentary Lapse of Character

In a moment of uncharacteristic candor and persona, Hanna Skandera, the twice passed over candidate for New Mexico Secretary of Education, had this bit of truth to say about her mission: “I came to New Mexico to do a job, and I plan to do that job.” With the tacit approval of legislators on both sides of the aisle, what a job it is she is doing to schools, teachers and students.

By not taking up Skandera’s confirmation and rejecting her Legislators obtained by default their personal “don’t blame me” licenses. Clearly the “job” she refers to is bringing New Mexico into line with the educational policies of ALEC including their spawn of phony “foundations”, “institutes” and her other corporate sponsors. Nearly verbatim copies of ALEC promulgated educational policies, the ABCD-F Act among them, have been presented and passed into law. This is happening without critical analysis, proper public discussion or truthful disclosure of sources nor an understanding of the strategy, purpose and ultimate consequences imbedded in those new laws.

The same underhanded conspiracy is taking place across the United States and besides New Mexico, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida are good examples. State legislators elected by their constituencies in the belief that they would write and pass legislation particular to their constituencies are carrying water for a private organization, ALEC, introducing bills written by ideological trolls in Washington DC. Of course to prepare them for this mission legislators are wined and dined at exclusive resorts sequestered by armed guards to keep out the prying eyes of the public and the press. If a resort isn’t handy ALEC will happily pick up the tab at an expensive local restaurant as it did recently in Santa Fe. Either way ALEC picks up the tab and asks only that you introduce the bills they have written as though they were your own. It sounds a lot like a conspiracy scam doesn’t it? Personally I want my elected representatives to write their own legislation based on what we in New Mexico need and not what some corporate sponsored bill mill in Washington DC is cranking out.

In Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida state legislatures already have been and are uncritically passing new laws governing schools to enable take-over by private charter schools, the devaluing of teachers, and the mechanized stupidizing of the educative process. What is the motive? Among other things like destroying organized representation for working class people, the end result ALEC and it sponsors want is to take over public education for profit. In some places people are waking up. In Wisconsin for instance they are recalling their recently elected Governor, Scott Walker, who, like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, was sponsored by the Koch boys and the ALEC. This recall business can happen anywhere when people realize they are being sold out by their elected officials. Throw the bums out of office and start over; that’s how it done unless of course you are happy with the idea of uniform laws promulgated across the country written by ALEC and passed by corporate toadies in state legislatures.

What’s at stake here? Well, how about your democratic form of government for starters? How about schools accountable to their communities as opposed to schools accountable to their stockholders and corporate managers. How about honesty and above the board legislative dealings. How about doing your job as a legislator and doing the dirty work that job sometimes requires? If all you think about is being re-elected and not wanting to affront some of your constituency or potential fat cat donors then you are not doing your job and don’t deserve to hold office. In the final analysis it isn’t whether Skandera was approved or not, what matters is that you had the courage to take up the matter and deal with it. We are now into the 2012 legislative election cycle and November will be the reckoning. I’ll bet education is going to be on  the agenda.

It was announced this afternoon, Wednesday February 15th, that New Mexico had been granted exemption from the NCLB business. President Obama’s hoops buddy came through for Skandera on this matter which is by definition, is no more than a straw issue. In fact what has been achieved is exactly no more than this: New Mexico, you no longer have to walk backwards but you will have to walk on your hands and knees. Keep going. Boy whoopee! Such a deal…..

This essay first appeared at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/

How Great is Great?

New Mexico Teachers: How Great is Great?

Last week legislators from around the country flocked to an all-expense-paid (including travel) get-together at an exclusive island resort off the coast of Florida—the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. The tab was picked up by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), leaving one to wonder just what the legislators exchanged in return for the pleasure of their company. The party was labeled “ALEC K-12 Education Reform Academy.” Oh, and the party was closed to the public and the press and protected from intruders by private security guards.

New legislation regarding teacher evaluations now being proposed in the New Mexico Legislature to “evaluate” teacher performance has been derived from examples of “model” legislation provided to legislators by ALEC. The ALEC is sponsored by large corporations and billionaires with visions of new sources of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and the organization provides legislators with what they euphemistically refer to as “model” legislation. The model legislation is provided to legislators on a number of topics and is written to specifications dictated by the corporate sponsors of ALEC to serve their ends. In the case of public schools the ultimate goals are to privatize public education, eliminate teacher unions and make money for the sponsors. Simple enough.

We have had an example in New Mexico of such ALEC-dictated legislation in the form of the ABCD-F Act. A great deal of the language and intent in that travesty flowed from ALEC plumbing where it was called the “Education Accountability Act.” Presently we are seeing two bills, HB 249 and SB 293, wending their way though the Legislature, both having to do with teacher and administrator evaluation. The two bills, sponsored by legislators sympathetic to the governor’s and secretary-designate’s agenda correspond closely to three ALEC-authored models: “Great Teachers and Leaders Act,” “Career Ladder Opportunities Act” and “Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act.” All you have to do is add local water, shake and bake, and presto, you have made-to-order legislation, compliments of ALEC.

“Great Teachers and Leaders Act”? Just how great can a teacher be when children come to school unmotivated and unprepared to learn? That is not the question being asked, of course, by the sponsors of new legislation being presented at the Roundhouse. When I first read Secretary-designate of Education Hanna Skandera’s public exclamations about how “great” New Mexico’s  teachers are and how she wanted to climb up to the roof-tops to “scream” out how much she loved and respected teachers I knew exactly what was coming. And I was right. This was a perfect example of what I call damning with cynical praise.

So what is this about? Why do teachers, administrators and schools have targets on their backs? It is because public schools can be replaced, so can teachers and so can administrators. What can they be replaced with? Vouchers for private for-profit schools and teachers from private training programs like Teach For America and K-12, that’s what. This monkey business is not unique to New Mexico either; it is going on across the country, where conservative legislators and governors have taken control of state houses. The attacks on public education are accompanied by attacks on many other public services in order to achieve a political goal of reducing government services and privatizing whatever is left.

What is not being said in this proposed legislation was perfectly articulated by a Santa Fe teacher. Laura Carthy had this bit of wisdom to offer, born of experience: “They want to hold us accountable, but how can they hold me accountable for students who aren’t here, who are constantly tardy and miss five to 20 minutes of instruction a day?” Carthy enumerated many of the issues teachers and administrators face on a daily basis and over which they have no control, such as children not eating, not sleeping and not doing their homework. (S.F. New Mexican 12/18/11) The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is also an advocate for these neo-liberal policies, and he wants to tie federal funding to Skinnerian testing performance evaluation regimes. While Ms. Skandera is on the rooftop and Arne is shooting hoops with the president people like Laura Carthy are in the trenches.

In December, 2003 Ms. Skandera appeared at a luncheon as a Hoover Research Fellow with her mentor and distinguished Hoover Institute professor, Richard Sousa. Interestingly, Sousa is best known as an expert on labor economics and, incidentally, K-12 education. Sousa and Skandera reported on their research and offered suggestions for improving education through school choice, testing and accountability. The term accountability in Sousa’s parlance includes evaluating teachers, hence our Secretary-designate’s ABCD-F Act and now proposed legislation in the form of HB 249 and HB 293. As the old saying goes, the apple seldom falls far from the tree. In this case Professor Sousa’s former research assistant is following the script, and what has followed are the three pillars of the New Mexico ABCD-F Act and the new teacher accountability legislation— school choice, testing and accountability.

This essay first appeared at Light of New Mexico

 

 

Listen and Show Some Respeto

Listen and Show Some  Respeto

Listen, Listen. Listen. That was the watchword, the first principle I was taught when working for the University of Wisconsin Extension Services which I did throughout my graduate studies. I traveled that state conducting extension service programs all of which were developed by listening to the communities we served. When I was first elected majordomo of my acequia here in the northern mountains I spent most of my time asking questions about what was needed to make the ditch function more fairly and efficiently and listening carefully to the answers. I sat for hours listening to viejos tell me the history of this very old acequia dug by hand from the mountain to the meadows. Respeto. I spent my time getting to know the families served by the ditch and walked the land the acequia passed through from the mountain presa to the last gate at the farthest end of our llano’s irrigated fields. This was my experience in Wisconsin coming into service in New Mexico and tempered by Governor Lew Wallace’s dicho – “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” I had no “calculations” but knew that listening to people tell you about themselves, their needs and their experiences will not fail you and a plan will make itself evident in proper time. Listen.

Our Secretary-designate of Education has not distinguished herself with a willingness to listen and this is not without consequences. New Mexico failed to receive a waiver of the NCLB requirements because the Secretary-designate of Education and her allies were eager to push their imported, ALEC-inspired ABCD-F Act through the legislature. In passing this piece of retrograde legislation the State failed to meet the Federal requirements for exemption from the NCLB. Interviewed on the KOB-TV web site, APS Superintendent of Schools, Winston Brook, voiced his opinion that the ABCD-F grading system didn’t meet federal requirements. Winston went on to say that Skandera was made aware of those concerns before she released the grades. Brooks was also aware that the U.S. Secretary of Education had written a letter to Skandera telling her she needed to address the issues. Obviously the federal concerns were not dealt with in a timely manner hence no exemption.

Carrying water for ALEC has its price and in this case the price will paid by New Mexico’s schools, teachers and children who have been saddled with the ABCD-F Act and will now struggle to be released from the NCLB requirements. There is no denying Ms. Skandera came to New Mexico on a mission and she has been notably single-minded about carrying out her assignment. Her ideological blinders have kept her from grasping the cultural realities of the state including our diverse languages a tradition for which she has demonstrated a profound lack of respete.

Skandera has placed herself within an ideological cocoon comprised of her own imported staff and well paid out-of-state consultants, which has resulted in a tragic lack of critical understanding and ham-handed policy execution. Her reform process has been a self-affirming and thus a self-defeating feed-back loop. She and her advisors have all been on the same page but the book they are using is about somewhere other than New Mexico.

What we have received is a lot of fancy doubletalk such as this recent example from the Secretary-designate: “New Mexico consistently has been ranked 48th, 49th or 50th in most of our achievement rankings, etc.. And for the first time we will be in the top 11 states championing reform, and I believe we are headed in the right direction…”. This statement would be held up for ridicule in any logic class. The speaker equates “achievement rankings” and “championing reform” as though they are equivalents. Reform and achievement are not even remotely the same thing and cannot honestly be used in a comparative sense; they are totally unrelated ideas being force fit into being equivalent to make it sound as though something profound is happening. This is the definition of propaganda -  false ideas spread deliberately to further one’s cause. It’s time for the current Governor and her administration to show some respeto for the people of New Mexico. Escuche, Escuche, Escuche.

This was first published at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/

The Tenticles of Profit

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND THE TENTICLES OF PROFIT

A new reality is beginning to unfold. This other-reality is inhabited by fabulously wealthy people who want, indeed are compelled, to become even more wealthy since having all but a tiny percentage of the real world’s income is not quite enough – they apparently want it all. The May 2011 edition of Vanity Fair reports that 1% of the US population takes in 25% of all income and holds 40% of the nation’s wealth. http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105 There is today, it seems, an epidemic of consummate sociopathic greed by people who profit on everyone else’s losses and who buy politicians with the same ease normal people buy groceries. To further their ends the other-reality hosts pool-side gatherings at plush resorts for ambitious and eager other-reality wannabes to discuss how best to go about achieving their agendas. In these settings the wannabes rub shoulders with the other-reality folks and offer their services and willingness to assist the sponsors in their quest for an even greater slice of the National Pie. We can only wonder what the rewards can be for providing such assistance. One example, perhaps, of what possibilities might exist is revealed in how Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, cheerfully responded to a caller he thought was one of the multi-millionaire Koch brothers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnSv3a6Nh4

Privatizing Public Education is one potential source of new wealth being explored by the other-reality people. Achieving control of the Public Education system which has existed, for better or for worse, in the US for more than a century, requires operatives appointed to governmental offices of education willing to carry out the agenda, New Mexico being one such example. Why not start the take over process with politicians who could use a little financial help with their campaigns provided by “Foundations” dedicated to the preservation of Democracy? A little help here and there results in such appointments to public office as I have described above and pretty soon you are on your way to grading schools and grading teachers and, in the end the inevitable conclusions that students are failing, teachers are failing and, of course, public schools are failing. Our only hope then in this scenario is privatization.

If you think the above is exaggeration please check out the following web sites which were provided by a reader of one of my earlier essays, “Hemingway” and I share his annotations here, with my thanks:

Hemingway

August 2, 2011 • 9:23 am

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sponsored model bills aiming to privatize public education, eliminate teacher’s unions, and make American universities adhere to the right wing and libertarian viewpoint.

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Privatizing_Public_Education,_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers

http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&Template=/Templates/TemplateHomepage/ALEC_1502_20070319T102535_LayoutHomePage.cfm

The Kochs have given ALEC contributions exceeding $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group had financial problems. “The Kochs’ mistrust of public education can be traced to their father, Fred, who ranted and raved that the National Education Association was a communist group and public-school books were filled with “communist propaganda,”

http://www.thenation.com/article/161973/alec-exposed-koch-connection

Interestingly ALEC was behind the scenes in Wisconsin in the education fight. Read this article by Dr. William Cronin.

http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/

This is wrong! “

The Koch Brothers and others of their political persuasion it should be pointed out are not, lest we demonize them, the only example of moneyed people financing a social agenda. Money is power of course and the willingness to use it for social change has always been with us as a society. Recall the Carnegies and Rockefellers and presently Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and so on who are using their fortunes to sponsor scientific exploration and the advancement of technology and knowledge and create a safer disease-and hunger-free world.

WHO IS FAILING WHAT?

Let’s examine the failing schools agenda and how it is being rationalized for public consumption. Are teachers failing? Who says so and what is their agenda? Here is an exchange between the actor Matt Damon (whose mother is a teacher) and a “reporter” from a Libertarian “news” organization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFHJkvEwyhk&feature=player_embedded

Teachers seem to have become a favorite soft target for the industrial reformers. Teachers are a convenient target for several reasons including their own unions which have failed to seize the moment and take control of the narrative. As an example of the assault on teachers, one of Governor Scott Walker’s first legislative “achievements”, in his opinion at least, was to disenfranchise Wisconsin teachers’ unions. An August 10th, 2011 item on the KOAT-TV web site details the problems teachers in Albuquerque are going to face with a 7% increase in class sizeshttp://www.koat.com/news/28819192/detail.html    And, rest assured these class size increases will result in matching increases in standardized test result failures. This will be one more blow against the autonomy and authority of classroom teachers setting them up as scapegoats for politicians. Teachers will be blamed for the failures and the privatization band will strike up its familiar marching tune – “Privatize, privatize – Oh the results you’ll see. You won’t believe your eyes!

http://www.utahnsforpublicschools.org/policycenter/KeyLessonsClassSizeandStudentAchievement.htm

Tests can also exert a corrupting influence as we recently saw in the exposure of wide-spread cheating of No Child Left Behind test results in Atlanta, Georgia. According to ABC News in reporting the story at the time: “In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, teachers said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. “Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.” In New Mexico 87% of schools fell short in the state-wide evaluations. Are schools failing? The best answer is probably, yes, and for good reasons. Are privatized schools doing better across the board? Not really.

It isn’t that privatized schools, as such, are instruments of some hidden social control agenda, many are not. The KIPP charter schools, for example, are first rate. The administrators, teachers and students are motivated. The educational results gained by these schools are excellent with a high number of graduates going on to college although I am not in favor of using that as an absolute metric for assessing schools and public education. But, more importantly KIPP schools motivate their students to learn. They mentor and develop their teachers in earnest, they engage parents, and they engage children holding their attention for a longer school day and week than public schools do. The “sample daily schedule”, as posted on the KIPP web site, gives teachers two hours of prep time between 8AM and 3PM, during which time they also teach 3 one-hour classes and get a 40-minute lunch break and get an hour for “advisory meetings”.  The hours 3PM to 5PM are a blend  of electives, prep and meetings. These particular charter schools are educating children with great success.

However, in spite of all the good these schools do the question remains – why can’t public schools do the same? Why can’t the existing public schools system be charged with the same responsibility, given the same resources and accomplish the same results?

AUTHENTIC EDUCATION

I have stressed many times in these essays that education is not a manufacturing process and uniformity is not the objective of authentic learning. There is no such thing on Earth as a “Standard Child” and by that reasoning alone standardized testing as the ultimate measure of pedagogical success is false out of the box. To claim otherwise is to trivialize human nature and human experience – it is, in fact, dehumanizing. To contend that standardized testing is a fair and proper method of assessment betrays a diminished view of humanity and ignorance of the educational process. The key to authentic education is interest and when interest is absent so too is authentic learning. Needless to say authentic learning and teaching go hand-in-hand and neither can function when a teacher cannot devote an appropriate amount of time to each learner. So, when a school system increases class sizes and decreases the number of available classroom teachers no claim to authentic teaching and learning can be made. This is a prescription for failure writ large. Class sizes must be adjusted to reasonable levels if effective teaching and learning are to take place. Next parents must be as fully engaged in the process as they are required to be in the charter school schemes.

In a recent news report( http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/education/social-promotion-could-be-on-agenda) about the push to eliminate, by statute, social promotion in New Mexico, Robin Gibson (A fourth grade teacher at Sandia Base Elementary School) said, ” … it’s unreasonable to think all students learn at the same pace. Kids are all coming from different backgrounds and we need to work with them and not punish them for something they can’t control.”  So, what is the answer to this push, this fixation, to punish kids who don’t learn at the same rate as test writers think they should? How about doing away with grade levels at the elementary level and rather setting performance standards for matriculation? So simple. This is what REAL school reform needs to be about, the simple recognition that children, just like adults, do not all learn at the same rate. Next, in the lower grades do away with the fixation on standardized testing. Tests can certainly be useful as diagnostics (their only real value actually), instruments of policy and policy making or, just as easily, justification for the privatization of public education.

There are people out there waiting to pounce on failed schools and failed school systems. The hucksters will promise greater instructional success with lower costs and greater uniformity of results across the board. This will be brought to you by people who have social control and profit foremost in mind. These entrepreneurs can buy with ease politicians and acolytes; the real victims will be children and the greatest loss will be felt by society itself. Is this the new reality we wish to subscribe to, making rich people richer and, at the same time, impoverishing public education and consequently our children? It will be a hollowing out of the social contract and of our civil society. These possibilities cannot be taken lightly and certainly cannot be dismissed as paranoid rant – it has happened to other countries and societies throughout history and it can happen in the US just as easily. It does us well to consider that those who do not remember history are destined to repeat it.

What must we do to make schools safe from privatization and loss of public control? In my opinion perhaps the most important first step must be to depoliticize public education. This is a matter of grave consequence as partisan politics have no place in the process of schooling. Authentic school reforms must be immunized against politicization, commercialization and interference by people whose only qualification is that they have managed to be elected or appointed to public office. Educators must speak out forcefully, defend their expertise and demand control of the process of schooling. I think class sizes must be held at a level where each child can receive proper attention. How can teachers teach where class sizes clearly exceed any possibility of individualized attention? I cannot emphasize this class size issue too strongly. Each child as a learner is a unique center of experience and each child learns at a rate particular to that child so how then can any normal human teacher accomplish the level of individualized attention required to instruct each child with large class sizes and why aren’t parents up in arms over this breech of trust? Parents must be fully integrated into the educational model as the ultimate source of motivation and discipline. Being educated and being able to test out are two vastly different things. The question is, simply put, what are we after in public education – educated individuals or test-taking automatons?

A New Tower of Babel

THE NEW TOWER OF BABEL

” [H]uman community depends on language” say the authors of the language chapter in the book Deep History (Andrew Shryock and Daniel Lord Smail, Univ. of California Press, 2011). The authors use the lesson of Babel described in the bible as an example of the power of language. According to the Babel story everyone spoke the same language until someone had the bright idea of building a tower so tall they could reach heaven. Their idea didn’t sit well with the proprietor of heaven so he “confounded” their language to prevent the project from proceeding. In short, control language and you control people.

Deliberate inversion of language has always been a favored tool of propagandists and demagogues. Consider just for a moment the current revulsion for and fear of the term “class-warfare” on the part of the 1% class. Another gem is referring to public education as “government education”. “Cowabunga Battyman, th’gummint’s after the kids!” In Orwell’s novel 1984 the users of “Newspeak” employed “doublethink” to manipulate the residents of the country.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.

Newspeak and doublethink are now the “indispensably necessary” staples of the venality and political agendas sweeping across the US in the guise of education reform. By deliberately employing language contradictory to common usage and understanding, these interests are confounding the public narrative. The best example on a national scale is No Child Left Behind, which uses carefully contrived testing to leave not only children behind but teachers as well. In these so-called reform programs teaching becomes testing and failure is all but assured. In New Mexico we have the ABCD-F Schools Rating Act to insure failure, failure as defined by interested parties leading ultimately to privately run schools, online course work and what the Act itself refers to as “cyber academies” which, interestingly enough, are not included in the required ratings under Section 3 of the Act. The objective truth here: testing is not pedagogy, it is not curriculum and instruction, it is a strategy to set up public schools to fail and machine learning to prosper.

If you have any doubts about this strategy read the story in the Washington Post about a fellow who is a school board member, a corporate executive with a BS and two master’s degrees. He took the 10th grade reading and math tests required for students in his school district. He said he managed to “guess” the answers to ten out of sixty math questions and scored a “D” on the reading test. Is it any wonder then that these innocuous sounding rating and testing programs like ABCDF and NCLB are condemning public schools to failure? We must rightly ask, why? What’s in it for the perpetrators? What do they stand to gain?

Minions of wealthy business interests have moved across the country installing themselves into state governments and sundry “foundations”, spreading the idea that public schools are a failure and they have the solution – privatizing public schools, privatizing teacher education and installing high-tech teaching devices. Why? Because people like Rupert Murdoch, the Koch boys, Bill Gates and a host of others, having financed politicians as a down payment, are salivating over their potential profits. Rupert puts that potential at $500 billion.

The Tuesday, December 6, 2011, New York Times had two editorial pieces on education. One piece offered a “how to” as in “How To Rescue Education Reform” that sounded a death knell for teachers, describing “Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education“. In both articles what I found more interesting than the standard hollow circular arguments debasing public education and human teachers was that the three authors are all affiliated with Stanford University, as is the New Mexico Secretary-Designate of Public Education. Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not.

A viable democracy requires educated citizens capable of critical thinking and a strong sense of community. There is no social dimension to cyber or any other form of machine learning. Machines, by their nature, isolate learners from the social context provided by public schools and from the democratizing influences of that community. The 21st century Tower of Babel has been constructed and the intent clearly is to confound the narrative in order to dismantle the finest, most democratic and enabling institution this country has ever had, public education. At what price?

Henry Giroux, in Education And The Crisis Of Public Values, (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012) writing about what he calls the politics of humiliating teachers, public schooling and marginalizing youth put it this way.

Despite these grave circumstances, we seem to lack the critical language, civic courage, and public values to recognize that when a country institutionalizes a culture of cruelty that takes aim at public schools and their hard-working teachers, it is embarking on a form of self-sabotage and collective suicide whose victims will include not only education, but democracy itself.

This essay originally appeared at:http://www.nmpolitics.net/

A LITTLE HISTORY

A LITTLE HISTORY

What bothers me most about the current war against public education is that it is a-historical. It is as if schools suddenly went bad a few months ago or coincidentally with Jeb Bush needing something to keep himself busy when his term of office in Florida expired. Without any education credentials whatsoever Jeb is now on the leading edge of the assault on public education and teachers. Foundations and acolytes scattered across the country are feeding the frenzy along with a little help from friends and buddies such as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, the Koch boys and so forth. Without intending cynicism this to me resembles class warfare more than a little.

As the saying goes, those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it so I thought perhaps a small dose of history would render a bit of perspective to the snake-oil presently being offered by the newly ordained “experts” and their minions. This is also the first time teachers are being cast as villains so I will add here parenthetically, that anyone who thinks teachers control the curriculum in public schools is dangerously misinformed. Control of pubic education is and has long been in the hands of administrators, school boards and state and federal agencies. Teachers hold the lowest spot on the policy totem pole but they carry the greatest liability and the most intimate consequences.

Teachers are the public face of educational policy and so have become targets of opportunity. One television advertising campaign being used to promote mechanized education even goes so far as to demonize teachers as inferred child molesters. This malicious campaign was created by a national consultant who when speaking to wealthy education industry investors advised them that rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level? … Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts… We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.”

Reframing the problem is quite easy so long as no one engages the public narrative from a factual historical perspective. Even a well meaning public or a well intentioned state legislature can be easily manipulated with expertly applied misinformation and distortions doled out by unscrupulous public opinion manipulators and well placed operatives within governmental agencies. Government programs with simplistic innocuous sounding names like No Child Left Behind or ABCD-F – reflect professional advertising and propaganda to reframe the problem. After all, who would openly admit to wanting to leave a child behind. The unscrupulous lust for profit seems to have no moral, social or ethical boundaries. The running narrative placing blame on teachers and public schools has no rational justification. This distortion however is a time-honored technique of despots used throughout history to isolate and demonize minorities. The programs cited above are intended to create failure and thus frame the public dialog. In truth while schools and teachers are certainly not perfect I regard such propaganda campaigns as sociopathic. They are about money, not about children.

The short history of public education from the early 1800s to the present is a record of relentlessly evolving ideas about content and methodology, that is, curriculum and instruction. Generally speaking, public education seems to have absorbed in one way or another all the reforms initiated from the early 1800s to the present. In the 1820s there were Mental Disciplinarians, then Developmentalists and the Social Meliorists who were followed by the Social Efficiency movement of the early 20th century. There were others but these were the most influential and they provided the foundational ideas on which modern American curriculum and instruction were built. Over time the ideas embodied in these movements wove themselves into the fabric of American schooling so completely that they have become indistinguishable. I think it most important to point out here that not one of these influential movements spanning two centuries was ever motivated by profit.

In the early part of the 19th century and into the next the United States was primarily an agrarian society and what public schooling there was reflected that. Starting in the early 20th century the country began its transition to an industrial society. The industrial period ran through two world wars and America became the undisputed industrial giant of the entire planet. Public education was geared to the needs of  an industrial society. Now, in the early 21st century we are becoming a post-industrial society and public education will again evolve to accommodate the needs of the new reality. There have been a multitude of other forces and influences on public education of course but those above are the broad strokes.

It is important also to note that at no time in the span of this history has any one educational movement held complete sway. In fact it seems that as they emerged each went to work with the others. Eventually parts of each became woven into the fabric of the educational experience. Today the US is a diverse society with a large but not dominant agricultural economic sector and, though somewhat diminished, a nevertheless vigorous industrial sector continues as well. Like all of history nothing is all the same everywhere all of the time but the parts and the influences of everything are wherever we look. In the future as in the past public education will reflect the times and the people. America needs people who can think critically, learn readily and reflect the values of the community. Public education’s mission is to encourage learning as a value and as a commitment to the society at large; this requires educating children not training them as if they are destined to become robots.

n.b. An excellent study of the history of American curriculum is:

The Struggle For The American Curriculum 1893-1958, 2nd ed., Herbert M. Kliebard, Routledge,1995

this essay first appeared at: http://nmpolitics.net/index/

Fire Two Teachers and Call Me in the Morning.

Fire Two Teachers …

“Fire two teachers and call me in the morning …” seems to be the cure-all that neo-liberal and right-wing activists are banging their drums for. The next move after the “ABCD-F” scam will be to legislate recognition of mail-order teaching degrees from online diploma mills. Wanna bet? Recall that our secretary-designate of education has placed on her PED Advisory Board David Saba the CEO of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, a private company and publisher of self-paced online teaching certification programs. The  train is coming down the tracks right now as public schools, public school teachers and teaching are attacked and denigrated.

Another private organization, “National Council on Teacher Quality” has published a little document titled a bit disingenuously, “Increasing the Odds – How Good Policies Can Yield Better Teachers“. The ultimate purpose of this document published in 2004 is to disenfranchise university and college-level schools of education and, most importantly, teachers and teachers’ unions. It is a call to dumb down the practice of teaching and learning to the extent that the authors claim there is no value to be gained from teachers earning masters’ degrees. So much for the value of education.

A problem cannot be solved without at least some measure of understanding and historical perspective as to what exactly the nature of the problem is and how it was arrived at. In other words, what are we talking about when someone says public education is failing? The condemnation of public education is a manufactured stampede to the destruction of that institution. The public needs to ask a lot of questions about the motives and intended purposes behind this condemnation. How are schools failing? Why are they failing? How did this all begin, when and where?

This entire early 21st century school reform argument is, I think, fueled by organized pretense and sophisticated public relations propaganda. When someone presents solutions to a problem without clearly defining that problem and its nature their motives and methods are to me suspect. When rapacious billionaires like Rupert Murdoch salivate for their piece of what they see as a lucrative education market, something other than authentic school reform is on their minds. Last year when Rupert acquired a school performance tracking firm, Wireless Generation, his take was, “When it comes to K-through-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Murdoch later told an assembly of educational reform crusaders in San Francisco this past October, “Put simply we must approach education … willing to blow up what doesn’t work or gets in the way.” This week (11/15/11) the Walton (Wal-Mart) family’s foundation gave $25.5 million to the KIPP charter school system.  Public schools, public school teachers and teachers’ unions beware – you are definitely in their way. You are on the target list. Duck and cover isn’t going to do it for you either, you are going have to come out swinging if you want to survive this onslaught.

SOME PERSPECTIVE

The problem with public education and the solution appeared with the George W. Bush administration and, as a result, we were “gifted” with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) scam. The program, when stripped of its rhetoric, is essentially a testing regime starting with children as young as 4 years of age. Tests emanating from Washington DC and prepared by private testing companies, as might be expected, determined that kids were not learning to read and do arithmetic. Soon school systems, in order to retain federal funding, were pursuing better NCLB test scores by one means or another and you may recall the scandal that happened in Georgia. Atlanta teachers, on orders from their administrators, were altering test scores. Other teachers around the country began “teaching to the test”. Suddenly public education was on the ropes.

In my estimation, NCLB is the domestic propaganda equivalent of Iraq’s WMD – a problem created to rationalize and facilitate a “solution”. Another gift from the Bush dynasty, including brother Jeb who overnight became an education expert. And who were the beneficiaries of this gift that keeps on giving – kids, teachers, the public? Seed Money for Conservatives spells out who got the goodies: Shortly after the act was born in 2001 the US Department of Education doled out nearly $78 billion via NCLB to “private, for-profit and/or religious schools.” The two principle actors at the Department of Education at that time were Eugene Hickok and Nina Shokraii both with long histories with pro-privatization outfits like the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform.

While the Bush 2005 budget provided the smallest spending for education compared to the nine preceding years, a $50 million experiment for school vouchers was approved diverting that money from public schools to private ones. From 2001 thru 2003 the US Department of Education gave $77.76 million to various groups all advocates for privatized education, including K12, founded by William Bennett. (Remember him?) You might recall our current secretary-designate of education, before she was posted to NM, was the CEO of Laying The Foundation, Inc. a private teacher training company. If you have harbored any doubts about what this new wave of school reform is about you now have a few things to think about.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

In the late 1800s when mass public education was in its infancy social needs and conditions were very different from what they are now. Public schools taught personal hygiene with as much intensity as they taught the alphabet. Why? Because living conditions were enormously different in those times. Punctuality was a major curricular objective among the teaching objectives in city schools in those times. Why? Because employers wanted reliable employees who could be counted upon to arrive at work on time and be prepared to carry out their tasks. The first writing on curriculum and instruction in the US was the work of industrial efficiency experts and academics such as Elwood Cubberly, who in 1905 had this to say about the purpose of public education:

“[Schools should be factories] “in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products…manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry.” – Elwood Cubberly, Dean of Education at Stanford (1905)

LEARNING TO LEARN

What do children today need to learn in order to have a successful future life? A child entering public school this past September will not enter the work force, at the earliest if he or she matriculates from high school, until 2025. Who even has a clue what the world will be like in 2025? And therein lies the rub.

After a life-long involvement in teaching – elementary school children to graduate students – I will say without hesitation and without diminishing the value of other essential skills – learning to learn is, the most vital skill anyone can acquire. While content rapidly becomes obsolete the skill of learning lasts a life-time. Firing or demeaning teachers because students aren’t learning to read at a rate determined by someone who doesn’t know the individual children is a scam to justify hiring low-cost educational workers, installing high-cost teaching machines and hiring expensive “consultants”.

Testing is not by any stretch of the imagination teaching and it ought not to be the curriculum either. Razzle-dazzle machines are not teachers they are merely an impoverished implementation of low-level Skinnerian operant conditioning. Schools are not factories, children are not “products” to be “manufactured” and public education is not a market to be exploited . Teaching and learning are human-to-human activities, and this process has been going on since pre-historic times. The simple fact that we are still on the planet suggests success for the relationship. Let’s keep it that way.

This essay was first published at:  http://NMPolitics.net

The More Things Change…

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…

As I started to outline my thoughts for this essay, The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same, I recalled my first day in tech school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas in 1961, learning how to maintain and launch an Atlas-F ICBM. I was a brand new 2nd Lieutenant in a group of about 20 officers ranging from “Brown Bars” like me to Lt. Colonels. The introduction was delivered by a young 1st Lt. who was enthusiastic to the point of delight about how modern warfare would never be the same because of these amazing ICBMs. The fellow rattled off dazzling statistic after dazzling statistic about range, targeting accuracy, response time, time to target and so on. The guy was absolutely glowing as he addressed the mixed group of newbies and old hands about the amazing capabilities of the Atlas F weapon system and a future of space travel, orbiting space stations, men on the moon and so on. For the time, it was all Buck Rogers whiz-bang.

At this point in the presentation there was a rather loud “Harrumph!!”. I looked back as a grizzled Captain, obviously recalled from retirement to active duty, growled loudly, “Aw, baloney! I’ll bet anybody anything that the day they land a man on the moon there’ll be a Goon in the pattern with fresh fruit and vegetables.”


(C-47 a WWII era cargo aircraft affectionately known in the AF as the “Gooney Bird” in which the author flew  when he was first on active duty in 1961.)

Of course the class broke into gales of laughter – you had to be there I suppose – everyone enjoyed the counter-point. This guy had flown very many combat missions, had been shot at on numerous occasions and wasn’t terribly impressed with the idea of sitting in an underground bunker waiting to launch a missile at someone half-way around the planet he couldn’t see.

When I read the front page story in the Sunday, September 4th, New York Times, In Classrooms of Future, Stagnant Scores, I heard myself say, “Aw Baloney!” and I felt much the same way the Captain must have. The article cited details the introduction and use of high tech devices in a school system in Chandler, Arizona. This community has so far spent 33 million dollars to acquire the latest and greatest educational whiz-bang gadgets to outfit their schoolrooms. The article goes on to report that, “… schools are spending billions on technology, even as they lay off teachers, with little or no proof that this approach is improving basic learning.” The Chandler story is being repeated across the country as schools acquire the latest gadgets and get rid of teachers.

Frankly, I think we have slipped our intellectual and moral anchors and are now rapidly drifting off into an ocean of gullibility and hidden agendas. School officials are behaving much like Pacific island cargo cults waiting for that magical ship to sail over the horizon bearing all the answers to successful standardized test scores so they can beat the No Child Left Behind rap. They are bereft of good ideas of their own and are desperate. How did we come to this and what other ideas are possible?

WHAT’S THE REAL DEAL?

The “real deal” isn’t gadgets, it isn’t holding back and it certainly isn’t social promotion either. It isn’t bogus programs like No Child Left Behind. Those lame ideas have been and are being proven wrong over and over again – ad nauseum. Some things actually do work however and we need to ask, what is it that the successful charter schools do that regular public schools don’t? Are the technos ready for this brain-exploding revelation? 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 …… They spend more time with kids!Eeeeeek! More time? That means more teachers and tutors. That means more mentoring. We don’t want to pay for more humans but …. maybe there’s a machine we can buy that will do the job.” There is more to the “Eeeeeek!” factor, however, and we’ll get to that later.

In contrast to the Chandler experience, in Houston, Texas the Schools Superintendent is experimenting with – are you ready for this?  Here it comes !!!! ….. More time, More teachers, More tutors, More mentoring. And, as a result, the educational/instructional outcomes are improving. Troubled Schools Try Mimicking the Charters

There were five policies identified by the fellow who consulted with the Houston school system that he deemed “common to the successful charters” and these were:

  • Longer school days and years.
  • More rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers.
  • Frequent quizzes to determine what needs to be retaught – and “high dosage tutoring”.
  • A “no excuses” culture.

To this end, the Houston school cited in the story hired 50 full-time math tutors. More teachers, more tutors, more of the most essential ingredient in successful teaching and learning – one-on-one contact between teachers and learners. The tutors come from various backgrounds and the one cited in the story was formerly an engineer who easily illustrated how “negative 7 and positive 7 have the same absolute value” to a struggling student by drawing a number line for her. This is not unlike a master carpenter showing an apprentice how to square a layout – this is teaching as it has been done for as long as adults have been passing knowledge to young people.

Machines do not understand when a child is “struggling”, machines cannot interpret a puzzled look on a child’s face, machines cannot sense emotion and allay fear and uncertainty with a pat on the back or an encouraging word as can an adult who knows the child. These are the strong and irrefutable reasons why caring humans are the first and best teachers of other humans. And, it should go without saying that there have to be enough teachers, tutors and mentors to go around.

I am not at all opposed to the use of technology in classrooms as such. In these 21st Century times marvelous devices can be employed to extend the reach of teachers but, it must always be understood, machines cannot replace human teachers. Why? Because we are not talking about assembly lines and robots we are talking about schools and children. My values embrace personal achievement as opposed to standardized test scores and advocacy for children as distinct from advocacy for social promotion and holding back. Teaching a kid with the object of passing the NCLB test is not by any stretch of the imagination education. My advocacy is also a position with moral dimensions: we unquestionably devalue humanity by assigning to machines what is the essentially human task of people teaching people and when we demean a child with the humiliation of being held back. We have only to ask: What human values are transmitted to a child by a machine? What values are transmitted by humiliation? Who, in these circumstances is the ultimate beneficiary?

We must question why remedies are being proposed which are essentially punitive and not educative as to subject matter. We are justified in asking what other agendas might underlie policies that are essentially more political than educational. As a public policy, holding children back in grade is not about education but more a manipulation of public perception. The proposed policy of ending social promotion is no more than a Trojan Horse laying the ground work for selling out public education to the lowest bidder. This is the “Eeeeeek!” factor I alluded to earlier, this is the hidden agenda we must be alert to.

If we wish to promote a humane society, the teaching learning enterprise must then always be humane and human. In the final analysis there must always be teachers in the pattern, caring human teachers doing what teachers have been doing for eons – teaching children, passing on our collective knowledge and our collective societal values, which values include recognizing and respecting each other’s humanity – it cannot be about profit. Morally, the responsibility and execution of public education must always remain public. There is no other way to create and maintain a humane, just and civilized society except as a public enterprise.


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