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NCLB Outrages

THOUGHTS ON TEACHING: Presidential Politics, Crazy Talk, And Preparing for Life in a Post-NCLB World

by Bobby Ann Starnes

I AM A NEWS junkie — a watcher of cable network
news; a reader of blogs, websites, and
newspapers; and a big fan of YouTube. For some
time, I’ve been feeding my habit by watching
Presidential campaign shenanigans. Things
have been humming along rather nicely for
about a year. Candidates and their surrogates
have been blustering about some issues —
same-sex marriage, immigration, stem cell research,
and granting clemency. And they and the press have
shown intense interest in John Edwards’ $400 haircut,
Rudy Giuliani’s divorces, the illegal immigrants
mowing Mitt Romney’s grass, Dennis Kucinich’s
UFO sighting, and whether Barack Obama is “black
enough.” But, much to my surprise, they have seldom
discussed education.

I always get nervous when politicians express interest
in education. They seem to know so little and to
have even less interest in learning more. But they always
want to help. The last time they “helped,” the
congressional brain trust created the No Child Left
Behind (NCLB) Act. Looking at the result, I’d say education
has had just about all the political help it can
stand. In fact, if our public schools get much more of
this kind of help, they might just collapse.

So I was watching the Republican Presidential candidates
debate the other day, and I heard the strangest
thing. When NPR moderator Carolyn Washburn asked
participants to comment on the obstacles to high-quality
education, I braced myself. Fred Thompson huffed,
"The biggest obstacle . . . is the National Education Association.
The NEA." Ah, yes. The good ole NEA, the
terrorist organization, education’s own Evil Empire.
They’re always a good target. However, I’ve never seen the
organization — the union — display enough muscle to
get adequate pay for its members. Yet this mild-mannered
organization somehow musters the strength to all
but stop NCLB? I doubt it. But it is a convenient answer
to the question if you have no other.

Alan Keyes disagreed with Thompson. According
to him, the obstacle is the “activist judges” whom we
have "allowed . . . to drive God out of our schools."

Now, I’m pretty sure I spend a lot more time in schools
than Keyes does, and I have to say that I see God’s presence
quite regularly. In fact, I recently watched from
my seat in the audience as three kings entered stage left
and moved slowly toward a babe in a manger while a
fifth-grade choir belted out "We Three Kings." It was a
public school Christmas pageant. That's pretty much God
stuff, I'd say. So, Keyes can relax.

As they continued, I began devising a game in which
I rewarded myself with a rich, dark chocolate every time
one of these debaters responded with tired and hollow
rhetoric about the global economy and high-quality
education and school choice. That’s when the moderator
called on Mike Huckabee. When he spoke, the
vision of stuffing myself with chocolates disappeared.

Education, he said, "is really a state issue . . . not a
federal issue, and the worst thing we can do is shift
more authority to the federal government."

"Amen," I heard myself say aloud — being, as I am,
in favor of bulldozing the U.S. Department of Education,
at least figuratively. Then it happened. He said
something so strange that I expected to hear Rod Serling’s
voice welcoming me to the Twilight Zone.

"We need to personalize the learning for the student,"
he said. "We have 6,000 kids every day drop
out in this country," he continued. "They drop out
because they’re bored to death."

Let me say that again. Mike Huckabee, a major Republican
Presidential candidate, actually said, "They
drop out because they are bored to death." Not because
they don’t get tested enough or because their schools
didn’t make adequate yearly progress or use a Reading
First program. They drop out because they are bored.
Given that NCLB has been in control of education for
years, it must mean that Huckabee believes that the
programs and practices supported by No Child Left
Behind bore students. I can vouch for that! But when
he said it out loud on national television, well, I was
sure a lightning bolt would strike him dead.

But he didn’t stop there. "They’re in a 19th-century
education system in a 21st-century world. If we really
are serious, first of all, we make sure we build the curriculum
around their interests rather than push them
into something they don’t care about . . ." I was shocked.
Is he suggesting an interest-based curriculum? And is. . . .

If you were a subscriber to Phi Delta Kappan, you could read the rest of this article at the URL below.

— Bobby Ann Starnes
Phi Delta Kappan


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