Posts Tagged 'children'

Children And Society As Fair Game

What is with the anti-children political agenda going on across the country? What do Republicans have against children? Why do they push laws to force women to have children then pass laws to harm those children and not just at the state level but at the national level as well by cutting funds for education, food stamps, health care, and anything else of social value?

To have witnessed a revolting fist-pumping celebration by a New Mexican Republican legislator for his victory over third-graders who aren’t ready to learn to read by third grade was an eye-opener. If someone had told me adults would celebrate such a victory I wouldn’t have  believed it – but I saw it with my own eyes! At the moment, 3rd grade retention is an iconic right-wing red-meat political issue, part of a larger strategy to privatize public education nationally. Public schools in Kansas are closing early because of a $51 million funding short-fall caused by the Governor’s budget cuts and tax breaks for businesses which themselves caused a $1 billion shortfall in state revenues. Children be damned – we won! Yea Us! Remember Hitler’s little dance at the fall of Paris?

Fourth grade school children in New Hampshire recently received a lesson in how vile partisan politics has become. The kids had proposed naming the Red Tailed Hawk as the state bird and then witnessed a Republican lawmaker take the floor and use the proposal to disparage Planned Parenthood.  Here is what the politician said to the body as the children watched: “It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.” The measure was defeated along party lines. The lesson the kids learned wasn’t part of the curriculum but it was an indelible lesson.

In North Carolina lawmakers recently turned down a school girl’s request to designate a state fossil because, as many were creationists fossils were an existential challenge. In Idaho naming the Giant Salamander the state amphibian as requested by school kids was killed by Republicans because they feared it would lead to environmental protections for that animal. This is like believing that having intercourse standing up leads to dancing. Sad but substantial lessons in contemporary political behavior and disregard for education in America today. And more than disregard, I believe fear of educated people is a root cause, people who can think and analyze before they vote, if they are allowed to vote, that is, and there are billionaires and their politicians working on that voting problem as well.

I’ve been thinking lately how fortunate we are that the Child Labor Laws were enacted in 1938 because I doubt they could be today. My mother worked in a Western Massachusetts mill at the age of 12. She had to carry a stool because she was too short to change bobbins without it. Her recollections of 12 hour work days and children regularly being injured were vivid into her late 90s. Remember, there was no workers comp back then and WC is now another target for the new reformers as are unemployment compensation, food stamps, and health care. In recent weeks Republicans in Congress just proposed a budget that would remove 11 million people from food stamps so Congress could provide bigger tax cuts to billionaires. Presently some Republican legislators and one born-rich presidential candidate in particular are going so far as to call for the end of 40 hour work weeks and the minimum wage. It’s starting to look like “back to the past”! Nothing surprises me anymore. What’s next? Perhaps bondage and children sold into servitude at birth? Debtors prisons have already been revived.

                                            child labor

At least for the moment children aren’t working in factories or on farms as child labor they are in school (for as long as that lasts) learning what we as a society believe they need to know to become productive fully-functioning adults. With state legislatures banning the teaching of global warming and trying to replace high achievement college placement courses with bible studies the definition of “fully-functioning” is undergoing profound distortion and re-definition. Texans for Education Reform and Republican leaders in that state’s senate are openly pursuing an ALEC sponsored agenda to privatize public education. Texas cut funding for public education by $5 billion a few years back and has offered no new money since then. School systems are floundering. What is being sought is total destruction of public schools and teachers.

But why? What is the desired outcome? What future are right-wing activists seeking? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be the objective, they must have something else in mind. Social control perhaps? A nation of sheep? Then again the rank and file of the movement may not have anything in mind except satisfying deeply held resentments and perceptions of being left out. Or, perhaps it’s fear of an increasingly uncertain future.

People are increasingly disinclined open their hearts for the homeless or for impoverished hungry children but they did open their wallets to the tune of nearly a million dollars for a bigoted bakery owner who shut down her business in order to not serve gays. Whatever the cause, sociopathy is fast becoming the new normal and children are the latest targets joining people of color, women, and gays. Next?

    

The Is and Isn’tness of Public Education

The Is and Isn’tness of Public Education

It’s not about children, people and it’s not about education. It’s about profit. Don’t let anyone, including Arne Duncan, tell you otherwise. The Rupert Murdochs, the Koch boys, the Michael Moes and other billionaires wouldn’t be stuffing vast sums of money into political campaign coffers unless they expected a commensurate ROI. There’s a public money jugular out there and investors are salivating. As Moe himself recently explained, “We see the education industry [my emphasis] today as the healthcare industry of 30 years ago.” He is referring to the American healthcare industry which can’t climb beyond 26th place out of 30 countries, and where the cost of an MRI can range anywhere from $335 to $2844.

The Oxford dictionary definition of industry is “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.” Schools as factories, children as raw materials to be manufactured into goods as a form of economic or commercial activity? Does that fit your definition of education?

In the US, monied interests have always exerted influence on public education, but much more directly now that investors are salivating for access to an “industry” of government-enabled testing and corporatized alternative schools. Billionaires are financing political campaigns and candidates, placing operatives in key administrative positions in state education departments. Listen to Rupert Murdoch: “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.” Who is desperate?

Education reform is now the big target after healthcare. In both cases, equating education and healthcare with industry, humanity is displaced by venality. Education is being drowned in an alphabet soup of meaningless, cleverly contrived names depicting cleverly contrived meaningless programs. No Child Left Behind and Common Core are about business models, not about children. The case of Washington State recently losing its federal carrot for not conforming to Duncan’s Dictates gives lie to any pretense that this is about children learning. Kids in Washington are learning alright, but without the onerous evaluation regimens and pointless methodologies, such as the “counting up” method of subtraction taught in Common Core schools. To their credit, many more states than Washington are pushing back and putting children first.

This IS About Children

Because there are no easy procedural, political, or curricular solutions, public education has been an easy sell for simplistic solutions since colonial times. There are, however, at least three non-simplistic, fundamental reforms which could be implemented to good effect given the courage and determination to carry them out. The first involves innate learning ability, the matter of recognizing basic intelligence. Politicians won’t talk about differences in innate ability because parents vote, and all their children are wonderful and above average. Also because of social and political taboos, educators will not risk alienating parents.

It is just common sense to acknowledge that some children learn faster than others. Some will learn math, reading, or science faster than their classmates. This is no different from a child being a better first baseman than his or her classmates. Schools do talk candidly about athletic skills and, more importantly, they discriminate on that basis without reprisal. It’s a different story altogether, however, when it comes to intellectual ability. No matter what cleverly marketed standard academic achievement tests are applied to children across the board, holding teachers to the charade is fundamentally dishonest. It is unfair to teachers and, even more so, to students who are thus denied appropriate individualized approaches to learning.

The artifices of grade levels from first to twelfth could be done away with and replaced by individualized growth levels and programs allowing for the cognitive and motivational differences between children. This would be true “no child left behind”- every child could ascend at his or her own rate and motivation – there would be no contrived “behind”. Children should not have to suffer the indignity of being held back simply because the system could not do better at serving them. It’s adults who are failing not children.

Second, we seldom hear discussions about how public schools are organized even though school organization is a key factor in their lack of success. Simply put, the wrong people are running schools, and it’s an inverted hierarchy that has crippled education for years. Schools need to be organized around teachers and students, not overpaid and over-empowered bureaucrats. Teachers should determine, according to set standards, curriculum, the evaluation of learners and faculty, and school policy. Administrators should exist to serve the teaching staff – serve being the operative word.

The third reform involves parents. Parents must be held to account for their children’s interest and motivation in the process of schooling. Teachers with classrooms full of students cannot be held responsible for matters essentially parental. It does indeed take a community to fully and truly educate children, and the process starts at home.

The process of schooling cannot be replaced by testing, nor by demonizing teachers or allowing parents to transfer their responsibilities to schools. Thanks, but no thanks, Arne, you are wrong, tragically wrong about all of this. Kids in too many schools are spending their time learning to take tests with real education taking the hind seat, if any seat at all.  When education is drained of its humanizing values and reduced to meaningless rote Pavlovian response, we are creating a nation of sheep.

No matter how you slice it, this present “reform” movement is not about children. It’s about money and most importantly, that is what has to change.


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