Posts Tagged 'curricula'

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.

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.

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.

   

Teachers and Free Speech

In a recent public announcement the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) is lifting the ban on public school teachers exercising their Constitutional right of free speech to criticize standardized testing. The obvious presumptuousness, this was apparently a momentous recognition on the part of those in charge from the Governor to the PED chief and who knows whom else in between, that Americans have a right of free speech even if the government doesn’t like what is being said. Of course there was prodding from the ACLU. The gag rule was promulgated during the Richardson administration which was not itself exactly a bastion of enlightenment and was hung on to by the Martinez PED. We may now expect to hear from New Mexico’s beleaguered teachers on the current regime of testing that replaces authentic teaching and learning.

Following her election to Governor in 2010, Susana Martinez had some pay-back obligations to her sponsors, such as the Koch boys, from whom she took in at least $10,000.00 directly. Consequently she appointed an individual to head the PED who had been vetted by such right wing luminaries as Jeb Bush. It mattered not that the new PED director had no degree or experience as an educator nor were there any apologies for the appointment of an unqualified individual. In fact, Skandera could not have been hired as a teacher in New Mexico because she could not meet the minimum requirements such as: 30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching, a minimum of 6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01, and a minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics, language arts, reading, history, and so forth. To add insult to injury, Skandera was, at that time paid $125,000.00 a year against the average New Mexico public school teacher’s $39K to $49K (all below the national average by the way).

This is about politics after all and the ultimate outcome desired by the sponsors is the privatization of public education – a holy grail, if you will, being sought in nearly every state in the US with a Republican controlled state house. As one billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, famously put it, education is a 500 billion dollar opportunity for which he an others like him are salivating. It should also be noted that Skandera was a participant in the same venue at the same time as Murdoch made this declaration.

Which takes us to the entire idea of standardized testing in elementary grades. Aside from its use as a diagnostic there is absolutely no justification for standardized testing at that level. If anything such testing is a disincentive to authentic teaching and learning. In fact, there should not be grades between kindergarten and the transition to Junior High school a transition better determined by age and appropriate evaluation. In-grade retention of children at any grade level is antediluvian and antithetical to the purposes of proper schooling. It is also cruel. It is no wonder that across the US fewer and fewer children are completing their full course of public education – mindless endless testing regimes and draconian consequences for not performing well on standardized tests are largely to blame. Have you ever met a standard kid by the way? Neither have I.

Truth is children want to learn and schools are there to help with that natural instinct. Unfortunately schools and schooling have become politicized across the country and mostly in states with right-wing reactionary government. What is being called school reform is championed by non-educators, politicians with campaign debts to entrepreneurs who wish to turn public schools into profit centers. Parents are, in many locations, pushing back against this onslaught against teachers and children in the name of profit. It is going to take a great deal of political action to remove people from office who are so anti-social and anti-child that they are willing to sacrifice one of America’s greatest achievements – universal public education. It has to be done – it must be done. Parent must take interest and be vigilant because the profit motive never sleeps.

Susana’s Trojan Horse

Here we go again, more of the relentless pursuit of public education, public school teachers, and the future of New Mexico’s children. The Governor’s empty meme about ending social promotion is intended to appeal to an audience that knows nothing about teaching and learning. Holding kids back is not educating them — it is humiliating them and nothing more. Public humiliation of children is not and never was, a proper or true pedagogical method. Although devoid of valid educational content third grade retention is a useful Trojan Horse. And, like that legendary ruse it is hollow and full of danger. Grade retention creates more resentment than any positive educational outcome, it is simply antedeluvian, so why do it? If reading by third grade is some sort of holy grail, and there is no objective proof that it is, then the proper response is to determine why a kid isn’t learning and deal with that. Grade levels are arbitrary, they are merely inventions for administrative convenience. Everyone, including the Governor and her nominee for Secretary of Education, learns at her own rate – obviously a bit slowly in some cases perhaps but with proper pedagogy she can learn.

This war on education that has nothing to do with improving public schools. It has only one objective – privatization. No Child Left Behind, Common Core, charter schools, one Trojan Horse after another. Test this, test that, tests and more tests to no end but to prove public schools are failing. Failing what? Failing to put money in the pockets of the so-called reformers like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch boys. It is nothing less than creating a crisis and offering a solution to it; exactly like starting a fire, pretending to be putting it out, and attracting a lot of public attention. What better way to put wannabe presidential hopefuls into the public eye than to label them education reformers?

While it is true public education could stand thorough and thoughtful discussion, that doesn’t justify the perfidy expressed by today’s self-identifying Republican reformers. The motives, as separate from objectives, are first and foremost profit and secondly – self-promotion. The desired objective – social control by way of dumbing down the public. If you can create a population with few or weak critical thinking skills, they become easy to manipulate. How better to achieve this than by controlling public education and turning it into an assembly line producing the compliant “good” citizens you need. Does this seem totally paranoid to you? Think again. Fox “News” is a good example of this manipulation.

Certainly a well educated thoughtful citizenry would not be willing to go along easily with destroying social security, health care, public safety, safe food, and safe consumer products. A thoughtful activist population is anathema to the relentless quest for profit and accumulated wealth. Consider that the richest of the rich already pay little or no taxes while the middle-class bears the burden. Wealthy individuals and corporations can stash their wealth off-shore because they are “smarter” than the general public and they have the best tax advisors money can buy. In their view, only suckers pay taxes. And, if you can really dumb people down they won’t even notice they are being used as lackeys. Make sure they can buy (on credit) snowmobiles, motor homes, huge screen TVs, one new gadget after another that no one needs – keep them distracted, keep them entertained and they will be willing happy campers. Temporarily lower gasoline prices and people will run out to buy large gas-guzzling pick-up trucks. Stimulus and response. The drones will keep making their installment payments and the cash will flow into offshore accounts. If people can’t make their payments repossess the goodies and sell them to someone else. It’s all good.

Once the “reformers” have their tentacles wrapped firmly around whatever it is they want, the chances of the public regaining it are slim to none. That includes public education because the ultimate objective is privatization and nothing to do with educating children. While billionaires are drooling behind the curtains providing campaign funds, their shameless lackeys are out beating the drums and promoting themselves as educational reformers on the backs of children. It doesn’t take much really, a little vigorish here and there, a thousand here a thousand there, and soon it’s real money – but peanuts actually compared to the possible return-on-investment. Schools, teachers, national education organizations have been forced into a rear guard war against a monster machine that intends to roll over them in the endless quest for profit on the one hand and self-promotion on the other. Never mind the consequences for the American social contract. (Or what’s left of it.)

Public education is vulnerable. Governors and other politicians with presidential ambitions have put schools in a free-fire zone where nothing is logical or sacred. Politicians with no background or experience as educators use issues like third grade retention to draw attention to themselves. The Trojan Horses are being rolled through the gates. Stop them now or lose public education.

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/


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 199 other followers

Categories