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De-legitimizing Public Schooling

Make your voices heard over at the Answer Sheet. Respond to Marion's column.

by Marion Brady

The quality of American education is going to get worse. Count on it. And
contrary to the conventional wisdom, the main reason isn't going to be the
loss of funding accompanying economic hard times.

Follow along and I'll explain:

Step One: Start with what was once a relatively simple educational system.
(For me, it was a one-room school with 16 or so kids ranging in age from
about 6 to 15, and a teacher who, it was taken for granted by the community,
was a professional who knew what she was doing.)

Step Two: Close the school, build a big one, buy school buses, open a
district office, and hire administrators to tell teachers what they can and
can't do.

Step Three: When problems with the new, more complicated system develop,
expand the administrative pyramid, with each successive layer of authority
knowing less about educating than the layer below it.

Step Four: As problems escalate, expand the bureaucracy, moving
decision-making ever higher up the pyramid until state and then federal
politicians make all the important calls.

Step Five: Give corporate America -- the Gates, Broads, Waltons, etc. --
control of the politicians who control the bureaucracy that controls the
administrators who control the teachers.

Step Six: Pay no attention as the rich who, enamored of market forces, in
love with the idea of privatizing schools, and attracted by the
half-trillion dollars a year America spends on education, use the media to
destroy confidence in public education.

Step Seven: As a confidence-destroying strategy, zero in on teachers. Say
that they hate change and played a major role in the de-industrialization of
America and the decline of the American Empire.

Step Eight: As the de-professionalization of teaching and the down-grading
of teachers progress, point to the resultant poor school performance as
proof of the need for centralized control of education. So, what's next?

I don't have a clue. But if I were forced to guess, I'd say that what's next
is whatever the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable -- eyes
fixed no farther than the next quarter's profit -- want to be next. They've
been wildly successful thus far.

It's possible, of course, that education policy next year will be just
another excuse for partisan warfare, with little or no change in the status
quo. Or it may be that some small congressional caucus will stick a wrench
so firmly in the legislative gears that the simplistic, reactionary
education "reform" machine built by corporate America, sold to Congress, and
showcased by non-educator-educators like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, will
simply grind to a halt.

What particularly grieves me is that, whatever happens, it won't be a
consequence of any real understanding of education. Neither will it cause
the education establishment itself to take seriously what Erica Goldson said
in her June valedictory speech at Coxsackie-Athens High School in New York:

"We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as
first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do
whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

"Some of you may be thinking, "Well, if you pass a test, or become
valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something,
but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize
names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for
the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place
for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as

"I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as
a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in
retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can
attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the

And whatever happens next won't support and encourage educators to get a
spine. They need to scream bloody murder at stupid policy, reject
inappropriate use of market forces, point out mainstream media educational
naivete, and demand that policymakers listen before serving up dysfunctional
programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

And when they do so and are dismissed as self-serving whiners who don't want
to be held accountable, they should take to the streets in protest.

— Marion Brady
Washington Post Answer Sheet





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