Are ed reformers ignoring American values?
My guest today is Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.
By Marion Brady
Education reform shaped by Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards Initiative is rocking merrily along, but the enthusiasm for it is, well, curious.
Maybe because those originally pushing it were leaders of business and industry rather than educators, the effort was begun, and continues, without several relevant issues being addressed.
There has been, for example, no discussion of the wisdom of standardizing knowledge in the middle of a knowledge explosion. Neither is anyone asking if the "core" school subjects - the ones being standardized - are up to the challenges the future will bring.
No provision has been made for coordinating or prioritizing the work of the various standards-writing committees.
No one has been assigned responsibility for mediating the conflicts which will arise as the fans of various school subjects compete for learner time and public money.
No apologies have been offered to professional educators for telling them they don’t know how to do their jobs.
No one is addressing the fact that the world that school subjects try to explain is an interconnected whole that can’t be understood using a random handful of disconnected school subjects.
That last problem alone -- the one that helped make No Child Left Behind an intellectual farce -- is reason enough to dump Race to the Top and The Common Core State Standards Initiative.
But perhaps most curious of all is the present education reform effort’s disregard for deep-seated American values. With the possible exception of Australia, no other country matches America in professed admiration for the non-standard person.
We’re big on individualism, personal freedom, and autonomy. We resent authority, chafe at regulation, and are amused by the comedian’s line, "I’m from the government and I’m here to help." We admire the Lone Ranger, the self-made man, and the movie characters played by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
We distrust central planning, and point to the history of the Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries as evidence of its dangers. We know that no two kids are alike, and insist that individual differences be respected, a cultural trait we think explains why Americans have won more than their fair share of Nobel Prizes, medals, patents, and other awards for scientific, artistic, and athletic accomplishment.
Why, then, is there near-universal enthusiasm for national standards? Why are we destroying what little autonomy and adaptability is left in America’s schools after years of battering by No Child Left Behind? Why are we ignoring educators from high-scoring but super-standardized countries who come here looking for the secret of America’s intellectual productivity? Why are we putting our children in the service of corporate interests rather than demanding that corporate interests serve our children? When did we abandon our belief that educating wasn’t about filling industry job slots but about exploring the dimensions and potential of humanness?
Should there be national standards? Sure! But not national standards for math and science and other school subjects. School subjects are just tools. Means to an end. If we’re shopping for a jacket, we don’t care about the loom that wove the cloth, the scissors that cut it, or the sewing machine that stitched it together. We care about the quality of the finished jacket.
The same holds true if we’re in the market for a house or car. We don’t care whether the carpenters drove the nails with a hammer or a nail gun, don’t care whether a robot or a human installed the grill. We leave tool choices to the judgment of professionals, in whose interest it is to constantly look for better ones. Our interest is in the quality of the completed house or car. That’s when we bring standards to bear.
But not in education. The whole standards and accountability fad has been a monumental, misguided waste of time, money, brains, and educator reputations.
Should a standard for reading say, "Learners will be able to sound out unfamiliar words," or should it say, "Learners will develop a love of reading"? Should a standard for math say, "Learners will be able to solve quadratic equations," or should it say, "Learners will understand statistics that reveal the trends of the era"?
Corporate America has given us Big Banks - banks too big to fail. Corporate America has given us Big Pharma - a pharmaceutical industry too big to fight. Coming soon to a school near you, courtesy of corporate America: Big Ed - a centralized education system too big to question its self-serving, intellect-destroying priorities.
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| April 30, 2010; 9:15 AM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, Marion Brady, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top | Tags: Common Core Standards, Marion Brady, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, american values, guest bloggers, national standards, national standards and american values, schools and american values
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