Posts Tagged 'Bill Gates'

The Importance of Public Education

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” So said Aristotle and likewise a number of others such as  St. Francis Xavier to whom the quotation is sometimes attributed. Even Adolf Hitler took credit for this quotation and recently an American billionaire speaking about the importance of early childhood education. Aristotle lives as his thoughts are being cribbed more than 2000 years later. To paraphrase another famous quote – a great phrase has a thousand authors and that’s because Aristotle’s statement rings true to this day, the proof of this pudding is the eagerness to destroy and privatize public education especially as seen in billionaires from Rupert Murdoch to Bill Gates, and right-wing politicians.

  It is inarguable that to be fully functioning responsible members of any society children must be properly educated, a process that is thousands of years old because it is indisputably vital to the community interest. Consequently, in our times, we must beware of the politicization of the public discourse aimed at disparaging public schools and public school educators.  How can authentic education happen when it is reduced to ingestion, regurgitation, and controlled performance not unlike the training of seals? We must ask how can an educative process take place when children’s noses are pressed against computer screens informing only themselves in a controlled, circumscribed, and contrived personal world and not always in a classroom with other children? We must also ask: What is the purpose of this recent interest in public education by people and groups that have no training and no expertise in the field? Can it be simply that Rupert Murdoch sees K through 12 education as a “$500 billion sector in the US alone” that is his for the taking with the help of ambitious politicians? Yes, it could be about money but profit is neither a humane nor a socially constructive motive. I believe childhood education must be more than that; a civil society depends on it.

If you wanted to control any society where would you start? With the health and welfare of the general public perhaps? Or maybe civil courts where well-paid insurance company lawyers beat back attempts to hold culpable parties responsible? How about ubiquitous universal surveillance of your activities, phone calls, and internet browsing? Controlling the public narrative is especially effective and important because so many people don’t look beyond what they see and hear in the media or the circumstances of their own lives; they often don’t look beyond information that confirms their beliefs or feeds their fears.

If you are in it for the long game wouldn’t public education be the best place to start your agenda? And what would the “long game” be about? I believe the long game is about social control.  Historically, while propaganda has been one of the central tactics used to create and maintain social control so too has childhood education. An often used tactic today is funding charter schools and taking money from traditional public schools. Couple this with a continual disparagement of public school educators who work long hours with pay that falls far short of their education and dedication who are replaced in many of the new schools with cheaper to hire staff who in many cases are not trained as teachers. In some states educational management organizations (EMOs) are running 30% of all charter schools and of those 16% are for-profit operations. There are also “virtual” charter schools where instruction is provided at home over the internet further distancing children from the socializing aspects of public schools.

The foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism or socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, and it has never been, before now, about profit. Public education has always been about the development of each child as an individual to the fullest extent of their abilities for the ultimate benefit of society. Public schools are about Community, about Democracy, about civility. The antithesis of self-centeredness is Community and Community means all of us working together, learning and teaching, not grasping whatever can be at whatever cost to others, oblivious to an inclusive  social contract. Public education is where children learn and practice these values.

The proper focus of authentic education is not ingestion and disgorgement of information like trained seals clapping their flippers on command but a process of development that leads to critical thinking and life-long learning skills. Information can readily be absorbed when that information is relevant to human purpose and life as it is lived. I have been writing about this question for a long time, I taught about it for several years at one of the world’s great universities and it worries me to see politicians and non-educators controlling children’s lives as a form of self-promotion, as profit centers. It is well worth repeating now: it is what Aristotle was telling us so many centuries ago.

   

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/


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