29 September 2010

Designed to Fail - Education in America: Part Five

part one    part two    part three    part four


If those who seek to follow the Arne Duncan model of school reform want to argue with me about the inherent colonialism/racism of their plans, then perhaps they should begin by discussing why they won't embrace "real reform" - the re-design of our educational system.
"America has never had an educational system worthy of itself. Why is the American high school so out of touch with American life? Is it because the boundaries of education are no longer correctly drawn."

"Our schools imagine that students learn best in a special building separated from the larger community. Teachers and administrators are included in the group of educators; parents, employers, businessmen, ministers are excluded. The year-around Parkway Program sets up new boundaries and provides a new framework in which the energy of all of us can be used in learning, not in maintaining an obsolete, inefficient system.

"There is no schoolhouse, there is no separate building; school is not a place but an activity, a process. We are indeed a school without walls. Where do students learn? In the city. Where in the city? Anywhere and everywhere." - Greenberg and Roush. A Visit to the 'School without Walls': Two Impressions (1970)

"In other words, we are assuming (1) that learning takes places best not when conceived as a preparation for life but when it occurs in the context of actually living, (2) that each learner ultimately must organize his own learning in his own way, (3) that "problems" and personal interests rather than "subjects" are a more realistic structure by which to organize learning experiences, (4) that students are capable of directly and authentically participating in the intellectual and social life of their community, (5) that they should do so, and (6) that the community badly needs them." - Neil Postman (1969)
No tests. No grading. No age-based grades. Few classrooms. Few classes. Teacher and learner agency. No core curriculum. No particular time schedule. The complete opposite of RheEducation. And yet...
"Last summer there were 10,000 applications for only 500 places - they've got a good thing going and it's a seller's market." - Greenberg and Roush. A Visit to the 'School without Walls': Two Impressions (1970)

"Ninety-seven percent of a 1980s 3I graduating class attended four-year colleges and universities, compared to a regular-school continuing-education rate that was much lower despite including vocational schools and military service." Report on the Postman-designed school above.
No, neither of these schools, Philadelphia's Parkway Program or New Rochelle (NY)'s Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study ("3i"), nor any of the dozens of similar schools across the U.S. in the 1960s through early 1980s, were "the solution" for every student. Nor were they ever promoted that way. But these were not elite schools either, racially and academically diverse (often to extremes), sought after by those students failing in the "general" school programs, often a dumping ground for special needs students and problem behavior cases - these schools often worked with the very type of student now expected to succeed only if given a KIPP education. They were also all public schools, with unionized teachers.

The concepts were student empowerment, teacher freedom, community, and authentic assessment. Alan Shapiro (Postman's partner in the New Rochelle school): "Who or what has ever made anyone in the 3Is take more classes than he/she wants to take? First year student Richard Hobbs during his two years in the 3Is probably didn't take more than one or two and, if I remember correctly, didn't even get credit for them. He graduated. (See Ira Socol and Tom Murphy on the art of not taking classes; on the other hand, for the art of taking classes, see Kim Jones, who amassed something like 12 credits and graduated after her sophomore year.)" The New Rochelle students: "A group project is one that is usually set up and worked through by a group of students and a teacher. A good example is a project associated with Ward Acres, a tract of land of about 60 acres in the middle of a residential area of New Rochelle. On about 15 acres of it, 3I students are trying to set up an educational farm for the public schools. They are planning gardens, restoring nature study trails, and studying the ecology of the area." Greenberg and Roush: "...having found a good thing. There was a real chance to to learn for yourself here and learn what you wanted: no grades to create destructive competitiveness and external reward emphases; no rigid requirements to restrict horizons and close off philosophical inquiry." William Nelsen on a Philadelphia "Storefront School" [1]: "Sophia House could present the record of its students in terms of college acceptance, entrance exams, and high school completion. Such traditional measuring devices may not always be possible in the storefront school. Certain tests may not accurately measure the performance or progress of disadvantaged children."

"The Couch" in "The White Room" - New Rochelle, New York "school without walls"
"The whole scene oozed with activity and life and while there was no apparent order to it all, a sense of purpose seemed evident... I asked [the head teacher] if he would identify the kinds of things that were going on about us. His response - quick and unqualified - was to the effect that he had no idea what the activities consisted of, that it was furthermore not his business to know, and that the participants had defined the content, value, and details of their pursuits and were probably doing whatever it was they felt it important to do." - Greenberg and Roush. Philadelphia
Most of these schools vanished in the conservative movement which swept the United States in the years after Ronald Reagan came to power. But the success of these "counter-intuitive" schools helps to illustrate some essential truths:
  • Students are smarter than we too often think, and they are great learners, just not always in the classroom.
  • Disadvantaged and "troubled" students can succeed with the same freedoms as elite students.
  • Student choices make a huge difference.
  • Our rules often get in the way of creating effective learning environments.
  • Teachers - given freedom - can be great mentors.
  • There are an awful lot of learning resources outside the classroom, and the school.
  • Schools can function without grading.
  • Schools can function - well - without age-based grades.
Life Magazine, 1971
"We had a dirt fight in Central Park."

We know some other things as well, especially about teaching, as Gary Stager and Dave Britten brought out yesterday. Britten finds a 106-year-old British educational commission statement about what is "right" and what is "wrong" in teaching, which directly counters all that the U.S. government currently argues is true: "The American teacher thinks of his functions as a teacher and director of the studies, while the British teacher is driven by the force of circumstances to conceive and direct his work entirely in terms of examinations. As long as examinations control the teaching, whether in universities or the schools of this country, teaching will continue to be academic in the worst sense of the word, cribbed, cabined, and confined."

Stager reminds us of a more recent statement of the same: "It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems," said Seymour Papert in 1990.

The political problem is that embracing these known understandings of education requires abandoning the filtering system of "education" we have used in America since the Civil War. Embracing these ideas would require that we - as a society - elevate teachers in pay and respect to or above the level of lawyers, bankers, and perhaps medical doctors (something @GovChristie called "ridiculous" on Easter Sunday 2010). Embracing these concepts would threaten the power structure of our society by giving a much wider range of children the chance to succeed.
Born on the bottom and staying there. America's Caste System.
So we do not embrace these concepts, or any other form of systemic changes, because our national "leadership" is simply not interested in changing the dynamics of who succeeds (this links to one of my most controversial posts - explaining why I believe our schools do not embrace universal design). [as Anders Björklund and Markus Jäntti explained in 1997 -  Intergenerational Income Mobility in Sweden Compared to the United States - socialist Sweden shows much greater income mobility than capitalist America]

Instead, in Tyack and Cuban's words, we "tinker," and alternately blame teachers, unions, students, parents for the system's designed failure.

Larry Cuban: "There is so much chatter in an urban district when undertaking major reforms such as pay-for-performance, charters, new reading curricula, and professional development, that determining whether daily teaching has changed to mirror the reform designs gets ignored. And without reliable information, little can be said about whether students are learning (and not learning) or whether changes have occurred that might (or might not) be picked up by existing state tests."

To track this politically is essential. The period of 1960 to 1980, when Lyndon Johnson's (now much maligned) War on Poverty transformed America's poor from "third world" status to simply impoverished, America's schools aggressively unionized, school desegregation was both the law and the deed, and open classrooms and alternative schools proliferated, were the one period in US history when educational achievement of the nation as a whole improved, and the one period where the "achievement gap" closed. [2]

I will not pretend to use some form of regression analysis to parse out which of these factors contributed most, but it is important to see that all of these efforts are currently under attack from the wealthiest segments of American society. From Chris Christie to Mark Zuckerberg, from Oprah to Bill Gates Jr., from Michael Bloomberg to Eli Broad, issues of poverty and unequal opportunity are ignored while teacher unions, teacher agency, student freedoms, and desegregation are attacked, and none of these powerful figures embraces this simple call from Diane Ravitch, "as a society we have to act on the other problems, such as poverty and homelessness, which contribute to poor educational outcomes. We should not punish schools and teachers because they have a high number of kids who are poor or homeless or aren’t native English speakers. We have to do something to help those students have a better life." [3]

This is not easy stuff to consider in a society where wealth is worshipped and the wealthy are cultural heroes. We cling to our myths of social mobility and "anyone can be President" [4] and are loath to consider that there is a system working against us [5].
The "Old" Customs House at Bowling Green in New York (now the National Museum of the American Indian).
The facade has the 12 races of mankind represented as faces above the windows. (copyright Dave Pear)
It is also not easy to fully understand when I have too often, in this series, used the term "white" in a way unfamiliar to many. These are the dangers of becoming too comfortable with academic discourse, as my friend Chad Ratliff has helped me understand. So I need to pause here, at the end, and note that "White" as it has been used here is a concept of power. "White" is a skin color - and that skin color does come with privileges in certain situations. But "white" is also a position in society groups must strive to achieve. (See How the Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev. Remember that in 19th Century America, Irish Catholics - despite typically having extraordinarily low levels of melanin - were routinely compared to apes and considered - racially - essentially the same as African-Americans.)

But who is making these decisions for us - in government, in business, in philanthropy, in media - and why are critical questions we must ask. The nature and design of the system is what we must investigate.

The systems designed in 1840 - 1860 are rarely with us anymore, in fact - except for our schools and our balky federal government - they are long gone. We do not manufacture like that, we do not bank like that, we do not communicate like that, but our classrooms, schools, districts, and grade-level systems are still largely as Henry Barnard left them, our curriculum has been static in form since the 1890s, our learning technologies would pretty much be recognized easily by William Alcott. At least this is true for poor kids. Rich kids get something very different - Great Neck, NY still has it's "Parkway Program" clone, so does Ann Arbor, MI, but kids in Philadelphia and New Rochelle are out of luck.

That split in education echoes the national income split: "The income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year to its widest amount on record. The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968."

Why do schools for the 'falling middle' and poor of America stay the same - or go backwards - while those for the wealthy transform? Who does this division benefit?

We can continue to allow the wealthy and powerful to watch education from their corporate suites - with eyes on future profits - and belittle teachers, insist that students "work harder," and complain that parents are lazy and that voters in Washington are stupid, but that will leave the kids we see every day at the mercy of a class that wants them to remain exactly where they are. And the facts - and we know these facts from our positions working with kids in schools - demonstrate that most teachers are trying incredibly hard with almost no support, that most kids are working their butts off in an environment which works against all their learning instincts and patterns, and that America's middle class and poor parents are overwhelmed, with none of the parenting supports which more 'pro-family' European nations provide (living wages, parenting time, vacation time, health care, free or very inexpensive universities).

So instead, we must bring a national focus to a system designed - in funding inequity, in test regimes, in its very structure - to fail our students. We must force a true national debate - about learning, about opportunity, about poverty, about childhood, about support for parenting - and ultimately about creating "schools" - or "learning spaces" which will offer all of our children a real chance to succeed.

This true debate will not come from those looking down on education and seeing it simply as a system of worker creation, or as a system of keeping America "on top," or as system of engineering new kinds of citizens. It can only come - as William Alcott saw more than 170 years ago - from those who understand students as human learners, those who understand, through observation and contact, that students are individuals, and not value-added industrial parts.

This true debate will not, can not, start with GE/Comcast/NBC, nor Bill Gates, nor Oprah, nor Arne Duncan and Barack Obama, surely not with a guilt-racked rich kid filmmaker [6]. They all have different agendas. The debate, the movement, must begin, from the ground up, with us.

- Ira Socol
who wants to thank you all for reading

with a special thanks to Will Richardson for asking the question which got me to bring this research out into the blogosphere.

[1] in The Journal of Negro Education, 1971.

[2] I am not using radical theorists to support these conclusions, but the Educational Testing Service
and the Harvard School of Economics.

[3] See also Diane Ravitch Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform and The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

[4] "Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic President," says whitehouse.gov
as if there might have been a second (The Republican Party has never even nominated anyone for President who was not White, Male, and Protestant). Only two African-Americans have ever been elected as governors in the United States (Douglas Wilder in Virginia and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts). Only three African-Americans have ever been elected (by statewide vote) to the United States Senate (Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, Carol Moseley-Braun and Barack Obama from Illinois).

[5] Europeans, who seem to worship other heroes - authors in Ireland, soldiers in Britain, scientists in France (to use stereotypes) - have a fairly easy time seeing the system as unfair by nature, which may explain the higher levels of political participation as they attempt to change that.

[6] Davis Guggenheim, director of Michelle Rhee's favorite movie, Waiting for Superman, is one more Sidwell Friends expensive private school graduate (and private school parent) who is telling public school kids how they must learn.

28 September 2010

Designed to Fail - Education in America: Part Four

part one   part two   part three    part five

Social Reproduction.
"The basic reproductionist argument was that schools were not exceptional institutions promoting equality of opportunity; instead they reinforced the inequalities of social structure and cultural order found in a given country. How they were understood to do so depended on the theoretical perspective of analysts, the sites they prioritized for study, and a varying emphasis on top-down structural determination versus bottom-up agency by individuals or small groups. Early research on educational reproduction provided structuralist accounts, identifying systematic features of language, culture, and political economy, which were reflected in the conduct and organization of classrooms and curricula and assigned a causal role in perpetuating linguistic, cultural, and economic inequalities (Bernstein 1975, Bourdieu and Passeron 1977, Bowles and Gintis 1976)."

"Although the reproductive thesis is simple to state in academic terms, it has been and continues to be quite unpalatable to many of those who work in schools or educational systems more generally (Rothstein 2004). This is probably because it presents a direct challenge to meritocratic assumptions and seems to dash egalitarian aspirations. Early arguments and analyses of reproduction were also of their era, the 1960s and early 1970s, when economic and social stability seemed more secure than it has in recent decades. They were also formulated with a structuralist intellectual confidence that has not survived the intervening decades of reflexive, postmodern uncertainty (Bauman 1997). By the early 1990s, there was a turning away from arguments about social reproduction and education, whether focused on economic, cultural, or linguistic dimensions. This is puzzling in some respects because the problem of inequality remains a central feature of the contemporary world, within nations and on a global scale (Henwood 2003; Stiglitz 2002), and the centrality of straightforward economic factors in school performance appears little changed over more than 40 years (Coleman 1966, U.S. Dep. Educ. 2001)." - James Collins, Social Reproduction in Classrooms and Schools (2009)
"This is probably because it presents a direct challenge to meritocratic assumptions and seems to dash egalitarian aspirations." Indeed. Social Reproduction is not commonly discussed in American education, and the socially reproductive systemic designs of Henry Barnard and Ellwood Cubberley are not discussed - even by the type of elite educational leadership which resides at Stanford University, perhaps because it is(a) so uncomfortable, (b) so challenging to American Civil Religion, and (c) because it makes education seem, in deep ways, hopeless.

But how do we solve the persistent problems if we refuse to engage the basic issues?

Say what I will about Diane Ravitch, and say it I have (welcoming her to the fight, but still very bitter over the damage she and her collaborators wrought in the 1980s and 1990s), but when she tweeted on Sunday night, "Focus on teacher evaluation is red herring spurred by Billionaire Boys Club & Duncan to avoid social, econ[omic] issues," she was absolutely right.

In fact, today's "educational reformers" will discuss absolutely everything except the system of American education and its social reproductivity. They will argue for and against teacher training (teachers are not well-trained enough, six weeks of Teach for America training is plenty), for and against increased teacher pay (it is essential, teachers are paid too much), for and against privatization (we must use the business model, federal involvement in education is required), but they will not touch the essential unfairness of American society or its economic system.

America had better things to do with its lower class children than to educate them.
Child coal mine workers, 1900
And so both Ellwood Cubberley and Social Reproduction have vanished from the conversation, and even those who should really know better, like to trumpet the memory of Woodrow Wilson - a clueless racist whose international naiveté led directly to World War II - and the "progress" of his age. It is, of course, the progress of the Wilsonian age, the conceits of White American superiority and our belief in measuring the world against that, which still bedevils us almost a century later.

It is important to recall that the system designed was never intended to educate all equally, and the structure developed was designed to ensure that.

The Eton lads get their education,
so do the kids at Sidwell Friends
When Wilson said, "We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks," we know which groups were automatically consigned to the latter class - African-Americans, Catholics, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and anyone who would today be considered "disabled."

In fact, the system was designed to fail most, dumping three-quarters of students before they ever reached high school. The Prussian System of age-based grades replaced the individually structured, multi-age, peer tutored one-room schoolhouse model because it would give students the means to defeat students who might learn at a different rate. The accompanying industrialized model of mass education was created to consign non-compliant students to the lowest paying jobs in society. The results were clear. On the verge of American entry in World War II only 25% of Americans had completed high school, and less than 5% had completed college. It would only be after the liberalization of education and the integration of the 1960s that high school graduation rates would cross the 50% mark. Students, then as now, fell behind when measured against the "ideal" standards of "age-based" learning, and, unable to catch up in the graded, age-segregated system, dropped out as soon as that was possible or legal.

America, in the century after 1840, as Wilson, Cubberley, Adams, and Barnard all said, needed little in the way of 'distributed leadership' and - from the top - wanted less. Unschooled tinkerers (Edison, Ford) were one thing, but an educated population - as Germany and France were proving - and land-grant education in the US was suggesting - seemed to create socialists, and union leaders, and potentially an angrier agricultural class which might overturn the system. [1]

So that imported Prussian System, with its age-based steps and grade-level standards, was introduced as a filtering system.  As Jefferson had noted at the start of the 19th Century, the separation by ages would find the gems and give the rest, "an education proportional to the condition and the pursuits of his life," which, in the Social Darwinism of Wilson and Cubberley's time, meant the capabilities to be a miner, a millworker, a railroad construction crew member, a shipyard worker. Get to eighth grade (or not) and you went to one of those laboring jobs. Get through high school and you could work on Main Street. That five percent who went to college - they would lead.

Setting the standards for those age-based grades, then as now, was critical to maintaining the nation's class structure.

The standards? It is difficult to imagine how, if the age-based standards are accurate measures of anything, the majority of children could be "below grade level." Since all of our achievement levels, from the IQ test through every large assessment, is based in an "age-based norm" - shouldn't that "norm" at least be the median?

67% of Fourth Graders are at or below "proficient" for reading. How is "proficient" defined for this age?
Yes, it is "a median," but not "the median." The age-based standards are developed based on upper-middle-class white children living in suburbs or expensive urban neighborhoods and functioning "normally" - that is, without "disability," without language issues, without safety issues, without poverty issues, without family stress, etc. The class Wilson and Cubberley were willing to educate in the days of the Great War, are still the socio-economic class we create schools for.

And this is exactly what the powerful get out of an education system designed to fail: They get (a) to control the measuring devices and design them for themselves, and they get to (b) reduce economic competition.

By establishing "measuring sticks" which declare their own superiority, the wealthy and powerful - the Ivy Leaguersof America - get to win before the race they so enjoy is run. And by winning, they get to preserve the fruits of victory for themselves and their offspring - the best schools, the Ivy League educations [2], the top-paying jobs in the economy, and the agenda-setting jobs in government.

[Considering top university admissions, "the odds of getting into the pool of credible candidates for admission to a selective college or university are six times higher for a child from a high-income family than for a child from a poor family; they are more than seven times higher for a child from a college-educated family than they are for a child who would be a first-generation college- goer," While at Ivy League and 'Ivy equivalent" institutions, "Low-income students constituted about 11 percent of those admitted to the nineteen institutions that were studied; first-time college goers made up 6 percent. Students who fit both categories made up just 3 percent of enrollment at these schools, even though such students represent roughly 19 percent of the U.S. college-age population."]

In simple terms, the system works remarkably well for those who currently have wealth and power. When people decry the educational system in the United States they are really not discussing Scarsdale, New York or Greenwich, Connecticut or Sidwell Friends in Washington or Evanston, Illinois or Santa Barbara, California or St. Ann's in Brooklyn. All of these schools do fine, public or private, unionized or not, longer or shorter school days/years, and no matter the teacher pay structure.

The schools which are struggling - and educators, from William Alcott then to Deven Black, Alice Mercer, Dan McGuire, Dave Britten now, know this - are struggling because of a lack of resources, and/or having differing resources - in the students' homes, in the community, and in the school itself. The students "in trouble" rarely enter with fewer skills, they enter with different skills, built to function in a different environment.

Here is the "colonial" issue: The English child raised on the estate in Essex, with parents speaking "The Queen's English," begins that "race to the top" half-way there. This child knows the language, the rules of rugby, the proper way to drink tea. The child growing up in Derry or Bombay, Lagos or Port Elizabeth, comes with differing language, differing sport, differing eating habits. If school is about that British language, those British customs, and those British manners, the children from "the colonies" begin way behind. Unless that kid from Essex falls asleep under a tree, as in The Tortoise and the Hare, and has no one to wake him up, it is simply inconceivable that the colonial kids will ever catch up.The best they can hope for, if they run all their lives, is to be second-class Brits.

Michelle Rhee laughs about
taping kids' mouths shut, and her audience
laughs with her.
Similarly, the child raised in Scarsdale or Greenwich or Santa Barbara, or at Sidwell or St. Ann's, begins the race more than half-way there. They know the language, the rules of classroom play (including how to bully), the proper way for a parent's note to excuse them from work or school itself. And if they mess up, they have the resources to escape any trouble. The child attending school with Deven or Alice, Dan or Dave, knows how to navigate city streets, often how to function on a highly adult level, often how to be their own caregivers, how to communicate in a wide range of circumstances. But they do not know what that first group of kids knows, and if they get into trouble they are on their own, and if they are abused, people will joke about it. So unless the kids in Scarsdale or Greenwich or Santa Barbara, or at Sidwell or St. Ann's die, the best these colonial kids can be, if they run all their lives, is second-class Americans.

The problem is, if these "colonial" schools leveraged these differing entry abilities, and supported differing learning paths with equitable resources, then the path to homogeneity, to the "one America" - behaving consistently no matter what race or ethnicity or national origin, would not come into existence. Remember Francis Adams? "The school has more to do than to educate the children: it is the mill, so to speak, into which go children of English, Scotch, Irish, German, Russian, Italian, and Scandinavian parents, and come out Americans. Africa contributes its negroes, and now Asia is sending its Chinese. All must learn English, and the result will soon be that the population of the United States will be the most homogeneous of nations." And this was echoed Monday morning by NBC's David Gregory and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: "@GovChristie: RT @davidgregory: Education reform is a new form of patriotism; it's not just about our kids but our country." About our country, yes, but not about learning or our children, rather, it is about U.S. worker consistency and national "competitiveness." The perspective comes from the U.S. Secretary of Education, who opened the "Education Nation" conversation by saying, "What the president fundamentally gets is we have to educate our way to a better economy."

And yes, if the colonial children could leverage what they bring to school, if they might find their own path to success rather than stumbling along in another's wake, well they might not just compete, they might come out on top (see Irish Literature within the English language for proof of this).

So that path is blocked. While "white" kids get creativity and stories in their early grades, teaching them about the world and giving them dreams, "poor" kids get KIPP and scripted instruction, chants and memorizations. If they ever get past that, they find themselves so far behind their "white" peers that continuing the race seems genuinely hopeless.

Next: What we know and why the U.S. isn't doing it...

- Ira Socol

[1] The one place in 19th Century America where the need for 'distributed leadership' was seen as essential, the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, ran their own institutions of higher education.

[2] I'm not much of a Gladwell fan - doubting his typical statistical analyses, but this is an interesting meta-analysis of Ivy League admissions - and consequences. You might also want to read Atkinson and Pelfrey on the question of Ivy League admissions, also Caroline Hodges Persell and Peter W. Cookson, Jr. "Chartering and Bartering: Elite Education and Social Reproduction" - Social Problems Vol. 33, No. 2 (Dec., 1985), pp. 114-129, and Paul William Kingston and John C. Smart. "The Economic Pay-Off of Prestigious Colleges."

27 September 2010

Designed to Fail - Education in America: Part Three

part one   part two  part four    part five

With the exception of John Taylor Gatto and a few others, "contemporary" (since 1980) historians of American education ignore Ellwood Cubberley [1]. They also significantly limit their interest in Henry Barnard. Instead, future teachers hear a great deal about Horace Mann and John Dewey, who, I may argue, are among the "losers" in the educational wars of the United States.

Yet, to understand the debate in America today you need to think of two names: Ellwood Cubberley and Rudyard Kipling. Mann is sweet, Dewey brilliant, Barnard essential to the process, but it is Cubberley who made the U.S. educational system virtually unchangeable and it is Kipling who may offer the explanation re: why?

Let's take a look - just to turn them into examples - at Camilo Acosta [2] ("TheRebull" on Twitter) and Mark Zuckerberg [3]. These two might be seen as "typical" America's young generation seeking to lead on minority education. Acosta through prodigious fundraising for Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. (though why a highly paid, and wealthy-by-inheritance schools superintendent needs fundraising has never been obvious to me), Facebook CEO Zuckerberg through his recently concocted ties to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Oprah Winfrey.

I do not pick these men because they are intellectual or policy leaders, but specifically because they are not. The question of why they feel compelled to join this crusade, without knowledge or study, is what is illuminating.

Both of these young men grew up with the resources of exceptional wealth, and attended exceptional schools - schools completely unlike those they advocate for the poor of color in America. Both are the products of America's "Ivy League" universities. Both are fully willing to embrace Kipling's White Man's Burden [4] or, that is only partially true, neither will actually risk anything themselves to shoulder that burden, not even in political/career terms as Benjamin Disraeli or William McKinley might have. But they are fully willing to "Take up the White Man's burden--, Ye dare not stoop to less--, Nor call too loud on Freedom."

And they are fully happy to do this, because Cubberley made the American education system not just something for missionaries (Mann), and not something just for economic policy (Barnard) but literally "pleasurable" for those born to power, just as - in Edward Said's grand explanation, Rudyard Kipling made British colonialism pleasurable for Britain's upper class young men.

[Edward Said (1935-2003) is an important author in understanding this construction. Said was the leading intellectual bringing postcolonial literary theory together with politics and human actions "on the ground." In part, this series, and this blog as a whole, is inspired by something he said in a 2001 interview: "But I don't write about just anything - I don't think I'm capable of doing that. I write about things that matter to me, and obviously one of those things is the idea of tribalism - one's origin, and the place that I was born in. But never without clarifying it in as dispassionate a way as possible, and always with some commitment to greater values - more universal values than just the ones of nation, tribe and family. Those issues would be issues of justice, oppression, giving a historical context when it's lost." For a wonderful appreciation, and place to begin, I recommend Terry Eagleton's review of Said's last book.]

Cubberley does not sound joyful. He has none of the soaring oratory of Mann, nor even the ability of Barnard to conjure the future, but he is clear and absolute:
"It is the attempt to remould the school and to make of it a more potent instrument of the State for promoting national consciousness and political, social, and industrial welfare that has been behind the many changes and expansions and extensions of education which have marked the past half-century in all the leading world nations, and which underlie the most pressing problems in educational readjustment to-day. These changes and expansions and problems we shall consider more in detail in the chapters which follow. Suffice it here to say that from mere teaching institutions, engaged in imparting a little religious instruction and some knowledge of the tools of learning, the school, in all the leading nations, has to-day been transformed into an institution for advancing national welfare. The leading purpose now is to train for political and social efficiency in the more democratic types of governments being instituted among peoples, and to impart to the young those industrial and social experiences once taught in the home, the trades, and on the farm, but which the coming of the factory system and city life have deprived them otherwise of knowing." - The History of Education (1919) pp. 737-738
In Cubberley's world the education system has not been either a political or an economic decision, but has naturally "transformed" into "an institution for advancing national welfare." It is also, again as Said says regarding Kipling, an instrument of benign imperialism. "When the United States freed Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines from Spanish rule, a general system of public education, modeled after the American educational ladder, was created as a safeguard to the liberty just brought to these islands, and to education the United States added courts of justice and bureaus of sanitation as important auxiliary agencies. As a result the peoples of these islands have made a degree of progress in self-government and industry in three decades not made in three centuries under Spanish rule" (p. 740). We "comfortably" skip over the brutal Philippine War, and the destruction of representative government in Puerto Rico, and the occupation of Cuba, in order to "prove" the perfect progressivism of the system.

To young people of privilege, this is a grand game they want to be in on. To miss it is to miss the flow of history. So whether Acosta - who seeks to be a colonial apparatchik, or Zuckerberg - who will use his great wealth to endow a school in a colonial backwater, or all those who seek the resume line "Teach for America" (the contemporary equivalent of that old post in the Foreign Service), these silver spoon children seek out the joys of what Said calls "orientalism" and "adventure" while getting the powerful feel that they are riding the wave of history - which is more appealing to self-identity than seeing yourself as a passive inheritor of wealth.

It is a grand game, but it is not played on a level field. And like those who joined that old British Foreign Service (you may want to watch Lawrence of Arabiafor some clues), today's education colonials see themselves as always superior, and always knowing what is best for those beneath them. The result is the fawning response to power and the brutal dismissal of the powerless one sees most clearly now in D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee:
'"I think part of the problem in public education to date has been that we all have to feel good; let's not ruffle too many feathers," Rhee told a group of bigwigs gathered at the Newseum recently for the premiere of the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,' " which features her as a hero.

"What Rhee didn't say is that she has gone all out to make residents who live in the wealthier, predominantly white parts of the city feel good. And if their feathers got ruffled and needed smoothing, she went so far as to visit their homes for coffee klatches and pep talks.

"So what happens when black residents on the other side of town start waving their hands - don't forget about us; we'd like to feel good, too? Rhee holds them up for ridicule. School reform is not "warm and fuzzy," she says." - Courtland Milloy, Washington Post
Cubberley, like his university-level and political parallel Woodrow Wilson, was remaking the world as safe for the white elite. Creating a rational, stable planet for both the business of America and its middle class joys. What was being done for "the other," whether that was working class children or Czech independence proponents, was being done for a potent combination of the economic self-interest of the powerful (nations economically and militarily dependent on France, a stable and low-wage workforce) and the "feel good" warmth of liberal accomplishment. Thus Cubberley, and Wilson embarked on a systemic re-design of the world - Cubberley through schools, Wilson through borders and government structures - which would be permanent because they were inevitable. It does not matter whether one is discussing "technique of instruction" (p. 749) and "the scientific organization of education" (p. 824) or "defensible borders" and "national self-determination" - both are the products of logical evolution in a "just" universe.

Just how enduring this inevitability is can easily be seen in both education and political spheres. In education "we" continue to pursue the scientific and the "proper technique" (though we now say "evidence-based practice") despite never finding an actual way to measure human learning. In the global political realm we continue to pursue "self-determination" unless - of course - we don't for reasons of "defensible borders" and the status of allies (Kosovo good, Catalonia bad. Georgia good, South Ossetia bad).

And our young continue to be called into service for both missions - educational and global military - and are both demonized if they fail to achieve results which remain as impossible now as they were in 1899 or 1917.

Still not "English"
The issue which joins these failings of the "American Century" together, lies in the very concept underlying both. Whether nations are to become "American" in form and substance, or differing American students are to become "White" in form and substance, neither group can ever catch up. Just as, no matter what the Irish, the Indians, the Nigerians, the Kenyans did, they could never truly become "English." And this impossibility, crafted by forcing "the other" to continually chase a moving objective, manufactures a permanent inequality.

"Through analyses of colonial schooling, anthropology, and the formation of academic subjects instrumental in the expansion of empire (history, geography, science, language and literature), Willinsky argues that education was and is the research and development arm of imperialism. Drawing on contemporary classrooms and materials, he considers how schools continue to educate the young within the "colonial imaginary." Through primary texts, cutting-edge scholarship and students' voices, Willinsky examines schooling itself, arguing for the incorporation of the imperial legacy into a multicultural education that does not dismiss the achievement of the West but gives an account of the divided world that achievement has created."

The "colonial imaginary" is what Cubberley brought into full-flower in American schooling, taking disparate intentions - moral and commercial, religious and imperial - and merging them into a coherent whole which the American intellectual elite could fully enjoy and feel good about. As Wilson sent Americans off to fight to "make the world safe for democracy," Cubberley sent them to build the American ideal: "The problem of the twentieth century, then, and probably of other centuries to come, is how the constructive forces in modern society, of which the schools of nations should stand first, can best direct their efforts to influence and direct the deeper sources of the life of a people, so that the national characteristics it is desired to display to the world will be developed because the schools have instilled into every child these national ideals" (p. 837).

The world, and all within America, would be reconstructed on the American ideal. And the young vanguard of American society would, then as now, set out to accomplish this.

The problem, then as now, is unequal beginnings on that path to either Americanness or Whiteness. Not only is a single conception of life, of government, of learning, of behavior, declared "correct" and thus all others declared "incorrect" ("It’s worth thinking about not matching the child’s supposed learning style to how they are supposed to learn, but rather think about the content and what is it about this content that I really want students to understand and what’s the best way to convey that.” – Daniel Willingham). Not only does it encourage racially-based labelling of behavior ("When white burnouts give wedgies to white A students, the authors argue, it is seen as inevitable, but when the same dynamic is observed among black students, it is pathologized as a racial neurosis." - Paul Tough in The New York Times Magazine). Unless Americans and Whites choose to stagnate, stand still, or regress, it is simply not possible for others to ever actually catch up. The further you start from the expressed ideal the further "behind" you are, and the further behind you will remain.

Next: What those in power get from the failure of education...

- Ira Socol

[1] As noted in Part Two of this series, Cubberley, who dominates the "post war" histories of American education by Cremin and others, is barely mentioned in Tyack's work or that of other contemporary authors.

[2] Acosta in his own words: "Before starting Root Orange, Camilo worked for his mom’s government communications company,The Media Network, where he introduced newfangled tools young people use like Facebook and Twitter to the company’s communications offerings. Years later, the federal government is still figuring out how to use social media. He also oversaw the company’s website re-design, which introduced him to the headache of website re-design. Camilo’s previous gigs include stints at the Corporate Executive Board and New Vantage Group, a venture capital firm in Northern Virginia.

"During the rare times he is not working on Root Orange, Camilo does fundraising and advocacy work for education reform efforts, a cause both he and Frank fervently support. He was almost assaulted once by an angry mob of former public school teachers while testifying at a D.C. City Council hearing. Camilo enjoyed the experience and The Washington Post found it newsworthy.
"Camilo received his B.A. in Politics from Princeton University, where his thesis on micro-finance in South Africa inexplicably managed to receive the Picard Prize. He is a graduate of the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C, where he enjoyed pasta dinners with Al Gore at the Vice President’s residence and seeing Hillary Clinton in frumpy mom clothes."

[3] Mark Zuckerberg in his own words: "Mark Zuckerberg is the founder and CEO of Facebook, which he started in his college dorm room in 2004 with roomates Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes.

"Zuckerberg is responsible for setting the overall direction and product strategy for Facebook. He leads the design of Facebook’s service and development of its core technology and infrastructure.
"Earlier in life, Zuckerberg developed a music recommendation system called Synapse and a peer-to-peer client called Wirehog. However, he abandoned both to pursue new projects.
"Zuckerberg attended Harvard University and studied computer science before founding Facebook.
'While at Harvard, Zuckerberg created Facemash, a website that compared students’ dorm photos side-by-side in a fashion similar to HOT or NOT. Harvard administration was not amused, and Zuckerberg faced subsequent disciplinary action. Less than three months later, he launched Facebook.
"Zuckerberg won the 2007 Crunchie Award for ‘Best Startup CEO.’"

[4] The White Man's Burden (1899) - the poem was written as a critique of the U.S. colonial conquest of the Philippines.

"Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden--

In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--

The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--

No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden--

And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--

Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden--

Have done with childish days--
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!"

26 September 2010

Designed to Fail - Education in America: Part Two

part one     part three    part four    part five

How did the United States go from this:

"One error still prevails to a ruinous extent, namely: the neglect of cultivating and developing the powers of the mind, while every thing is attempted to be done by taxing memory with the weight of names and abstractions, allowing no play for thought, and exciting no interest whatever in the child's mind. It seems as if many of our teachers and book makers, from the highest to the lowest depart, ments, forget that children have minds, and suppose that the only powers they will ever possess, are to be imparted by teachers, whereas the teacher ought to know that he cannot impart a single iota of power. The most he can do, is, to develop powers already in existence, and because the attempt has been made rather to create than to cultivate, the mind of man has, in many cases, been actually cramped and weakened rather than strengthened at school." - Report of Mr. Lewis, Superintendent of Common Schools of Ohio (1839)

to this: 

"Schools should be factories in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products. . . manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry." - Ellwood Cubberley's dissertation 1905, Teachers College, Columbia University 

and this: 

"People say, 'Well, you know, test scores don't take into account creativity and the love of learning. [pause] I'm like, 'You know what? I don't give a crap.' Don't get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don't know how to read, I don't care how creative you are. You're not doing your job." - Michelle Rhee Time Magazine

In large part, they made this transition through this:

"From the point of view of American educational history the most important developments in connection with the Reformation were those arising from Calvinism. While the Calvinistic faith was rather grim and forbidding, viewed from the modern standpoint, the Calvinists everywhere had a program for political, economic, and social progress which has left a deep impress on the history of mankind. This program demanded the education of all, and in the countries where Calvinism became dominant the leaders included general education in their scheme of religious, political, and social reform...In his plan for the schools of Geneva, published in 1538, he outlined a system of elementary education in the vernacular for all. which involved instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, careful grammatical drill, and training for civil as well as for ecclesiastical leadership." - Ellwood Cubberley

and this:

Miss Columbia's School (1894 cartoon based on 1869 book)
"One of the most remarkable features of the American free school is its almost infinite power of assimilation, and this is one of the greatest works which the school does. It draws children from all nations together, and marks them with the impress of nationality. Mr. Pawson says: " The school has more to do than to educate the children: it is the mill, so to speak, into which go children of English, Scotch, Irish, German, Russian, Italian, and Scandinavian parents, and come out Americans. Africa contributes its negroes, and now Asia is sending its Chinese. All must learn English, and the result will soon be that the population of the United States will be the most homogeneous of nations." - Francis Adams.

The Horatio Alger Myth was a vital part of
the conversion of capitalist purpose to
Christian National Belief
It was one thing for Henry Barnard to design an education system which would divide American  children up in the most effective way for capitalist industrialism. It was one thing to import a system from authoritarian Prussia designed to foster compliant nationalism and train imperial soldiers [1]. But we would not be living with that system today if not for a system of religious and national mythology embracing that system and making it seem the inevitable result of a progressive, God-inspired nation.

Politics can shift, and does, but the essential myths which define a nation create institutions which endure. And this is a vital concept for the United States which has the second oldest extant government system on the planet (after the Most Serene Republic of San Marino).

The United States, lacking a defining specific religion or a native identity, has seen a civil religion created and embraced. It is not the typical founding of a nation through "Romantic Nationalism," because in the case of the U.S. the nation came first (more traditional Romantic Nationalism is represented by the Irish liberation movement with its literature (see Declan Kiberd's Inventing Ireland), sport, and re-embrace of Gaeilge, or the Zionist movement with the Maccabiah myths and re-establishment of the ancient Hebrew language). Not typical, but very powerful.

The power of this civil religion is that, in education as in economics, it converts arguments for change from political disagreement into heresy.

On part one of this series Lisa Parisi commented, "Seems like we teachers have two choices....work within the system to help students succeed or fight the system and lose our jobs. Not a good choice, either way. And having our government choose people to revamp the system and not choose any educators, is a clear message that the goal is to maintain the system, not help the children." And Lisa sums up the predicament the system creates for teachers. It also answers William Chamberlain's question from the same post, "Do you think when teachers are confronted with the reason school is the way it is they will accept it or rebel? Do we simply need to educate teachers about why they teach how they teach?" They may rebel, but the odds against that rebellion winning are long. In the past 300 years only the French Revolution permanently altered a nation's relationship to its religion.

The "American Civil Religion" did not arise with the Revolutionary generation, it began to be developed when the nascent second industrial revolution joined the uniquely American "Second Great Awakening." And this, historically, coincided with the the "invention" of the U.S. public education system, with schools becoming the missions of the new theology.

Throughout the 19th Century, as Henry Barnard's system was being "authored," the religion grew alongside it. America was "the last great hope of earth," as Lincoln said, with a divine mission. America was "a light unto the world,"and the furthest advance of western civilization. And this religion had specific components which were embedded both in the educational system and in the public's attitude toward that system:

First, the religion required a uniformity of belief and worship - as most Protestantism sects do. This required the "melting pot" concept of American immigration, in which those seeking to join the society would be converted into "Americans."

"The fusing process goes on as in a blast-furnace; one generation, a single year even-- transforms the English, the German, the Irish emigrant into an American. Uniform institutions, ideas, language, the influence of the majority, bring us soon to a similar complexion; the individuality of the immigrant, almost even his traits of race and religion, fuse down in the democratic alembic like chips of brass thrown into the melting pot." - Titus Munson Coan (1875)

Schools, of course, would lead this charge, they would be the smelter, replacing the disappearing frontier which Turner had called "the crucible." "The population of New York City is by no means homogenous," New York Governor - and Lincoln Secretary of State - William Seward said in 1842, "on the contrary, it is the object of education to make it so."

Second, the religion required a moral code which would support the nation's economic system. In this literature played a vital part, and the literature was transmitted through reading instruction in the schoolhouse, exactly as the Christian Bible was transmitted through the catechisms of the Protestant churches.

The McGuffey Readers, the Horatio Alger stories, the frontier tales of Daniel Boone et al, formed the mythic American individual, so different from the communitarian Catholicism and Socialism of late 19th Century continental Europe. In this "America" any joining together of any non-wealthy subgroup was discouraged (whether labor unions or The Grange) because "real Americans" worked their way up through individual hard work and moral rightness. This required education to be a competitive environment, where the old peer teaching of the one room schoolhouse vanished.

"The Horatio Alger myth conveys three basic messages: (1) each of us is judged solely on her or his own merits; (2) we each have a fair opportunity to develop those merits; and (3) ultimately, merit will out. Each of them is, to be charitable, problematic. The first message is a variant on the rugged individualism ethos . . . . In this form, it suggests that success in life has nothing to do with pedigree, race, class background, gender, national origin, sexual orientation—in short, with anything beyond our individual control. Those variables may exist, but they play no appreciable role in how our actions are appraised." - Harlon Dalton.

American schools thus "attempt" to treat all "equally" as opposed to "equitably." We pretend that all are born with the same opportunities, and that "effort" and "proper behavior" is what matters, what will determine success or failure. This is a vitally important educational effort designed to block the kind of revolutionary impulses the 19th Century power structure saw threatening the economic and social structure in Europe, where even a Kaiser like Wilhelm II ruled an essentially socialist nation.

And it is what leads us directly to KIPP Schools, and the basic idea that failure in America's economic system is an individual moral, and not a systemic, problem.

Which brings us, belatedly - I apologize (four part series? perhaps) - to Ellwood Cubberley and the permanence of our system. Cubberley, the Teachers College trained teacher educator, stood astride American education in the first half of the 20th Century like a colossus, from his chair at Stanford University.

It was Cubberley who wrote the civil religion narrative permanently into the American education system, through both his books, and his deep impact on teacher training. When the history of American education began to be re-investigated after the Second World War, Cubberley's influence was obvious, Teachers College professor Lawrence Cremin devoted an entire book to him (The Wonderful World of Ellwood Patterson Cubberley).

Yet, as we debate education today, Cubberley, despite the cafe named for him beneath the College of Education in Palo Alto, has disappeared - and with him our understanding of the "how" and "why" in our current arguments. Cubberley is only mentioned twice in Tyack and Cuban's Tinkering toward Utopia, though we may assume the authors lunch, at times, in the eponymous cafe. In Cuban's massive How Teachers Taught, Cubberley is similarly absent (four mentions in 293 pages).

In Richard Altenbaugh's The American People and Their Education, Cubberley is simply not mentioned at all.

And this is deeply problematic, for it is Cubberley's "victory" over Montessori and Dewey which permanized the system, which created the canonical text under which almost all of our school's operate. Gatto: "Immediate action was called for. Cubberley’s celebratory history doesn’t examine motives, but does uneasily record forceful steps taken just inside the new century to nip the career of intellectual schooling for the masses in the bud, replacing it with a different goal: the forging of "well-adjusted" citizens."

Gatto quoting Cubberley: "Since 1900, and due more to the activity of persons concerned with social legislation and those interested in improving the moral welfare of children than to educators themselves, there has been a general revision of the compulsory education laws of our States and the enactment of much new child-welfare...and anti-child-labor legislation....These laws have brought into the schools not only the truant and the incorrigible, who under former conditions either left early or were expelled, but also many children...who have no aptitude for book learning and many children of inferior mental qualities who do not profit by ordinary classroom procedures....Our schools have come to contain many children who...become a nuisance in the school and tend to demoralize school procedure."

"The school reorganized its teaching along lines dictated by the new psychology of instruction which had come to us from abroad.... Beginning about 1880 to 1885 our schools began to experience a new but steady change in purpose [though] it is only since about 1900 that any marked and rapid changes have set in."

What exactly did Ellwood Cubberley do? And why did he do it? That is...

Next: Cubberley, Permanence, Social Reproduction, and those left behind...

- Ira Socol

[1] Sheldon Richman. Separating School & State: How To Liberate American Families. "Gatto emphasizes how the Prussian model set the standard for educational systems right up to the present. "The whole system was built on the premise that isolation from first-hand information and fragmentation of the abstract information presented by teachers would result in obedient and subordinate graduates, properly respectful of arbitrary orders," he writes. He says the American educationists imported three major ideas from Prussia. The first was that the purpose of state schooling was not intellectual training but the conditioning of children "to obedience, subordination, and collective life." Thus, memorization outranked thinking. Second, whole ideas were broken into fragmented "subjects" and school days were divided into fixed periods "so that self-motivation to learn would be muted by ceaseless interruptions." Third, the state was posited as the true parent of children. All of this was done in the name of a scientific approach to education, although, Gatto says, "no body of theory exists to accurately define the way children learn, or what learning is of most worth."