Thursday, November 05, 2009

"It's The Curriculum Stupid!": Why The "Race-To-The-Top" Won't Be Won, or Even Very Much Run, Under "the Dal-Obama"

"ThePrez" could almost fool folks into believing his tony, fony, fatuous "Race-To-The-Top" rhetoric about being an advocate of public education--unless of course you actually listened to him, read his proposals, or you regard his appointment of the vile, criminal, coopted, corpoRat, fascist bully, Arne Duncan to EdSec.

Whatsoever either one of 'em says, their bottom-line is: they want to break up teachers' unions and turn the "education" of Murka's youth over to the CorpoRats and Militarists. There are too many reasons to count, for such a program to be resisted, but here is one good one. Via Susan Ohanian's vital (if you are a teacher, or teacher educator, or a concerned, crirical parent) blog:
(By Marion Brady, special guest on Valerie Strauss' NYTimes, "The Answer Sheet," 11/04/09)
When "Race to the Top" fails, as it will, the main reason won’t be any of those currently being advanced by the corporate interests and politicians now running the education show.

It won't fail because of lack of academic rigor, poor teaching, weak administrators, too-short school year, union resistance, differing state standards, insufficient performance incentives, sorry teacher training, or lingering traces of the early-20th Century Progressive movement.

It will fail primarily for a reason not even being mentioned by leaders of today’s reform effort: A curriculum adopted in 1893 that grows more dysfunctional with each passing year. Imagine a car being driven down a winding rural road with all the passengers, including the driver,
peering intently out the back window.

The familiar, traditional curriculum is so at odds with the natural desire to learn that laws, threats and other extrinsic motivators are necessary to keep kids in their seats and on task. (This is because the "traditional curriculum was developed as a tool for installing and maintaining social control of, and imposing 'discipline' upon the unruly, 'teeming masses" of undeserving poor, and training students to become interchangeable parts for the Imperial military/industrial machine--W)

It has no built-in mechanisms forcing it to adapt to change. Ignoring solid research about their importance in intellectual development, it treats art, music, dance, and play as "frills."

It isolates educators in specialized fields, discouraging their interest in and professional dialog about the whole of which their specializations are parts. It fails to explore questions essential to ethical and moral development.

It neglects important fields of study, and has no system for determining the relative importance of those fields it doesn’t neglect.

Its failure to reflect the integrated nature of reality and the seamless way the brain perceives it makes it difficult to apply what’s being taught to real-world experience.
And that barely begins a list of the problems.
There's no easy, quick fix, but one thing is certain.

Doing with greater diligence and determination what brought America's schools to their present state will simply move forward the day when failure becomes obvious to all. There are, however, some things Congress and the administration could do.

First, they could stop basing education policy on the opinions of business leaders, syndicated columnists, mayors, lawyers, and assorted other education "experts" who haven’t passed the 10,000-hour test-10,000 hours of face-to-face dialog with real students in real classrooms, all the while thinking analytically about what they’re doing, and why.

"Experts" who see more rigor, more tests, more international comparisons, more "data-driven decision-making," more math and science, more school closings, more Washington-initiated, top-down reform policy as the primary cure for education’s ills, are amateurs. And policymakers who can’t see the perversity of simultaneously spending billions on innovation and billions on standardization should consider finding other work.

Second, Congress and the administration could accept the fact that, in formal schooling, the curriculum is where the rubber meets the road.

No matter school type-public, charter, private, parochial, magnet, virtual, home, whatever; no matter the level-elementary, secondary, college, or graduate school; no matter first-rate physical facilities, highly qualified faculty, enlightened administrators, sophisticated technology, generous funding, caring parents, supportive communities, disciplined, motivated students, no matter anything else affecting school performance, if the curriculum is lousy, the education will be lousy.

Third, Congress and the administration could stop for a moment, think, then acknowledge what they surely must know, that the key to humankind's survival is, at it has always been, human variability.

Trying to standardize kids by forcing them all through the same minimum standards hoops isn’t just child abuse. It’s a sure-fire way to squeeze out what little life is left in America’s public schools after decades of appallingly simplistic, misguided, patchwork policy. Maximum performance, not the minimum standards measured by tests, should be the institution’s aim.

Anything less invites societal catastrophe.

If Congress and the administration are wise, they'll use their levers of power not to tighten but to loosen the rigor screws and end the innovation-stifling role of Carnegie Units, course distribution requirements, mandated instructional programs, and other curriculum-standardizing measures. (Yeah, like THAT'S gonna happen, as the widening gap between rich and poor expands the range of potential complaints--W)

They'll do what enlightened school boards have always done and say to educators, "We want you to unleash creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness, imagination, and enthusiasm, and send the young off with a lasting love of learning. Tell us what you need in order to make that happen, and we'll do our best to provide the necessary support." ("Enlightened" being a euphemism for mainly upper-class, haute bourgeois institutions catering to the get of the wealthy and privileged--W)

Even the suggestion of such a policy will appall many.

We say we're big on freedom, democracy, individualism, autonomy, choice, and so on, but advocating aligning our schools with our political rhetoric invites being labeled as too radical to be taken seriously.

Such a policy, most are likely to believe, would trigger chaos, pandemonium, anarchy.

Not so. Two things would happen.

In most schools, institutional inertia, entrenched bureaucracy, and pressure from powerful corporate interests, would maintain the status quo.

In most schools, but not all. A few would point the way to a better-than-world-class education by demonstrating what experienced teachers have always known, that the traditional curriculum barely scratches the surface of kids' intellectual potential. (Emphases supplied-W)
I love educators like Mr. Brady. They're so obstinately, obsoletely optimistic about changing Murkin Education. "Loosening the screws" in the Murkin classroom ain't gonna happen. This has been an objective of critical educators for almost a century. So, as long as schools are known and treated as Institutional State Apparati (cf., Althusser, e.g.), they will serve the purposes of indoctrination and socialization to the CorpoRat State...

But nobody with any real power wants to see anything about USers' schools changed a jot, unless it is to deliver the kids to the CorpoRats before they are old enough to mount serious resistance.

Anyone who regards the USer school system as a 'failure' utterly misapprehends the true purpose of that institution.


BadTux said...

A few comments here:

1) The states where teacher unions are strongest -- and where teachers have the most power in the classroom -- are the states that have the best results on all measures of education. Coincidence? I don't think so.

2) Private schools are no different from public schools insofar as teaching methods, materials, etc. are concerned. There is no gummint "conspiracy" to turn our kiddies into passive consumers. What there is, is a simple management problem: how to get kids to learn stuff when you got one teacher and 30 kids. The notion of turning the little savages loose to learn shit on their own doesn't work, regardless of what the utopian types think. We have numbers on that one, sorry, and they're all pretty much the same -- the only thing that gets predictable and consistent results is direct instruction. Direct instruction might not be pretty or fancy or anything like that, but DI works, and is the de facto standard method of teaching in today's schools for a reason -- because we already tried all that utopian bullshit, and it didn't work. Period. Not to mention that parents complain angrily whenever teachers try to do something new and different -- "the old way of teaching was good 'nuff when I was a kid, it's good enough now!", usually spurted by some dude with a mullet chewing tobacco who took time off from his job at the chicken rendering factory to come to the school -- but that's a different issue.

- Badtux the Former Teacher Penguin

PENolan said...

The original progressive educators did not say that there should be no direct instruction. Direct instruction is often necessary. Dewey emphasizes in Experience and Education that the reason progressive education was getting fucked up is that too many teachers were relying on spontaneity for developing curriculum. A well planned, constructivist curriculum will lead to academic achievement with typically developing children and many with developmental differences.

When you're looking at 30 kids, one teacher and the impossible task of adequately addressing the needs of the students, teachers do not have what they need. Private schools tend to have smaller classes which means better outcomes for students whether the school is traditional, progressive or a mixture of both (my personal preference).

Our contemporary system of public education was modelled after the assembly lines of Henry Ford with the goal of training workers and enculturating immigrants. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, and in many ways it has effectively turned out a shit load of tea bagging types who can't see the connection between insurance companies and the trouble with health care.

PENolan said...

oops - modeled.

BadTux said...

Ah, there we go with that old saw about "private schools have better outcomes". Do they? Well, the research says... erm... NO. If you adjust by socioeconomic class of the students and educational level of the parents, private schools and public schools perform roughly equivalently, research shows.

This matches my experience with suburban public schools populated with upper-middle-class kids vs. private schools... the suburban public schools had larger class sizes but also many more experienced teachers and much more resources in terms of instructional materials and other such supporting infrastructure, while private school teachers were generally less experienced (mostly there because they were working on certification, and leaving for the better-paying public schools as soon as they got their certification) and the schools themselves had far fewer resources but class sizes were smaller and there were fewer discipline problems. In the end it all averaged out.

There are so many myths about American education that simply don't bear out when you look at the actual data. But hey, data isn't sexy, while sound bites are... siggggh!

BTW, our current system of education isn't modeled after anything, it has simply evolved over the years to fit the realities of available resources and the nature of the incoming students. Parallel evolution is why the school experience in the US, Japan, China, Germany, Russia, etc. all are immediately recognizable as schools where teaching and learning are happening, most of these educational systems grew up in isolation without much contact with other educational systems outside their homeland, yet the conditions were the same -- 30 kids per adult, limited space in schoolhouses, etc. -- and they evolved in pretty much the same direction, albeit with individual cultural twists to confuse direct comparisons. Education is an incredibly conservative institution (conservative in the old sense of the word, as in, resistant to change) that slowly evolves (very slowly) to fit existing conditions, a process which does not lend itself to being "modeled" after anything in particular.

- Badtux the Former Teacher Penguin

P M Prescott said...

Amen, Amen, Amen to that.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Public schools and private schools are for the most part virtually indistinguishable, except for the races of their inhabitants.

Students in these schools are assumed to have deficits that need to be fostered and approved. Their task is to make themselves acceptable to the owners, and school will help do that, for the select...

The schools of the elites, the wealthy, the powerful are different. In those institutions, students are not there to be fixed but to be finished...