It All Turns on Affection

I continue to wonder, why do we attempt to impose technocratic solutions on contexts such as education that require the nexus of human relationships? To be more specific, why do use a market driven model of corporate education reform imposed from the top that uses data abstracted from context?

It’s kind of like arguing for a first down in the game of basketball.

One of my heroes is the philosopher/poet/novelist/farmer Wendell Berry, who thinks about this issue in relation to land use, but his thinking goes beyond simple categorization. In his important lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Berry writes of the importance of affection.

“I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it…By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind and conserving economy.”

There is so much in that one paragraph, but, importantly, note that affection is a value that is necessary in an economy that is humane and connected to place. It is an emotion that both recognizes the value and importance of relationship, and of particular, concrete relationships in particular, concrete places.

This is what is missing from any technocratic solution imposed from above.

This is the root reason the education reform movement is bound to fail. (And, as the evidence shows, has been failing for years.)

The ed reform movement is looking for a first down in the game of basketball.  It has abstracted numbers and data from contexts to such a degree that those contexts have become irrelevant to them. While reality (and Wendell Berry) shows that when relationships matter, all is context. The quality of relationships that actual teachers have with actual children actually matters, as immeasurable as that may be. The context of the lives of these children, their class, their race, their backgrounds, their families, these things matter. And when the lives of these actual, living concrete people are abstracted into data for the sake of comparison, affection for them and their concrete living are necessarily erased.

wendellberrybyguymendes

In writing of the James B. Duke, whose relationship as an industrialist to tobacco and power can be rightly compared to corporatist Bill Gates’ relationship to education, Berry says,

“The failure of imagination that divided the Duke monopoly and such farmers as my grandfather seems by now to be taken for granted. James B. Duke controlled remotely the economies of thousands of farm families. A hundred years later, ‘remote control’  is an unquestioned fact, the realization of a technological ideal, and we have remote entertainment and remote war {and remote educational policy}. Statistical knowledge is remote, and it isolates us in our remoteness. It is the stuff itself of imagined life. We may, as we say, ‘know’ statistical sums, but we cannot imagine them. “ (Emphasis added)

So true- such knowing of statistical sums is remote, and, just as importantly, “it isolates us in our remoteness.”  It wipes away the context of our place, of our schools, of the relationships we have in these schools, and reduces “knowing” to the sums this data accrues, without being able to imagine the people and lives affected.

The fact is that we humans are not much to be trusted with what I am calling statistical knowledge, and the larger the statistical quantities the less we are to be trusted. We don’t learn much from big numbers, and we aren’t much affected by them. The reality that is responsibly manageable by human intelligence is much nearer in scale to a small rural community or urban neighborhood that to the ‘globe.’

When people succeed in profiting on a large scale, they succeed for themselves. When they fail, they fail for many others, sometimes for us all…Propriety of scale in all human undertakings is paramount, and we ignore it. We are now betting our lives on quantities that far exceed all our powers of comprehension. We believe that we have built a perhaps limitless comprehension into computers and other machines, but our minds remain as limited as ever. Our trust that machines can manipulate to humane effect quantities that are unintelligible and unimaginable to humans is incorrigibly strange.” (Emphasis added)

The hard fact of the matter is that this corporatist reform movement and the market fundamentalism that drives it will run their course. And then we will be left all that we’ve ever had from the beginning; each other, and what’s left of the land that we depend on.

The more we practice affection in the meantime, the better prepared we will be.

Against the technocratic assault of the abstraction of “this limitlessness,” as Berry puts it, “…we have only our ancient effort to define ourselves as human and humane.”

Photo from article at National Endowment for the Humanities linked above.

The Education Revolution will Not Be Standardized: The “Moral Imperative” of Testing Refusal

Originally posted on educationalchemy:

Let me start by suggesting something key that has not been articulated widely enough: All standardized testing is high stakes testing. If there were no stakes involved, why would corporate reformers and testing companies lobby tooth and nail to ensure standardized tests remain a central cornerstone of all education policies? At stake are billions of dollars for testing and data mining companies. The collection, ownership, and (mis)use of private student data is at stake. The future of students who are denied meaningful quality education in lieu of skill-drill and kill instruction is at stake. The use of testing data to assume the “value” of children according to race, culture, language and class is at stake.

And even if the standardized tests (in a reduced role returned to state level decision-making as Alexander and Murray seem to promise) are not used to evaluate teachers, retain students, or close schools, it is, and…

View original 1,506 more words

Front-Loading Change: Why Scott Walker Is So Wrong (Or Maybe Right?)

Most of you reading this are by now probably very aware of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s predictable crusade to deprofessionalize teaching.  Walker offers a long line of proposals in Wisconsin, replicated elsewhere,  that are designed to further the decimation of public education.

The question for today, is how did we get here?  How did we get to this cyclical pattern of, as Noam Chomsky points out, defunding, then blaming, then privatizing, then starting all over? And, assuming we actually care about the lives of children, what is the alternative?

In this excerpt,“Education Reformers Have It All Wrong: Accountability From Above Never, Works, Great Teaching Always Does,” from his forthcoming book, Jal Mehta unravels this important history and points a way forward.

Mehta starts by showing us the history of “rationalism” and its effect on education. It’s important to understand how the roots of the current top-down accountability systems have been deeply engrained in the American imagination. Rationalism was a movement that originated with the ideas of what was known as “Taylorism.”  In their book, Dancing on the Edge, O’Hara and Leceister show how Taylorism “enshrined itself as a cultural norm.”

“It has brought huge improvements in efficiency, productivity and the effective management of ever more complex processes.  But what is less obvious is the particular view of personhood that Taylor’s theory and its 21st-century descendants have enshrined as the cultural norm.  This is the behaviorist view, inherited from the Enlightenment:  that human beings are in essence no more than autonomous agents motivated to act in predictable ways by prompts which provoke responses aimed at predetermined outcomes. ..This logic has driven industrial age thinking since the 18th century and accepts implicitly a simple and direct relationship between causes and effects even in the complex lives of persons, groups and communities.  Administer the right prompt and you will get the desired response.

Human beings can thus be managed through the careful application of efficient design coupled with appropriate rewards and punishments.  The role of leadership and management is to design efficient systems, monitor outcomes and reward success.  In essence this view suggests that what we need are smart systems to compensate for dumb humans.  It is not a mindset likely to foster the development of persons of tomorrow.” (pgs. 50-51. Emphasis added)

Mehta explains how this way of thinking transformed the historical American schooling model of the one room school-house into the system we have today.

“The story starts in the Progressive Era (1890–1920), when an educational crisis was identified by a group of muckraking journalists, who used the power of the press to expose what they saw as a corrupt, nepotistic, and highly inefficient patchwork of schooling. This crisis was seized upon by a group of “administrative progressives”; using the newly ascendant ideas of Taylorism, they sought to develop a system of efficient, rationally governed schools. At the top of this pyramid was a group of city superintendents, who utilized rudimentary tests and cost accounting procedures to compare teachers and schools in an effort to hold practitioners accountable and derive the most bang for their buck. Then, as now, teachers charged that such movements were wrongly applying the logic of industry to schools and argued that education had a deeper “bottom line” than could be measured through actuarial techniques. Ultimately, however, they were overwhelmed by the administrative progressives, who were able to tap into political allies from both parties as well as the legitimacy bestowed by industry. Using scientific management techniques, they transformed a set of one-room schoolhouses into the bureaucratic “one best system” of city administration that still persists today. Universities were a major supporter of this effort, as newly formed departments and schools of education, seeking to establish their scientific bona fides, embraced scientific management in the training of (primarily male) superintendents and distanced themselves from the pedagogical training of the (primarily female) teaching force.”

There is so much here to write about, but note the historical pattern of a crisis artificially created to allow for what we now term “disruptive innovation” which puts control in the hands of those who created and reinforced cultural and economic norms, doing so from a place of spatial and imaginary distance from where the real work occurred.

The next big step was to link educational concerns to economic concerns.

“Developments in the 1960s and 1970s brought schools under fire, but the driving force behind the modern standards and accountability movement was the linking of educational to economic concerns in the 1980s. The impetus this time was the famous A Nation at Risk report, which framed the educational problem in dire economic terms and launched an avalanche of state-level efforts at reform. Again, these reforms were popular on both the political left and right: the left saw in standards a way to create greater uniformity across the school system; the right saw in accountability a way to impose greater pressure on an unresponsive public bureaucracy. With education cast as an economic development issue, state legislators and governors became involved in an arena that had previously been left primarily to local schools and school boards.”

Previously education in America was much more aligned with what we now consider to be a “liberal arts” approach.  That is, education was about exposure to great ideas and great works as a means of expanding and developing the self and society. However, the accountability movement functioned to reduce education to being first and foremost an economic consideration, which synchronized nicely with American market fundamentalist values that consider all through the single lens of economic utilitarianism.  As David Blacker points out in The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame, “Predictably, those who live by the sword of economic utility die by it too; if economic outlays are to be justified on the basis of their economic utility, when the utility is gone, so is the purpose.” If education is justified through the single lens of economic utility, then if a given education system can be shown to be “failing,” why fund it? At the root of our issues with the protection of public education is this acceptance, passive and often unconscious, of the purpose of education as primarily economic.

The “…reform movements share certain features of organizational rationalization. In the name of efficiency, all three sought to reduce variation among schools in favor of greater centralized standardization and control, hallmarks of the rationalizing process. In each of these cases power shifted upwards, away from teachers and schools and toward central administrators. Similar conceptions of motivation drove the three sets of reformers, each using some version of standards and testing to incentivize teachers to do their bidding. Each of the movements prized quantitative data and elevated a scientific vision of data-driven improvement over a more humanistic view of educational purposes. Across the decades, the essence of the rationalizing vision has remained remarkably unchanged.”

So this pattern of rationalization is now firmly entrenched.  This has created what Mehta calls, “The allure of order.”

He points out 3 recurring themes.

1. “The… outsized faith that Americans have placed in the tools of scientific management as a mechanism for improving schools.” Mehta shows how this has been bolstered by connecting education to “higher” categories of social life, namely business and defense.  And he correctly shows that an important limitation of scientific management is its offering of answers that don’t address the contextual demands of distributive justice.

2. “…the inability of the educational profession to take control of its sphere, creating a long-standing susceptibility to these external movements for reform.”  Mehta argues that teaching originated as a “semi-profession,” and I would argue that his previous allusion to how gender power differentials have functioned historically within education goes far in explaining this.  He also describes teachers as historically being at “the bottom of implementation chains.” In other words, teachers worked within a hierarchical system of accountability that disempowered them.

3. “…the double-edged nature of movements to impose scientific rationality on schooling.”  So yes, there is no question that scientific rationalism works very well in imposing order and efficiency.  However, this comes at a very real cost. “As Weber famously noted, rationalization creates order out of chaos, but it does so at the cost of creating an ‘iron cage’ that often emphasizes the measurable to the exclusion of the meaningful.”

Seeing these historical themes at work today is easy. And though Walker’s latest foray into education is predictable given this historical pattern, there is absolutely no evidence that it will work to produce outcomes that will benefit children.

Mehta does see the attraction of scientific rationalism given the current American context of race of class. “Within  this context, “crises” of schooling are inevitable; critics need only point out the very real variation in outcomes or the gaps between what schools are producing and what we wish them to achieve. Policymakers, in turn, quite reasonably seek to act but act within constraints imposed by a fairly conservative political economy. They want to improve schools, but they cannot (or perceive they cannot) integrate students by race or income level or provide significantly stronger social supports. Within this context, a logic of scientific rationalization is an attractive solution.”

However, Mehta doesn’t stop there.  He moves forward by showing the very real limitations of this approach.

“Improving teaching and learning requires the development of skill and expertise; simply increasing expectations does little to bring about results. Teachers, meanwhile, perceiving policymakers to be remote from the realities of their schools, are highly resistant to efforts to control them from afar. Realizing this, policymakers seek to increase the pressure and tighten a loosely coupled system, a response that only increases distrust. A downward spiral between policymakers and frontline practitioners is the result. Particularly where students are most unable to reach the targets, teaching to the test becomes the norm, and a reform initially advanced in the name of improving educational quality can drive practice toward the most anti-intellectual and least academic of ends.”

Thank you Jal Mehta.

So what? If we don’t move forward with scientific rationalism, what is our alternative?

Mehta has some excellent suggestions, but, unfortunately, he polarizes the main figures involved without considering the quality of their arguments. Mehta places Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein one side of his spectrum, and Diane Ravitch on the other. And though they are clearly different in their approach, he unfairly criticizes Ravitch by saying she has not been honest about the “failings” of public education.  Thus he makes the same mistake he earlier accuses scientific rationalism of; not considering the broader societal context of distributive justice. Public education, in my mind, and Ravitch’s, is certainly not perfect, and much can be changed.  However, Ravitch and others have rightly argued that public education takes place within a broader context that has great impact on its function. And when we analyze the data used by Rhee and others to show schools as “failing”, we find that data to be faulty as a measurement of learning, and accurate as a measure of social privilege. It is either disingenuous of Mehta to ignore this, or an unfortunate short cut on his part.

With that said, Mehta continues on to make excellent suggestions regarding the improvement of our children’s education. He argues that we have put the whole system together backwards, and instead need to “front-load” the way we develop schools and teaching.

“To overstate only slightly, one might say that the overarching lesson is that the entire  educational sector was put together backwards. The people we draw into teaching are less than our most talented; we give them short or nonexistent training and equip them with little relevant knowledge; we send many of them to schools afflicted by high levels of poverty and segregation; and when they don’t deliver the results we seek, we increase external pressure and accountability, hoping that we can do on the back end what we failed to create on the front end.”

His criticism of teacher rankles greatly.  I know many, many highly talented teachers who have found excellent training for themselves. Nonetheless, considering the way we value and pay teachers these days, who would want to go into this career? How do we fund the continued development of teachers? How many now go into classrooms with manageable numbers of students?

Scott Walker’s answer is to cut and punish after the fact. Mehta offers a much better idea. Value and develop on the front end. He points out that those countries who are seen to have the most successful education systems, “…draw teachers from among their most talented people, prepare them extensively and with close attention to practice, put them in schools buffered from some of the effects of poverty by social welfare supports, and give them time while in school to collaborate to develop and improve their skills. In some cases, as in Finland, such practices largely obviate the need for testing and external accountability, because selection and preparation on the front end makes extensive monitoring on the back end unnecessary. While the United States remains the world leader in assessments and accountability, Finland and Shanghai are the leaders in student performance, and they get there in an entirely different way.”

So I see and experience daily the harm of our legacy and current dependence on scientific rationalism. And I have always seen the vision of valuing and investment in teacher development.

I’m just not sure how to move from Walker’s surreal ascendancy to Finland’s reality.

Then again, Mehta’s argument rests on the assumption that we want education to benefit children. If this assumption is true, then Walker is wrong.

But maybe Walker is working under different assumptions, the assumptions of neoliberalism that his behavior belies. David Blacker reveals what might be Walker’s real intentions.

“It should now be clear to everyone that neoliberal education policy is not about reforming public schools. It is about obliterating any remaining vestiges of the public square via a market discipline that is officially supposed to apply to everyone but in reality is selectively applied only to those lacking sufficient wealth to commandeer state policy.”

Such is the real context we are working within.

Children and Literacy Be Damned

Education Trust, and its Midwest component, is at it again.  This Gates backed foundation just released a report pointing out that “the trajectory” of Michigan’s education system has Michigan headed to a state ranking of 44th in the country in 4th grade reading by 2030.  In an article on this report, the Detroit News fails to write where the state of Michigan is in the year 2015, but I guess that is much less newsworthy, though it would (at least seemingly accurately) show our present condition.

However, to do so would be to undermine the true purpose of these reports.

The fact of the matter is that these reports put out by Education Trust are not meant to be accurate representations of the current state of education. They are meant to raise alarms and to paint our schools as failing.  

But, before going there, let’s take a closer look at this supposed reading issue. In “Beware Grade Level Reading”and the Cult of Proficiency,” Paul Thomas points out that standardized testing necessarily limits what we mean by “reading.” Thus, the “data” that Midwest Education Trust uses for its report has already bastardized the real life experience and purposes of actual reading.

“…advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming “grade level” and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas…While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.”

And Thomas raises the necessary question too often unasked in the use of such faulty data:

Who benefits from the use of such data?

We get some hints when we look at Education Midwest’s call for “accountability.” The report reads, “If we’re going to hold our students accountable for reading by third grade, the state must hold adults accountable for doing everything they can to get them there. Leading states like Tennessee and Massachusetts have shown that a key to real reform is ensuring that teachers and principals are held accountable for their students’ academic success. This means creating an accountability and assessment system that can accurately measure student performance and growth in reading and giving schools the support – and accountability – they need to raise levels of reading performance.”

“Systems of accountability” means “systems” that are tied to high-stakes testing. And, as Thomas has pointed out, “accurate” in this case leaves much latitude. These simply represent more of the same failed policies (see the response to these in the current opt-out revolution) that necessarily remove teacher voice and professionalism from the process.

As Thomas puts it, “This narrow and inadequate view of text and reading (and readers) serves authoritarian approaches to teaching and mechanistic structures of testing, and more broadly, reducing text and reading to mere technical matters serves mostly goals of surveillance and control.”  That’s what is meant by “accountability,” surveillance and control.

This surveillance and control is necessary whenever change is being implemented from the top down.  And top down change just doesn’t work, for a variety of reasons, but most importantly here because the voices of actual educators, people like Phd. and reading expert Paul Thomas, are not included in the change. Actual educators who actually are professionals are ignored while those who speak for corporate interests are heard.

In her expose of Education Trust and its founder, Katy Haycock, Mercedes Schneider writes,

“She (Haycock) has become ‘the system.’ Given her continued push for top-down, test-driven pressure on states to ‘prove’ a papier-mache form of ‘equality of opportunity’ via ever-elusive, gap-closing test scores, it seems that Haycock is unaware of her role in perpetrating a failing system.

Test score worship cannot create equality of opportunity. It can only sabotage.

In that 1990 article, Haycock asks this question:

How do you design a wonderful, model curriculum and make sure all schools implement it?

The problem is with the question. The idea of ‘making’ schools implement curriculum designed by some ‘you’ is top-down.

Change absent ‘bottom-up’ investment is not genuine change and will never succeed for that reason.”

So here we have Education Trust Midwest pushing the same old, top-down, “achievement data,””accountability” system that has been tried and has failed, failed absolutely. It continues to push an agenda at the expense of children, for the benefit of corporate profit.  Education Midwest triumphs Florida as a state leading this accountability effort.  How is this working, and who does it benefit there?  In Florida, according to a telling new article, Corporate Interests Pay to Play to Shape Education Policy, Reap Profits“:

“FEE staff sought legislation that would count the state test, known as FCAT, as more than 50% of the state’s school accountability measure. FEE staffer Patricia Levesque wrote to a state official that she had negotiated the related language with state legislators, who were now ‘asking for the following which, the Foundation completely supports: FCAT shall be ‘at least 50%, but no more than 60%’ of a high school’s grade.’ Pearson, the company that holds the $250 million FCAT contract and sponsors FEE through its foundation, has an obvious financial stake in ensuring that FCAT continues to be at the center of Florida’s education system.” (Emphasis added)

Read the whole article, it’s important in showing who profits from these “systems of accountability.”

Again, we know the formula. Decry schools as failing, defund them, then privatize them. As Noam Chomsky puts it in regards to the commons,

“… if you can defund it, it won’t be in good shape. And there is a standard technique of privatization, namely defund what you want to privatize. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change. You say okay, privatize them and then they get worse. In that case the government had to step in and rescue it.

That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

So public education funding continues to decline, and now we need evidence, as faulty as it may be, that education is failing. Thank you Education Trust. With this formula firmly established, all continues to ripen for profit.

Actual evidence is irrelevant.

Thomas makes this clear.

“Thus, alas, there is simply no reading crisis and no urgency to have students on grade level, by third or any grade.

The cult of proficiency and grade-level reading is simply the lingering “cult of efficiency” that plagues formal education in the U.S.—quantification for quantification’s sake, children and literacy be damned.”

The Detroit News opinion on this report ends with these disheartening lines.

“Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder have begun some of this work, but the education establishment is still wasting time fighting over essential and inevitable reforms. Michigan is in an education free-fall, and cannot afford further delays in fixing its schools.”

I guess I am just wasting time in asking that people consider education from the perspective of evidence that is actually related to learning rather than falsity of the privilege that comes wrapped in the language of “achievement.”

I guess that corporate interests will rule, children and literacy be damned.

Silencing Dialogue: More on Turning the Deficit Gaze

In speaking about and thinking about the achievement gap, I am beginning to empathize greatly with the educators of color that Lisa Delpit quotes in her article, The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,

Delpit shows the way that experiences that are beyond the range of those in the dominant culture are unable to be taken into consideration by the dominant culture.  Minority voices are thus silenced.  As a telling example, Delpit quotes a Black woman principal who is working on her Phd:

“If you try to suggest that that’s not quite the way it is, they get defensive, then you get defensive, then they’ll start reciting research. I try to give them my experiences, to explain. They just look and nod. The more I try to explain, they just look and nod,just keep looking and nodding. They don’t really hear me. Then, when it’s time for class to be over, the professor tells me to come to his office to talk more. So I go. He asks for more examples of what I’m talking about, and he looks and nods while I give them. Then he says that that’s just my experiences. It doesn’t really apply to most Black people. It becomes futile because they think they know everything about everybody. What you have to say about your life, your children, doesn’t mean anything. They don’t really want to hear what you have to say. They wear blinders and earplugs. They only want to go on research they’ve read that other White people have written. It just doesn’t make any sense to keep talking to them.”

I would suggest that any attempt to critique the dominant culture is silenced in the same way.  For instance, in Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit shows how this plays out in gender issues. “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they are talking about. Some men.” I want to clearly point out those driving education reform in its current iteration present at best a failed attempt to “reform” a system that, as outsiders, they have little knowledge of, yet hold much sway over because of the power they retain within the dominant culture.  In this process, educators who work with children are marginalized and silenced.

Want a clear example? How about 2 rich, white guys, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, generously offering their take on fixing education.

That quote comes back, “They don’t really hear me.”

And when the unintentional racism that Delpit exposes is combined with the privilege and power of outsiders, the effect is compounded.

That is why Jamie Utt’s recent article, 5 Things Well Meaning White Educators Should Consider if They Really Want to Close the Achievement Gap  is so important.  The article shows the growth of someone who becomes aware of his own racialization as a white person and the effect of that growth. It points out the racist roots of the “achievement gap,” and shows how this deficit model of education, and of so-called “failing schools,” hurts all children.

The article also importantly shows how the deficit model of the “achievement gap” functions to hide the social context of education.

“Many of us fail to acknowledge that terms like ‘the achievement gap’ place the responsibility of change on students – and specifically poor and working class students of Color.

Yet, in my experience offering professional development to educators, most of the White teachers I work with are well-intentioned despite the damage we may be doing with these victim-blaming, deficit-oriented beliefs.

However, when at least 80% of our teachers in the United States are White and the most powerful decision makers tend to be White or are pushing White-designed models of reform, is it any wonder that we inaccurately perceive this country’s educational inequity as being the result of a student-deficit ‘achievement gap’ – a term dating back to White “reformers” of the 1960s – rather than, say, systemic oppression and marginalization?

Utt goes on to show that schools have been designed to serve those of privilege.

“And simply put, when our schools have been set up to serve Whites while excluding all but a few people of Color, it makes sense that White people are far more likely to have an advanced education.

In fact, Black men in the US actually must have a higher level of education than White men to get the same jobs, so even when those who’ve been left out of the system succeed, the deck is stacked against them!”

Utt points out the importance of  understanding the ways that, “…the broader picture where “the historical, economic, sociopolitical, and moral decisions and policies that characterize our society ..” have contributed to what scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings has labelled the “education debt.”

“When we refuse to invest properly in the education of those with the least access, we see the results in our test scores and in every other measure of injustice in our society: poverty, employment, wealth accumulation, health disparity, exposure to violence and stress, and so on.”

In the same vein, Paul Thomas writes:

  1. We have failed public education; public education has not failed us.
  2. Education has never, cannot, and will never be a singular or primary mechanism for driving large social change.
  3. And, thus, public education holds up a mirror to the social dynamics defining the U.S. In other words,achievement gaps in our schools are metrics reflecting the equity and opportunity gaps that exist in society.

We know this. We’ve known this.

Who will listen?

Still Waiting for Democracy: When the State Takes Over From the State

If you’re paying attention to education matters in the state of Michigan, you know that Michigan’s Governor Snyder has come out with his plan for what is to become of Detroit Public Schools.  In a nutshell, it consists of creating two school systems, one that will exist only to contain and deal with existing debt, and the other to run as a debt free portfolio system  of common enrollment that will contain what is left of traditional public schools in Detroit, and charter schools.

There are some interesting quirks in this plan.  Most interesting to me is that this plan implicitly recognizes that the previous state takeover of DPS was a failure.  Governor Snyder’s response to this failure is this plan, which essentially is a state takeover of a failed state takeover.  ( Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity?)

As Detroit Data and Democracy points out, the consequences of the state takeover, originally in 1999, from the fairly elected DPS board of education have not been positive:

“…by 2002, the district was well into a cycle of decline from which it has not recovered:

  • A positive general fund balance turned negative, inducing austerity measures that impacted programming.
  • Cuts interrupted the academic progress the district had been making relative to the rest of the state.
  • With worsening academics, parents began to leave the district for charters and suburban schools.
  • The resulting enrollment decline led to a worsening financial position for the district, prompting further cuts.
  • Further cuts produced a further decline in academics, which led to more enrollment loss.”

Even the controversial Detroit Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren has made It clear that the state of Michigan is responsible for current DPS debt.

“John Rakolta, chief executive of Walbridge and another co-chair of the coalition, said Detroit Public Schools operated with a surplus in 1999, before the state took over the district. Its operational deficit is now $170 million and it has about $2.1 billion in accumulated debt, according to the report.

Rakolta placed the cause of this operation deficit at the feet of state government and state policies, saying it has been accumulated under the state’s watch.” (Emphasis added)

By all metrics, the quality of Detroit Public Schools has worsened under the care of the state of Michigan.  And yet, as an explanation of the historical context given as the rationale for continuing state control (from a FAQ released by the sate), Snyder (or his communication people) says: “First, the state initially took control of Detroit Public Schools under Gov. Engler.  After a time they were returned to the local school board for operation. Unfortunately the state was forced to step in and take over again under Gov. Granholm.” The word “forced” here certainly reveals a position, as if the state was a victim of external circumstances, even when the circumstances were self-created.  History does, in fact, matter. (Rule of thumb; historicize everything.)  The logic would dictate that now, using the same wording and assumptions,  the state, unfortunately, is “forced” to step in and take over from the state.

I don’t see such honesty anywhere in Governor Snyder’s recommendation.

Democracy, in this situation, is, at best, obtuse.  Points to consider:

1.  The democratically elected DPS board currently in exile is given a role- to run, along with the current Emergency Financial Manager, (don’t ask me how this might actually work) the debt ridden portion of the district.  Worse than its previous role as an appendage to democracy, it is now relegated to a new role as the large colon of democracy, the processing function of all of the feces that is left over. Have fun with that.

2. The school board that actually gets to do the role designed for traditional school boards will be appointed, four of the members will be Gov. Snyder appointees, and three will be Mayor Mike Duggan appointees.  After a period of seven years, these state appointed school board members will be gradually replaced by a properly elected school board.

Seven more years of waiting for democracy.

The implied narrative of the whole plan continues to be that the existing context of race driven poverty is completely irrelevant, and that the mostly black people of Detroit are not worthy of democracy.

In a curious article endorsing Snyder’s plan, the Detroit Free Press wrote a very telling paragraph,

“We hoped Snyder would honor Detroiters’ right to self-govern, recognizing the importance of an elected board. But the realities of Lansing, and the need to invest state funds in the district, mean that all-local control would be politically unpalatable to the outstate lawmakers’ whose support will be required to move this plan forward. This is a compromise that, at first glance, we can live with.”

Did you get that? Detroiter’s right to self-govern is “politically unpalatable.” A compromise the Free Press suggests we live with.

Wow.

Democracy has become politically unpalatable for some people in America.

Today.

Scary times.

Education: Public Good or Private Right?

Reducing the purpose of education to economic utilitarianism has dark consequences:

“… a dark cloud of political and ethical ignorance has descended on the United States. Thoughtlessness has become something that now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses. A new kind of infantilism now shapes daily life as adults gleefully take on the role of unthinking children and children are taught to be adults, stripped of their innocence and subject to a range of disciplinary pressures designed to cripple their ability to be imaginative.

Under such circumstances, agency devolves into a kind of anti-intellectual cretinism evident in the babble of banality produced by Fox News, celebrity culture, schools modeled after prisons and politicians who support creationism, argue against climate change and denounce almost any form of reason. The citizen now becomes a consumer; the politician, a slave to corporate money and power; and the burgeoning army of anti-public intellectuals in the mainstream media present themselves as unapologetic enemies of anything that suggests compassion, a respect for the commons and democracy itself.

Education is no longer a public good but a private right, just as critical thinking is no longer a fundamental necessity for creating an engaged and socially responsible citizenship. Neoliberalism’s disdain for the social is no longer a quote made famous by Margaret Thatcher. The public sphere is now replaced by private interests, and unbridled individualism rails against any viable notion of solidarity that might inform the vibrancy of struggle, change, and an expansion of an enlightened and democratic body politic.”

Henry Giroux, Domestic Terrorism, Youth and the Politics of Disposability