Listening to the American "Main Stream Media" speak about education today, or reading most of what passes for educational research, is much like waking up too early on a weekend morning and watching infomercials.
And just like those infomercials, anyone with half a functioning brain knows this is all nonsense, and that the peddlers, wearing their wealth (Bill Gates, Eli Broad) or their connections (Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp) or their PhDs (Marzano, Slavin, the entire Harvard Education faculty) like the white coats of hair restoration tonic hucksters, are self-serving phonies. And yet...
|"Education Reform" has been very|
good for Our Miss Broomstick
Since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution "we" (the "western" human) have been obsessed with measurement. We measure "production" and "gross domestic product" and "per capita income" and the height, weight, and intelligence of our children, and we compare these against the measurements of others.
Actually, it goes back a bit further, to the Protestant Reformation, and the belief that humans and communities might "measure up" to the perfections described by Calvin and Luther, or not. And to the idea that wealth (responsibly handled) indicated God's love and approval.
The problem with measurement is that it does three very negative things: (1) It creates false comparisons against a fiction - "the average human" and "the average human experience." The child born in the village in rural Kenya is made to line up against Bill Gate's children, on a scale created by Bill Gates. Thus that child is "not white enough," "not Protestant enough," "does not read enough books," and simply lacks "computer time." (2) It ties us firmly to the past - we can only measure against a known, thus measurement itself binds us to prior function and blocks future dreams. The measurer wants a faster horse, he/she cannot conceive of another method of transport. And (3) measurement limits what a society thinks is important. A local bad businessman measures European tax rates against those in the US and insults me by damning European society (no, I won't come back). He focuses on what Americans consider valuable (not supporting their neighbors and children) rather than what Europeans might (supporting their neighbors and children) and thus comes to the set of decisions which put people like Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Rick Snyder in power, which, in turn, probably terminates the American future.
And of course, "measurers" become "fixers." No one "measures up," an idea which has kept preachers employed for 500 years, or 5,000. So the "fix" is needed. "Oh my, I'm not as rich as my neighbor, I need a fix." "Oh my, my child is not as smart as my neighbor's kid, I need a fix." "Oh my, our children do not interpret alphabetical symbols as quickly as those in Scarsdale (on average), we need a fix."
The "fix" is, of course, joined to the overpromise. With so many "fixes" competing for money and attention (and "attention" leads to money), every "Hooked on Phonics" huckster, every aggressive PhD candidate, every professor with dollar signs in his or her eyes, every politician desperate for a CNN or FoxNews soundbite, claims that "their fix" is "the fix" - God has smiled on them and made them the conduit of the perfect truth.
any difference between these two videos? ("fixers" at work)
And each of these fixes limits, and ties us to the past, and preserves the status quo. Dr. Robert Slavin has never spent a minute considering (publicly) what "reading" means. He just wants kids to spend their entire childhood chasing his grandchildren, so his grandchildren stay on top (those other kids cannot possibly catch up unless Bob's grandchildren stop moving forward, since they've begun so far ahead). Bill Gates has never spent a minute considering (publicly) what "education" means. Rather, he sells a system which lists his kids as the 'best in the world' and measures all children by what's going on in that big house outside Seattle.
|build your own Bill Gates house, and your kids can grow up to be like his...|
Measurement has its problems. Measuring ensures that most will be "left behind." Measuring ensures that destructive competition will rule. Measuring blocks truly new ideas. Measuring rates the status quo as the best we can do.
So maybe, just maybe, we should stop doing it.
- Ira Socol