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A path to building a functional public school system

Publication Date: 2009-05-14

NOTE: This is a combination of several comments made by Rogier Gregoire on EDDRA, Gerald Bracey's discussion list.

May 14, 2009

Measuring education by industrial standards is foolish, and just as foolish s using other societies as a criteria for our educational performance. This response is aimed at educating for humane values rather than industrial values.

Schools and school resources need to be reorganized around the classroom with students at the center and teachers organized into communities that collaborate and cooperate (skills that might have to learned) about the effort of instruction and the necessary diagnostic work that informs innovation. Isolating teachers and denying them the decision making power of their profession is a critical step towards top down industrial management. The current system denies teachers the opportunity to take advantage of their collective wisdom and insight that is a product of community that informs and empowers the profession. 2. We need to abandon the current pedagogy driven by getting the right answer to one that is based on Socratic principles of inquiry which is the foundation of cognitive activity. Promoting inquiry as a competence to make meaning out of experience is more critical of strengthening the ability to learn as apposed to the absorption of the disciplines by rote or other memory strengthening exercises. Admittedly these objectives are difficult to measure with the current metrics but if the strategy changes I suspect the metrics will follow innovatively (if measurement is your bag). Meta cognition offers the possibility of students acquiring an authority of their own learning process. Imagine a K12 course predicated on the learning process independent of a specific discipline and driven by experience. Such a course would scaled to meet the approximate developmental level of students (Not grade levels).

We need to break the power of the curriculum manufacturers on what is taught in the schools. Although the academic community parasitically feeds on the publishing of inane and inappropriate curricula the decision on what curriculum is appropriate for which students must be made by the teachers of those student independent of corporate interests (include technology).

Finally, there needs to be an establishment of human values rather than industrial values for example, students should be treated as individuals first and members of a community of human beings second (not as a hierarchy). Notions of community and empathy that promotes in students a mutual responsibility for one another. There are skills that are associated with the promoting of these values that are antithetical to the current sense of isolation that testing and the current instructional models encourage. Students talking with each other about their different view of reality should be facilitated and honored. Succinctly, we need to develop an ontological approach to instruction. There is a lot in this that can only happen over time and with a practice, that is, a set of behaviors that work to undo the persistent and pernicious habits that deny us a connection with our sense of identity and self. We, as a society needs to examine the assumptions that falsely keep us is in the bondage of bigotry, racism, alienation and social isolation.

The core of the problem is the industrial motive of the educational system. Supply and demand calculations in the creations and application of certain skill groups is a vocational issue. Like the sorceress's apprentice the educational mechanism turns out more and more engineers like some machine gone mad even when there is less need for them. Not because everyone wants to be an engineer but because they want to win the job competition. Also, education and the academy, like a mad machine keeps making what it is designed to make - mindlessly. Doctors who become financial analysts because the money is better moving money than healing people.

I would hope that education would be about more than getting a job although that seems to be the rubric for educational effectiveness. I know that many see that purpose and measure the ability to achieve a good (competitively better) job when evaluating school effectiveness. It hard to tell a parent that getting a good job is not the be-all and end-all of educational activity because persistent poverty, the tool of industrialism, and an inadequate educational system masks the perniciousness of an inequitable social system. We debate the minutia of manufactured curricula while throwing under the bus inquiry and the ability to think independently and creatively. We don't even know how to measure creativity or independent thinking or the quality of inquiry critical to a moral life in a modern society. Out metrics and the resulting measurements are more suited to machines than human development, but that seems to be the best we can do, how sad!

Yes an education does raise both expectations and income but not to the point where the effort and cost of education as an industrial machine works well enough to be called equitable. The turnover rate for engineers, as Jerry points out, is an example of industrial meddling as much as it is about the performance of a vocationally biased system.

Its about the money, want to know what's failing and how, follow the money. From text book manufacturing to the warehousing of students in underfunded urban schools. Watch the musical chairs movement of school superintendents from one city to another, where each change of chairs produces more money and less effectiveness. While the music plays on.

The blame is put on the workers, so the industrialists say and demand that we increase the productivity of the teachers; a carrot and stick methodology that is more suited to mules. ( I might add that unions that negotiate contracts based on menial labor rather than professional performance authority and responsibility undo the interests of teachers.) Measuring educational performance is not within the competence of the statisticians and the vague and inaccurate metrics of student achievement but can be found in the quality of the society. The schools are failing because we are manufacturing too many engineers when what we need is (at least) enough teachers who can and will value the humanity of their students and build a humane society. If the schools were about serving the broader society and not simply the industrial machine we might have rooted out the racism that remains embedded in every nook and cranny of the society. We might have abandoned or found an alternative to war as a rational and moral instrument of society. We might have turned away from the corporate psychopathology of unsustainable enterprises that is destroying the planet. Education has kept generation after generation of students embracing competition and the greed of corporate incentives, which lead to a life of industrial slavery. One should not have work as a goal in life. Rather we should see work as a way of achieving the larger goals of life, like grater understanding and an appreciation of life itself. Getting a good or better job than the next guy (artificially imposed competition) is promoted as the purpose of education and has become the measurement of educational efficacy.

We need an educational system built on humane values not industrial values and unless we focus on building such a system then all the rest is misdirection and intellectual entertainment. Nibbling at the edges.

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