As of late, there has been much discussion on education. In New York City the Mayor appointed a Magazine owner to oversee the largest school district in the nation. Obama is held up as a fine example of the “great education myth.” We worry about Kidsthesedays not playing enough, or too much, not socializing enough, or too much, not spending enough time in school or spending too much time in school…. etc, etc. We cry, glue pasta to cray-paper, sign forged doctors notes, get previews of tests, and discuss why my kid’s school is good but yours sucks and is a dropout factory I don’t want to pay for. We say kids are our future, they hold the keys, they will take care of us when we’re old (yeah, like we did when we sent grandma to the nursing home). However, more and more, schools look like the same old prisons. Teachers preach creativity and “exploratorsumunins” but teach out of a standard curriculum to meet standardized tests.
This Brave New Edutopia in schools has become so standard that a classroom on one side of the country looks exactly like the other, down to the nasty story time carpet, rocking chair, and post it notes, book bins, Newbury Award twattle it is no wonder we don’t get children to read “Our Ancestors the Gauls” as the first line to their histor… Ahem, social studies and diversity class. In education, as in life, we attempt to teach what we believe is useful – whether that is classical literature, science experiments, or magical stories about:
- 1. G/g/o/d/dess/es 2.h/er/is/tor/y/ies
- 3. critical thinking
- 4. character building
- 5. Lifelonglearning(tm)
- 6. Dumb made-up holiday d’jour
or….. in my experience – how much of the alphabet needs to be taught at a given time, if all children must first not learn “Aa” but learn whatever letter spells their name (good to start in on the Myspace mentality and then wonder why the little shits are so selfish), and tracking stages of development on daily progress reports because we all know, if October 12th there isn’t progress, Little Johnny won’t go to college and will die, alone, and with really dirty underwear.
What we teach, and what we learn, depends on the kind of world we envision for ourselves, and our youth – or the sort of sick ideas we project onto our young having run out of good ideas with what to do with ourselves. It is strange, with all this talk about “childrenareourfuture” and “reachingforthestars” that there are no good clearing houses for thinking about learning, unless you consider the billion dollar a year industry of tests to be a resource or those moronic Teachers Colleges and their retarded kid brother, Think Tanks and Research Institutes run by hospitals and kottles of conservatives. Do we have any good objective comparative educational programs or resources out there? Educators are taught about Dewey’s rambling, the didactics of SOVIET Lev Vygotsky and then tossed in front of children and at the mercy of a system that punishes innovation. Teacher’s Colleges take money from the Textbook industry and then promote textbooks. Harvard is not only in bed with “The Man” it is “The Man” and promotes innovations as long as they don’t rock the boat. There is no school of education or museum of education that seems to stand back and take the long view of the field.
There is no museum that puts an American one room school-house under the same roof as a reproduced madras, a Parochial school classroom next to a Soviet classroom, next to a Nazi one, next to an African one, next to a reproduced homeschool house, to show the different ages and stages of how learning and the different beliefs driving each system. Or how our own system is more Prussian than native to the American experiment. No, education is the bastion of scoundrels and buffoons. Kitchen table soccer moms blog endlessly about Zoe’s progress in getting a Goodjob(tm), professional hucksters create destination websites that cut and paste other people’s links, advice is dispensed like condoms at a Pride Parade, lawyers look about to find lawsuits and cash payments for Your Brain Damaged Baby because Cloe is behind in her math and mom and dad just can’t admit that she’s just dumb as a brick for no reason. We don’t seem to consider the different ways of learning in different cultures and strive to understand them, yet we yell “diversity” as we crash towards a more singular version of education, and a more standardized product of human being. Our mass method of delivering standardized learning to mass man is an ideal that is barely a hundred years old – untested as to its durability, sustainability, as a guarantee of personal liberty, community freedom, and utility. We have stripped down the philosophy of learning and knowledge from a discussion and turned it into a dueling banjo routine, titled “Our Schools Are Failing.”
The call as of “our schools are failing” never leaves magical realism thinking. It is the timeless Macondo educators live in of “reform,” an eternal failing and need for changes to the surface of the system that keeps people inventing and selling models, methods, curriculum, training, re-training, education, re-education compete with whatever statics you want to buy to accompany the claims of our modern snake oil sales/men/women. To what end is our current issues with the “educational system” that the fault of “systems” the mythic “unengaged teacher” or “systemic racism” and what is our current educational “crisis” an extension of the economic ruin facing the nation as well as a general breakdown of traditional Western institutions as more people lose faith in a common culture since, well, for many that common culture didn’t work out too well. In our “crisis” the Liberal Arts Colleges are seen as overpriced unspecific employment training programs, the Cannon of Literature now includes Clifford the Big Red Dog and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Trivium is radical Christian Propaganda, and the Free Marketeers look to establish private for-profit universities, voucher schools, magnate schools, and sundry other alternatives. The idea of “homeschooling” has become so mainstream that the friendimies over at the NYT had a debate section on whether these home educators should drop out of the tax code in exchange for a little bit of governmental oversight or if homeschooling is indeed the greatest threat to children “in failing schools” as if a few namby-pamby kids interested in the experimental learning potential in historical reenactment or a few Christian kiddos playing with dinosaurs and cave men together can help Little Johnny not join a gang, or take drugs, or drop out or beat the Swedish or the Japanese, or Kanienkehaka at math and science when if the Swedish are so good at science or math, why are they mostly known for their porn?
All this furry over our “crisis” goes about, and today there are calls for more Free Market forces, more privatization, more layers of bureaucracy to respond to privatization, more data, more choices, yet, there appear fewer options of authentic learning – in or outside “the system.” As we rush our little ones into the rat race, teaching them to cooperate and compete, to follow rules and innovate and think outside the box, to think critically but obey, no wonder we need to dose them as high as a Sri Lanka Hippy in order to allow the dissonance in their brain pans not to boil over. With all this “crisis” we are also told that the Chinese use the same kanji for “opportunity” as “crisis” but… that is a myth. They use the kanji 機/机 for, THE SHIT IS HITTING THE FAN…. and “danger”…. So, look not to the Chinese language to give us opportunity in this crisis. This is the shit hitting the fan you hear, not opportunity. However, like Pollyanna we are, we still repeat “Ittakesavillagetoraiseachild” and “the Chinese use the same word for “crisis” as they do “opportunity.” We find opportunity in our own children. They are our future because they are our last economic refuge. The last product. The last service – and the little shits can’t just decamp to another country leaving us holding our stupid degree in one hand and our….. junk in the other.
We lost manufacturing. We lost many middle level financial jobs (remember when bank branch employees could count without using their fingers?). We lost many services of white colar jobs now outsourced to some kid wearing a dirty rag. But we still have Little Johnny. And man! Little Johnny got a cute mouth. We gunna’ make Little Johnny pass standardized tests we buy from corporations, gunna’ make him learn’ longer, with longer days in school to compete with those Finlanders, and best of all Little Johnny, we gunna’ medicate you to stay seated fer 7 hours behind a computer monitor before we toss you into some soccer match expecting you to beat the hell outta’ the other fat kids.
Yes, Little Johnny, we gunna’ use tax payer money so you can pass your PSATs and SATs. You gunna’ get into a purdy private college, maybe one of em’ for-profit ones so all that public expenditure can be turned into private profits. Yeah, all kiddos need to go to college (at 30 – 50K a year for four years times 74 million children expected to all go to college…. damn nerds, break out the scientific calculator). Then all em’ chillen’ gunna’ git loans and then pay em’ back over 10 – 30 years with interest of 4-8%. All we need to do then is reproduce, and repeat.
Teachers are directed to instruct their pupils… and to awaken in them a sense of their responsibility toward the community of the nation.
– Bernard Rust
Frightening. Our “crisis” is just that. Not opportunity. Crisis and we have let in people not exactly like Mr. Rust, but of a similar cloth as we move not towards a greater nation, but a greater corporate state. We have turned our children into another product. Our endless “reforms” focus on the wrong institution – education. We are scrambling to fix the leak in the roof by waterproofing the cellar. We currently teach more and more that are useless. And we are currently a nation learning a lot of things we will never use, but still paying those student loans on. If we want to fix our schools, we need to fix our economic system. We need to create an economy which does not pit uninsured labor against the last unions, all fighting against sweatshops of Africa (yes, that’s where China is building theirs). The corporate educators want to create workers who are disposable consumer robots, interchangeable with people who came out of any of their factories. The book 36 Children could be from 1974 or today because the economics have not changed – and the plight of those 36 children, are now the potential world we are opening up for all children. Economically marginalized. No social service network. Racism made egalitarian for all those who are not wealthy.
Currently, “our failing schools” is pushing the herd further into the hands of the corporations. Bloomberg’s move demonstrates this. Why have credentials and degrees when you can just get appointed? Or are credentials only for the “little people”? The same “little people” who pay taxes? Educators are working hard on Standards (Civics E.12.01), on Race To the Top, on No Child Left Behind, on Extended Learning Time – RTT, NCLB, ELT – on sundry other letters strung together to mean your child will buy their products, become their kind of person, and be plugged into their system. Educators work hard to take away every real world experience from children. They subject children to high stakes standardized tests, simplistic curriculum, medal detectors (applicable only to Black/Hispanic schools), school safety officers arresting children for minor and childish infractions, examining every wrong word for thought crimes and create a closed system within their prison-like boxes. Then, educators give each other Teacher of the Year awards when they think to introduce some aspect of the real world back into the prison-like box. It’s one thing to feed starving dogs you find, quite another to get a gold star pinned on your chest or imprinted on your stupid kids book because you are feeding the dogs you starved yourself. So, here is our crisis. The social contract is being broken. And we are too coward to stand up for this contract. However, we can blame Kidsthesedays or take it out on some teacher to dares buck the system but didn’t fill out all her paperwork or – and this is a real event that I saw with my own eyes – be written up for not having enough Post-It(tm) notes up in her classroom.
Our debate about homeschool vs. unschooling, Private Parochial vs. Public Governmental, Maddras vs. Twenty-first Century is a red herring. We run from pillar to post, toss out New Math for New New Math, inventive spelling for spelling, STEM for…. stern but find no answers because we are looking in the wrong places. We inject “Extended Learning Time” (ELT) or some dumb educational idea that takes common English, puts it through the bullshit machine, and spews out some Eduthink(tm) (c) (sm) that is sold back to us at taxpayer expense. Our “crisis” is that we think we can teach innovation and competition in our country while
this innovation and competition is pitted against innovation and competition of the political prisons of the People’s Republic of China or sweatshops of Vietnam. So many timepieces are ticking it’s hard to know which one is the fucking egg timer and which is the doomsday clock.
Education, like history, is a philosophy. Bound with science, but at its heart, an art form. We are at a juncture where we don’t know what to teach in a frantic attempt to get ahead of a set of systems that are all well beyond their expiration dates as we sink on the large ship saying “Our Deck Chairs Are Failing” and trying to make them stick to the floor. Unless we can regain our boundaries, we have to give up on the idea of nation-state. If we cannot pull back from globalization, we must understand that the old system of education (currently in place) was not to advance all citizens, but discover who among the population was the officers, and who was the cannon fodder.
Those who are getting a jump on this collapse by dropping out of the system or creating their own system, may have an advantage – however, who can know? A young lady was discussing her refusal to currently attend college because she could not stand the system. She had been schooled all her life, but wanted to learn skills not taught in college. As a person with several degrees, and working in education, I should protest that no, indeed she must attend college for the sake of her…. children…. she will statistically die younger, make less money, be divorced and beaten…. however…. today, I believe everything is up in the air. Following dreams are what those who work in the system are doing. They just follow dreams from their office cubes and classrooms believing the dream that their system is in place is going to be there when they are old, just as all those retirees dreamed in 2008 when in time to collect on 30 years of drudge work, they found themselves on the bread line. With this future so uncertain, learn whatever you want, and teach what you feel is truly fascinating. Spend as little time indoors as you can.
Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders. ”
~John Holt~ Teach Your Own