Monthly Archives: August 2012

Speed, Violence and Testing Culture

I continue to think about Paul Thomas’s recent post, Time As Capital: The Rise of the Frantic Class. Essentially Paul is arguing that “busyness,” the frantic pace of our culture, takes away the time needed for the kind of reflection that can free us. Being busy insures the lack of time needed to ask questions such as, why am I so busy? What am I doing with my life? What is truly important to me? Thomas shows that this busyness functions to continue to allow the status quo to perpetuate itself, thus “… education reform is more concerned with producing workers than providing all children with equity, liberation, and autonomy.” (This short summary doesn’t do service to Paul’s article. Please take the time to read the whole thing here.)

This makes me wonder, what are the connections between the speed and violence of our culture? What are the implications for schooling? How does the increasingly driven pace of our schools, driven by the need to achieve and the “No Excuse” reforms, do violence to educators/students’ lives and relationships? How does this busyness as an aspect of the hidden curriculum affect our unintentional teaching of what it means to be human? (For a different take on this topic see this post.) As Thomas writes in his article, “…this frantic world is being fed by the corporate takeover of public schools where accountability, standards, and testing have reduced teachers and students to gerbils on running wheels.” What kind of impact does it have when students and teachers are reduced “to gerbils running on wheels?”

First if, let me define more clearly my use of the word “violence.” I’m not simply talking about the obvious examples such as Columbine, the war in Afghanistan or the recent Aurora shootings. I’m referring to more subtle forms. Essentially, violence is any desecration of humanity. And a desecration is “to divest from a sacred to a profane use or purpose.” It makes me a bit nervous to use such highfalutin language, but less so when I remember Parker Palmer’s definition of the sacred as, “That which is most deserving of our respect.” With this in mind, I would argue that our students are the most sacred things in our schools, those most deserving of our respect, and to participate in their desecration is a form of violence.

So what might this kind of violence look like in everyday life? In what ways have we come to accept violence as “natural” in schools and elsewhere? Bullying, of course, but even more subtle things- bankers not knowing my name after years of service, the grocer not looking me in the eye as I check out, the teacher not saying hello when a student comes in- all of these function to send a message that who we are doesn’t matter, that our presence is merely utilitarian, our humanity isn’t relevant, that we are not a sacred entities, but merely profane “objects.” Thus all of these are expressions of violence.

Now, each of these in examples, when taken by itself, is also an expression of the imperfection of our humanity, so I’m not interested in the personal failings involved. I am interested in these expressions as part of a cultural pattern. When this form of functioning becomes a pattern, we learn via that pattern that we are objects, not people “most deserving of respect.” The degree to which these types of subtle forms of violence are expressions of a pattern is the degree to which they are a problem. And I’m wondering, how much does time as a commodity in shortage , and the stress that time shortage creates, affect the pattern of violence being expressed? I don’t think there is any question that hurried, stressed people are less likely to act humanely. And, because they are human, I suspect this is also true of students and teachers. If true, then as our schools become more achievement oriented, more stress driven, more frantic, we are sacrificing a degree of our humanity, and subjecting to children to this violence in the name of a highly superficial and questionable form of “success.” (If you haven’t seen it yet, please see the fabulous movie Race To Nowhere, which vividly shows this pattern at work.)

Yong Zhao clearly explicates one of the choices we are making in a testing culture. We are sacrificing creativity for test scores, and the impact will be long-lasting.

We are also sacrificing the lessons of kindness and the kind of learning through relationships that can only be engendered with time. We are sacrificing a vision of what it means to be human.

P.S. See this for an interesting take on the “slow school movement.”