The Ethic of Care, Part 1: The Irony of the Achievement Ethic

A friend forwarded me this study, “Drop-Outs” and “Push Outs”: Finding Hope at a School That Actualizes the Ethic of Care, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It gets to the crux of so much of what is necessary in developing schools as humane institutions, and to the crux so much of what is happening in the ed reform movement that creates obstacles to that.

We tend to look at schools through the ethic of achievement. Students’ purpose is to achieve success, and this success is measured by grades and test scores. Part of the hidden curriculum in this view is that students are valued in accordance to their level of achievement. This valuing is not overt, but it is nonetheless real. And achievement becomes the means to garnering future economic success. This, again (see Schooling for Economics or Citizenship?), reinforces a privatized view of student as consumer, and sees the purpose of schools as being the production of economic achievers and consumers.

This study, on the other hand, shows the much deeper purpose of valuing all of our students through the ethic of care. Its authors, Wanda Cassidy and Anita Bates, write:

“The positive social, emotional, and academic development of children and adolescents depends, to a considerable degree, on whether the contexts in which they develop, including schools, are reliable sources of caring relationships (Noddings 1984, 1992,2002; Rauner 2000). Unfortunately, in today’s schools, caring is rarely placed at the center of policies and practices (Noddings 1005, 2002). Instead, educators are under pressure to increase students’ academic performance, as measured by high stakes standardized tests (Kohn 2000). Finding spaces for caring is becoming increasingly difficult as administrators, teachers, and students are pushed toward preordained goals set by distant bureaucrats.

Noddings (1984, 1992, 2002) claims that the need for care is universal and that young people suffer when schools become less caring places. Those most severely affected are those who can least afford to be in an uncaring environment, that is, students whose social background and academic history put them at risk for school failure, or dropping out of school prior to high school graduation (Croninger and Lee 2001; Deschenes et al. 2001; rossi and Stringfield 1995).” (Emphasis added)

There is so much that can be said about these two paragraphs.

For now, let me just point out the faulty logic of the current, achievement oriented corporate education reform movement in light of this study:

* The logic of corporate education reform says that student achievement is most important (and note that this achievement is invariably measured through the superficial ease of test score results)

* The logic of reform says by increasing student achievement, we benefit students

* However, those most likely to achieve are those least in need of a caring school environment (though all students benefit from an environment that places care at its center)

* Those most likely to be hurt by the ethic of achievement are those we all agree are most in need of support, and those who, ostensibly, this reform is designed to benefit

* Thus the logic of the current school reform movement is that it benefits those least in need of that benefit, and hurts most those that it is designed to help

Isn’t it ironic? It would be hilariously so if so many students and educators weren’t traumatized by it.

The Ethic of Care Part 2: The Enactment of Care

2 responses to “The Ethic of Care, Part 1: The Irony of the Achievement Ethic

  1. Well said. Your post reminded me of this recent NY Times op-ed… No Rich Child Left Behind.

  2. Pingback: Introducing: Porter Chair Blog Series & Guest Blogger, Bill Boyle on Restorative Practices and EcoJustice Education - Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition

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