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In Tribute to Gerald Bracey and His Campaign to Keep Education Pundits Honest
by Jason Ohler
"We are drops of reason in oceans of emotions." So said my favorite theology teacher, Father David Belyea, during one of his inspired rants about the nature of spirituality. He was describing our penchant as people to lead with our desires and beliefs, independent of whatever facts may stand in our way. The Catholic church's case against Galileo is a good case in point. So is the constant war against our schools.
This posting is actually about Gerald Bracey, who passed away recently at age 69. He was a well respected researcher of American education, and a transformational voice in the great educational debate simply because he wasn't afraid to tell the truth as the data showed it to be: America's schools are doing pretty well.
In much of his work, especially in his book The War Against America's Public Schools, he addresses the constant harangue by the media against the quality of American education by actually looking at the data. When did so, he found something quite amazing: the pundits were wrong. For example, when he heard a government official like Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, say that AmericaÃ¢€™s kids tested poorly when compared with kids from other countries, he actually called up Secretary Bennett's office and asked to see the data. He had a heck of time getting it, for good reason so it turns out: the data was so muddy, skewed or used with such bias that the conclusions drawn from it were just plain wrong. Bracey observed this phenomenon over and over, concluding that pundits skew educational data for the same reason politicians always try to convince us how bad things are: 1) they can justify infusing their own ideology into the process of reshaping whatever it is they are reshaping, and 2) they can ask for money. After all if there isnÃ¢€™t a crisis, there is no reason to blame the previous administration, or ask for money to undo all its misguided work.
He, along with colleague and literacy expert Stephen Krashen as well as others in the field, came to another conclusion about America's education standing with respect to the rest of the world: when poverty is factored out, America's kids do comparatively very well. Read Susan OhanianÃ¢€™s informative Huffington blog post for more about this. His argument wasn't that we should ignore the test results of kids in poverty, but rather that continuing with high stakes testing that will most certainly show come kids to be failing, and than blaming teachers for it, makes no sense at all. Teachers can't fix poverty. An example of his scholarship in this area is The Bracey Report On the Condition of Public Education, 2009.
I tell my listeners all the time that faith and critical thinking are diametrically opposed, and that while faith may be appropriate for some situations, it is certainly never appropriate when we are listening to what media giants tell us about education and, for that matter, the world. We were all hoping that Arne Duncan would be the one to bring a factual focus to the debate on education. From Dr. Bracey's perspective, as well as the perspective of many others, that did not happen.
The Committed Sardine
INDEX OF GERALD BRACEY TRIBUTES
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