Archive for the 'on Schools' Category

Just published my book “Schools and Society”!

My book “Schools and Society” is now available at Amazon! Both editions, print and e-book.

About the Third Grade Retention Fantasy

I’ll start this with a confession. I was held back in third grade not because I couldn’t read but because I obstinately refused to memorize multiplication and division tables. I expressed myself on the issue in strong terms (which was another but somewhat separate crime) – I thought it was a waste of time and I didn’t mind saying so. After having achieved a PhD, three Masters’ degrees and a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and spending years as a Burington carrying nerd intimate with non-linear differential equations and with a “log-log-deci-trig” slide rule carried in a holster on my belt I still assert that memorization for the sake of memorization is a waste of time and a poor substitute for authentic teaching. Being well educated is not being a well trained parrot or seal. I have a close friend who was held back in third grade because he wasn’t learning to read on the schedule predetermined by school authorities. He went on to earn a doctorate and became a college professor in spite of having been diagnosed as mildly dyslexic. He despises public schools in no small part because of his experience being held back.

My humiliation for obstinacy in the 1940s still galls me because it reflects an authoritarian attitude which persists to this day and which has nothing to do with the self-discipline necessary to scholarship. This attitude is oblivious to what teaching and learning are truly meant to be and mindless of the consequences of treating children like seals to be trained to clap their flippers on command. The upside however is that based on personal experience I have a keen insight into this demeaning, antediluvian self-esteem destroying policy. It is cruel, it is ineffective, and frankly, it is as stupid as the corollary, holding a teacher responsible for a child not learning to read on someone else’s schedule. The working definition of stupid I use is by the economic historian Carlo Maria Cipolla:

 A person is stupid if they cause damage to another person or group of people without experiencing personal gain, or even worse causing damage to themselves in the process.

Children learn to read in the same manner as they learn to walk – as they become ready to. Children are not programmable computer chips all endowed with the same blank schedule on which they will learn what adults insist they learn. As a culture and as a society, we are supposed to be evolving, not regressing. Retention in grade is backwards and unproductive – if your intentions are to educate, that is. If you have other and ulterior motives such as proving public schools to be ineffective so they can be replaced by corporate schools that’s another case.

The first problem with holding a child back for not being able to do something the child is innately unable to do at that moment is that it humiliates and damages the child’s willingness to take the risks necessary to take the intellectual leaps that lead to true understanding and authentic learning. Secondly, the child is stigmatized by his peers for as long as the cohort remains together which can last through high school and that alone can be a deterrent to staying in school beyond legal necessity. The practice of retention is not educative – it is punitive, cruel and not conducive to establishing a life-long interest in learning. If it is anything, it is anti-social and alienating. Adults who were humiliated in public school do not make keen supporters of public education. 

Reading can be and should be learned just as one learns a musical instrument – practice, practice, practice until fluency is achieved – no grade levels necessary. As there are no grade levels the music student moves from level to level as ability and understanding permit; the difficulty of the etudes are graduated as the learner progresses. Learning to read is absolutely no different. Grade levels are an unnecessary and counterproductive anachronism; they can only be justified as a punitive administrative convenience, and in elementary schools they ought to be done away with. 

Another and often overlooked aspect of learning to read is motivation. A child’s desire and interest in learning to read is largely derived from home life. If there are no reading materials in the home, if the parents do not read, if success in life is not coupled to reading, guess what? There is no motive for learning to read. How then can anyone reasonably justify holding a classroom teacher liable for 

those deficiencies in the child’s life? This attitude unfairly demonizes teachers and treads lightly on parents who are only too happy to absolve themselves and whose political support is courted for ever more draconian school reforms.

Any educational policy that punishes and humiliates children for not learning at an arbitrary rate is inhumane and only serves to alienate and erodes the social contract. It is negative and self-defeating to society, not to mention damaging to children. What never fails to astonish me is the lengths some adults will go to to use children to further their own selfish political and social agendas. I have what I call the wheelbarrow theory of child-raising and childhood education. In this scenario children are used by adults as wheelbarrows to truck around their own issues and agendas. These agendas and issues have nothing to do with the children so used – it’s all about the adults. What a pity.

Thoughts on “It Can’t Happen Here”

Some time back I wrote a review of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here”. I picked the book up again because, in fact, it is happening here. This essay will use excerpts from that review to illustrate and make what I believe are important points regarding recent political events in which a clearly unqualified and unsuitable individual won the 2016 race for President of the United States and then went on to propose drastic cuts to federal programs so depended upon by people across the United States. Here is a list published by the New York Times and other entities:

  • $5 billion in cuts to public education.
  • $73 billion in cuts to Social Security.
  • $191 billion in cuts to food stamps.
  • $610 billion in cuts to Medicaid (and that’s in addition to the $880 billion the
  • House Republicans are slashing with their Stealth ”health care” bill).
  • $72 billion in cuts to disability benefits.
  • $53 billion in cuts to unemployment benefits.
  • $22 billion cut from low-income family support.
  • $6 billion cut from the National Institutes of Health.
  • $1.2 billion cut to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • $1 billion cut to National Cancer Institute.
  • $838 million cut to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • $776 million cut to National Science Foundation.
  • $575 million cut to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

(Sources: White House, Washington Post, New York Times)

Of course the President isn’t alone in this savaging of the social contract he is being assisted by Congressional Republicans who are exhibiting  a serious case of sociopathy themselves. The Democratic party contributed its share to the debacle when they conducted what amounted to a rigged convention to nominate a candidate who was not the choice of rank and file Democrats.

We must also include in this the constant undermining of the news media by the president with his mantra of “fake news”. This constant false characterization of the news media is a blatant effort to cause people to not trust what they read in newspapers or watch on television if it contradicts what the Presidential is trying to spin. This is all about social control, this is about being able to lie and to deceive the public. When the public doesn’t have access to the truth, when they are led to believe they cannot trust sources of news even to the extent that crowd sizes at rallies are constantly inflated to cast greater approval than really exists. For example he is touting today that 15 thousand people attended his rally yesterday when, in fact, by official count 4 thousand did.  It is childish propaganda but effective propaganda at that. When the truth cannot be known the effect is devastating and we have a dangerous situation on our hands.

 

In my earlier essay I wrote:

Yes, it can happen here, and some would say it’s already happening. Written in 1935, Sinclair Lewis’ prescient novel, “It Can’t Happen Here” tells what happens to a country when people are complacent and compliant while others feel their time has come. The novel is an allegory, a morality tale, a story depicting the unquenchable quest for renown, power, and oftentimes wealth in a “go along to get along” complacent society. This is also what is referred to as Big Man theory and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The Big Man, often inflicted with NPD, dispenses favors, employment, and material gain to sycophants in return for loyalty and support.

Sad to say, that opening sentence was prescient and I felt it more than I thought it. There were other reasons of course, including what many of us thought was a dishonest primary with high party officials, including the party chairwoman, colluding to favor one candidate over another a fact later confirmed by ballot counts. Complacency in the form of a great many eligible people simply not voting either in the primary or in the general election added to the debacle. The lack of voter interest and participation is, in and of itself, a terrible commentary on and worrisome omen for the future of politics in the United States, for the future of what is left of democracy. Think for just a moment of those who sacrificed, either with lengthy commitment of time out of their lives or by making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, to preserve this so-called Democracy. The depth of tragedy is unavoidably clear.

Where were all those “Freedom Loving” Americans who stand for the national anthem even if they don’t know the words and can’t follow the music? Do they not know, have they not been taught, do they not understand the importance of voting, of informing themselves of what is at stake? What happened? Where did the American socialization process go off the tracks, substituting consumerism for patriotism?

Lewis describes the pathology that infects both sides of the current Democrat/Republican equation …  from local politics to labor unions. It’s a two way street. The “leader” generally requires obsequious feedback and loyalty and the followers require favors in return for their affirmation and adoration. Everyone in the game has a handful of “gimme” and a mouthful of “much obliged”. It often doesn’t matter what the actors receive so long as they get “something” – a vote, a ride in a limo, a free meal, or simply an “atta boy” pat on the back. Such “leaders” possess an innate primal instinct to identify and exploit weaknesses crucial to their success.

It is a pathology, a disintegration of a social contract that requires responsibility for the conduct of a society and the outcomes of its governance. It’s a pathology that can become fatal. I have witnessed instances of these kinds of “leaders” asserting control over organizations and social scenes and the pattern is always the same. Favors are given, loyalty replaces thoughtful engagement, “goodies” flow, and promises predicting even more “goodies” or “free” munchies for the faithful. It is, on evidence, an “innate primal instinct”. It is always, I believe, a matter of ambition over integrity, of emotion over reason.

… consider the following symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as described by the DSM-5 diagnostic text and … ask yourself if you recognize any of these in the current political milieu.

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs

These specifications describe our 2016 Presidential election and its outcome. The specifications apply to both sides, some elements applying more to one candidate than the other. To these I would add two more. There is a certain kind of ruthlessness that specifically negates civility and exploits weakness in others. If you add together the elements of anomic personality disorder you can come up with a fair and accurate description of the actors in this modern-day drama especially the over-weaning necessity to dominate and to receive submission. Last but not least, in connection with the former, include the need for revenge as punishment for failure of obsequiousness and obedience. 

The obvious parallels are manifested in Windrip’s startling resemblance to two of the current candidates running for President of the US and Jessup’s avuncular resemblance to a sidelined populist former candidate for President.  Yes, history does indeed repeat itself. I vividly remember the turmoil of 1968 and the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy. As you read … I believe you’ll find yourself wondering if things ever actually change and what is our fate as a society if we cannot do better than this? Think of “It Can’t Happen Here” as an early warning call to action.

As much as some people seem to be revolted by the notion, our social contract is underwritten by socialistic policies such as Social Security, Health Care, highways and by ways maintained by governments, police departments, fire departments, and a standing military; all of this for the benefit and good of all, even if more for some than others. Will all of this be dismantled in a sociopathic jihad that posits everyone should be on their own in some kind of uncivilized jungle ethos? Are we just going to give this a whirl and see where it ends while the rest of the world watches? Good luck!

It’s A Scam

Over the past several years public education and public school teachers have become the whipping boys for everyone from presidents of the United States to governors, mayors, various political appointees such as secretaries of education, newspaper and magazine reporters, and others who share one vital characteristic: virtually none of them are professional educators with any experience or training in education. Everybody is an expert when it comes to criticizing public education and teachers. These self-ordained opinionated grandees have a bully pulpit from which to deprecate professional public school educators. Their opinions sell newspapers and magazines sowing doubt and mistrust of a public institution that has been a pillar of society since the Massachusetts legislature appropriated 400 pounds for public education in 1676.

What is going on now is a scam actually, and it’s way past time for this fraud to be called out. This is not to say that public schools couldn’t do better or that all public school teachers are great. That isn’t the point. We are, after all, dealing with children on the one hand – young human beings who come in a variety of skills and intellectual levels, and from home environments that may or may not support or value schooling. On the other hand, not all teachers are created equal, nor would any professional educator claim otherwise.

We have to concede something is afoot that doesn’t bode well for public education when the president of the United States nominates and a Republican-dominated Congress installs, Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education at an annual salary of $162,000, a millionaire, a charter school cheerleader, who has no education credentials, never attended public schools, and whose own children did not attend public schools. Across the country governors have appointed officials to oversee public education who have the same lack of credentials as DeVos, acting like foot-soldiers marching to the same destructive agenda to denigrate public education and teachers and to promote charter schools.

In New Mexico the Secretary of Public Education receives an annual salary of $126,000 – a substantial amount of money for an un-credentialed privatization commando vetted by Jeb Bush, another anti-public – education activist, to oversee credentialed teachers whose average annual salary is about $47,000. It isn’t just Republicans – the Democrats, including Barak Obama and his Chicago pals, have been at privatization hammer and tong for more than eight years themselves. The pattern and motives of these “reformers” are far too obvious to deny or ignore, and it has nothing to do with better educational outcomes. It’s all about money. It’s all about privatization – getting private fingers into the public till.

The irony  is obvious – taking money from the taxpaying public to destroy a vital public institution that, unlike charter schools, must take all comers. Interestingly the attack on public education also comes with a heavy dose of political rhetoric and practice aimed at damaging what’s left of democracy and a civil society using tactics and strategies like voter disenfranchisement and racially motivated redistricting to make voting more difficult. Of course the attacks on public education have been going on for years. In the past the arguments were different and not motivated by greed but by ideas and theories of education. John Dewey described it as the “opposition between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without”. The argument was not motivated, as it is today, by venality but by whether learning is personal and education is social – it was about education as a vital social institution essential to a democratic society.

What you are also not hearing about from the self-anointed reformers is any mention of the critical role of parents in their children’s education, mainly because it would be bad politics to alienate them. However, parental involvement is the most essential element in childhood education. Parents must participate, they must monitor, they must have expectations of their children and enforce those expectations. Teachers cannot do this alone. Another canard is the slavish imposition of testing regimes based on the false assertion that all children are somehow created equal in their learning abilities and interests and so should all test out equally at the same time.

These are cruel and self-defeating assumptions that discourage authentic teaching and learning. We have been inflicted with Common Core, No Child Left Behind, so on and so forth with no end to the important – sounding organizations, programs, initiatives, and whatever else can be conjured to promote the idea that public schools are failing. None of these programs existed in the 1940s and 50s when public schools were turning out well-prepared students. The future was bright with promise; Dads and Moms paid attention to what their children were doing in school and heaven forbid that you took home a report card that indicated lack of attention and achievement. Parents were summoned to have a chat with the teacher and a child’s failure to apply themselves to learning was dealt with.

Public education was not a perfect system then but it worked, and one reason it worked so well was because, in addition to parental involvement,  there was an economy. It didn’t matter if a kid was in an academic or a vocational track, there were jobs and opportunities, there were incentives. It was a different world and no one was promoting the idea of schools as profit centers. Teachers were respected members of the community. There were parental and community   expectations of good behavior and respect towards teachers and adults in general. We need respect for teaching and learning, for personal achievement, and for each other. In the end what we need is rational school reform, not radical school reform.

     

Nothing Fundamentally Wrong With Public Education

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with public education in the United States; it is not the monster right-wing millionaires and their on-a-leash politicians would have you believe. There is nothing wrong with public school teachers either; they are not incompetent free-loaders, not monsters indoctrinating children with liberal ideas. The notion that something is wrong with public schools and teachers sprang up as full blown from the forehead of Zeus when multi-millionaire entrepreneurs began seeing public education as a profit center. Rupert Murdoch, for example, once declared public education a multi-million dollar opportunity for entrepreneurs. When the idea of for-profit public education dawned on certain groups of people public education became an instant “crisis” and was thereafter bleeding in front of sharks.

Public school teachers became targetable in large measure because they are seen as bastions of political liberality by organizations such as ALEC hence its mission to privatize public education, eliminate teachers unions, and even to influence curricula and teaching at public universities compliments of the Koch boys. Now that we have a president-elect for whom money is paramount, we suddenly have a “huge” crisis. The attacks are now destined to be full-frontal with an outspoken advocate of privatization, Betsy deVos, to be installed as the Secretary of Education who, like so many other critics of public education, has no credentials as an educator. DeVos is a long-time advocate of charter schools and the schools she championed are now seen generally as failures. Apparently, nothing succeeds like failure.

        

Here follows the most essential piece of information concerning public education generally. No two children are born the same in any way, shape, or form. Children do not learn anything at the same rate, in truth, they learn all things at different rates. Not all children come from homes where education is valued and learning encouraged. None of this is news. We have not, on a national scale, established an approach to public schooling that respects the learning abilities of all children as individual centers of experience and ability. Given what we know about teaching and learning, about the variables in learning abilities, about the importance of home lives in the development of children why have we continued an antedeluvian pedagogical model that is anti-child?

Schools of education teach about child development but regardless of this being the curriculum for very many years, public school organization is still mired in rigid grading systems, that move kids along the same timetable, the same learning age and grade track as when I was in elementary school 74 years ago. More than any other reason school organization is political and it is seriously wrong, harmful, and dishonest. These truths are seldom if ever spoken out loud in part for political correctness, to not enrage parents, and, most importantly, to avoid stigmatizing children. Sitting on the floor singing “Kumbaya” is not authentic education either.

Age grouped grades are and have been a hoax and a cruel one that has been imposed on children for many years rewarding those for whom the learning experiences are appropriate but destructive and stigmatizing those for whom they are not. Every professional educator is aware of this, it has been the elephant in the room since public schools were organized and still no one wants to talk about it. 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 on its face. 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 willful ignorance of the educational process. To use such testing to make a buck is immoral. Education is not a manufacturing process and uniformity is never the objective of authentic learning.

The greatest threats to public education today are politics and greed. In the past ten and more years public education has become increasingly politicized with devastating results and for venal motives that have nothing to do with wanting children to be educated. The teaching profession has been under political attack to such an extent that there is a looming shortage of traditionally trained classroom teachers which is certainly to the satisfaction and purposes of those attacking the profession. In New Mexico, where I live, researchers have found there are nearly 600 open teaching positions. Even substitute teachers are in short supply as for example Albuquerque is currently looking for more than 200 people to fill in until accredited full-time teachers can be hired.

The keys to authentic education have always been interest and ability and when these are absent so too is authentic learning. Needless to say authentic learning and authentic teaching go hand-in-hand, neither can function when teachers cannot devote an appropriate amount of time to each learner. Nor when teachers must teach to a test to satisfy a political agenda. Consequently, when a school system increases class sizes and the number of available classroom teachers decreases we have a prescription for failure writ large and no claims to authentic teaching and learning can be made. What it does accomplish however is expose public education to the circling politically connected  privatization vultures.

Education’s Challenge: Don’t Play It Again Sam!

First a bit of history. I wrote this essay in 1971 when I was at the time finishing my Doctorate and was the Director of the University of Wisconsin Extension Service’s Regional Arts Program. I post it because when I recently came across it I was struck by how little the issues facing public school education  have changed since then. Credit and many thanks to: REGIONAL HISTORY CENTER NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY and: Margret Abbott, Assistant University Archivist, Regional History Center, Founders Memorial Library, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb Illinois 60115

 

Education’s Challenge: “Don’t Play It Again, Sam”

At a time when the world is crying out for relief from its social and environ-mental crisis our response must come in the form of radical departures from “business as usual” in the schools. Misplaced intelligence and well intentioned ignorance have made American schools like factories 1. With production came dehumanization and its consequences insensitivity to self, others and nature. The production view of education persists because of its appeal to those who fear human nature and who have deep needs for social control as well as for proof of status. At this moment the “in” euphemism for production .is “accountability”. Industrial conglomerates faced with dwindling business become the modem counterparts of the corporate management specialists and social efficiency experts of the early 1900’s. Schools are guaranteed results specified in advance this time through the application of space age technology. A new automated production line replaces the old piece-work methodology but the essential characteristics remain, Specified behavioral objectives are the stuff these dreams arc made of. Discrete bits of sanctified knowledge, neatly packaged, conveniently presented, and, above all, easily tested for are the substance of production. That children can be specified, designed produced, and quality-controlled like ball-bearings Is both the promise and the threat or these educational schemes. The children are to become dimensionally uniform – and as humane – as the perfect ball-bearings.

It is not that behavioral objectives are in themselves objectionable. The manner in which they are used to supersede the needs and intentions of individual persons is objectionable. When the goals of a few override the goals of individuals politically, we call it totalitarianism. When the goals of teachers and administrators similarly transcend the needs and intentions of children, it is called education. The more perfectly a school controls the behavior and training of its students the more favor it finds from those who have been conditioned to believe that this is all that is possible. As this cycle continues and the more deeply entrenched the ideas become, the greater the distance between man and his humane possibilities becomes. The more production-oriented the system, the more insensitive the “product” and the more remote the individual from the intricate and delicate interactions of nature.

Outdoor education is, at this point, in an enviable position. Educators are at the door asking for new behavioral objectives. At every conference the cry is, “Tell us what to teach and we’ll teach it.” The temptation is to haul out every-thing the outdoor educator has been trying to do for the past so many years.

Enormous lists of environmental concepts are being generated, card-filed, computerized, video-taped, cassette recorded, ad absurdum. And for what purpose? To replace old behavioral objectives with new one ? Objectives which are in step with the time and which would be proof positive that the     schools are keeping up and are responding to the environmental crisis? “Just give us the new specifications and we’ll get the new model on the assembly line.” Do we want to be party to this? Do we think the “new”. product will be more humane, more sensitive, or more responsive to the environment because the new specifications have been drawn up in our comer? If the present methodology does not work with present objectives (which, incidentally, are not so different from the new lists of environ-mental concepts) it isn’t going to work any better simply because the new objectives are more to our liking. The problem isn’t in the objectives but in the processes built into our educational systems from kindergarten to the universities.

All of us have had, at one time or another, experiences which reinforce this analysis. For instance, at a curriculum workshop conducted by a State Department of Instruction, my object was to help a group to define the terms concept, generalization, process, and evaluation. As we exchanged our views over these difficult words I remarked that, as human beings, “We are all process.” From birth to death, we are a synergistic collection of many and diverse processes. I was sharply rebutted by an elementary school principal, “I’m no process and that’s that!” It was difficult to convince him of what I took to be a self-evident truth. When we broke up the group, I could see that he was quite taken with this new perspective but for myself, I was deeply disturbed. As humans, especially in industrial societies, we have been so removed from a fundamental view of ourselves, from what we are as living organisms in the world, it is small wonder that we are capable of destroying our natural environment in so many ways. I am reminded of Lewis Mumford’s statement, in which he points out that in order for man to survive the dehumanized aspects of his work and existence he has had to tum his back on his more organic interests and become himself, a subsidiary machine.2

But nature knows no machines. Everything in nature from diatoms to mountain chains, from river beds to trilliums, everything is a process, a state of becoming. Nature knows no end products, no finalities. The remains of an extinct species fertilizes the earth so that new forms grow. Man, too, is both a process in himself and a part of the total process of the biosphere. It stands to reason then that when his actions violate this precious equation, disaster is the inevitable result. While few would argue this point with regard to Lake Erie or Los Angeles smog, fewer still would acknowledge the more pervasive but no less pernicious effects of mis-education.

What then is specifically amiss in modern education? Firstly, when people do not think of themselves as being a part of something, they are unable to respond to life in appropriate ways. When a relationship is based on conquering or having dominion over, be it social or environmental, it is not predisposed to loving interaction. When men feel that they are not themselves process, much less a part of a larger process, how can they feel nature, how can they help but be in conflict with the environment? They are already in conflict with themselves as individuals and as a species.

Before we can get at the root causes of environmental problems, then, education must take new forms-forms which are themselves consonant with natural processes. We must promote reforms of the fundamental concepts of public education away from production models, social control, and behavioral conditioning. We must find forms which respond to the needs of learners, which promote self-direction and self-control, which encourage community responsibility counting the environment (and all of the people and life in it) as an inseparable part of that community. The environmental problem has to be solved in the primary environment of human experience-the self. People must come to know themselves as fully functioning beings capable of influencing the circumstances of their lives before they can be expected to act in behalf of the natural environment which includes the forests, cities, marshes, and oceans. The environment which is to be cared for is what is around them and not something “over there” that some naturalist is concerned about. The ecosystem of a city slum is as much a part of the biosphere as Hell’s Canyon in Idaho. And outdoor education has a great and obvious responsibility to the inner city child just as it does to the preservation of the Blue Heron. Preserve one and not the other and you have nothing; love the child and preserve the Heron and you have everything. Give that child a view of himself as vital and capable, and then we will perhaps save the environment.

Outdoor educators concerned with self-image should recall the words of Henry David Thoreau, a great outdoor educator, “What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines or rather indicates his fate.”3 Man polluted the environment and man must un-pollute it. We cannot solve the problem but at its source -and the source is self. REFERENCES 1. Kliebard, Herbert M., “Bureaucracy and Curriculum Theory,” Freedom, Bureaucracy, and Schooling, 1971 Yearbook of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 2. Mumford, Lewis, Art and Technics. Columbia University Press, 1952.            3. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden. The New American Library, 1960. from the opening essay entitled, “Economy”.

 

The Beginning and the End

The Beginning and the End

My first day teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was an eye-opener. Following my PhD I was asked to stay and teach in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. Of course I was thrilled and, at the same time, thoroughly intimidated. On the first day I picked up the enrollment roster at the department office and, although I was half an hour early, I went to the assigned classroom, which was empty. I took a seat somewhat in the middle of the room and imagined myself at the lectern. What was I going to say? I had plenty of experience having taught for the university’s extension service for several years, but this was different. My PhD was in adult education – well, I concluded, students are adults so what’s the problem? 

Soon after taking my seat the bell rang, the corridors were filled, and students began to arrive. I remained in my seat in the middle of the room as students took their seats. I was amazed that the room was nearly filled and my anxiety level rose in proportion. Pretty soon things quieted down and the expectant group sat facing the front of the room. Eventually the 10 minute bell rang indicating that if the professor had not arrived students were free to leave. A few gathered their belongings and made for the door. “Whoa, hold it!” I said while remaining in my seat. “Where are you going?” “The Prof isn’t here, we’re leaving.” “How do you know the professor isn’t here?” The student pointed to the empty desk – “He isn’t here.” “Are you telling me your expectation is that teachers are always to be found at the front of the room?” At this point suspicions were aroused, my cover was blown, I introduced myself, and thus began my teaching career seated in the middle of the room. For me and for the students this was the beginning of the dialectic which defined our time together, which defined my teaching.

Teachers are not always at the front of the room. Teachers can be anywhere. Yes, the front of the room carries the weight of established authority but what kind of authority? Is a teacher’s authority defined by where they are standing or by what they know and by what they are capable of getting across? If a teacher’s authority is defined by anything other than what they know and are capable of communicating, what is being taught? What is being learned? Teachers must, I believe, ask themselves these questions every time they enter a classroom – I did and I reminded myself of it constantly. How could I teach what I didn’t practice, especially when my students were future teachers?

Schools are an extension of society and that alone establishes their value and importance. If this were not true, totalitarian governments would not exercise such control as they do over teachers and students. Public education is, of necessity, as much about social control as it is about subject matter. Social control at an early age is preparation for a lifetime of respect for authentic authority and responsible membership in society.

Children must be educated to be fully functioning members of society, a process that is thousands of years old. And, how does this happen when children’s noses are pressed against computer screens informing only themselves in a circumscribed and contrived personal world? Well, it won’t happen because “public” means all of us including children, working and learning as a community, not as self-enclosed, hermetic, self-absorbed centers of private experience. Public is the antithesis of self-centeredness. Public means all of us working together, learning and teaching, not grasping whatever we can at whatever cost to the community, oblivious to an inclusive  social contract. The foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism or socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, not about profit, but about civility, about community, about Democracy. How can this be taught? Not from the front of the room that’s for sure. LauTzu instructed us to lead from behind.


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