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NCLB Outrages

A Heartfelt Message to U.S. Senate Candidate Mark Udall Concering America's Educational Future

Bill Spady makes the deeper case against NCLB. We should follow his example. For starters, let us take an oath to stop calling NCLB insane and money-grubbing. We need to raise the level of discourse and Spady takes that step.

The fact that there is plenty of profiteering in NCLB is, by now, of secondary concern. Of primary concern must be the harm NCLB brings to children and their teachers. They would be just as harmed if every item used in Reading First were offered free of charge.

by Dr. William Spady

For the past fifteen years the U. S. has been swept up in a frenzy of school accountability and reform initiatives that have taken our system farther back into its Agrarian Age and Industrial Age pasts than anyone could have imagined. What started as “the standards movement” in the 1990’s has now evolved/degenerated into the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative that is imperiling our nation’s future far more than most federal and state policy makers realize. These negative consequences are being documented left and right across the country daily by researchers, teachers, journalists, and parents, but the Bush Administration and its allies have been able to hold off this tidal wave of impassioned criticism – just as it has with serious and well-documented criticism of the Iraq War and a host of other highly significant issues.

This regressive movement is the result of deeply limited and limiting thinking about learning, learners, life, and the educational processes that affect all three. America’s 21st Century children are now being exposed to and coerced by educational practices that may have made sense in the late 19th Century when they became "legalized" and institutionalized, but are counter-productive and embarrassing in today’s dynamic 21st Century world.

The Deeper Case against NCLB

In January, 2007 a paper of mine was published in Education Week under the title "The Paradigm Trap." It brought a large wave of very encouraging responses to my email box, and from all those responses I formed a small team of exceptional researchers and practitioners dedicated to bringing to America a higher vision of "learning, learners, life, and the educational processes that affect all three." Six of us from across the country have formed an organization called the New Possibilities Network (NPN). We and our many colleagues are dedicated to:

Using ancient wisdom and modern research to elevate learning, grow leaders, and enrich all life.

This, we regret to say, is the exact OPPOSITE of what NCLB is doing, and we, along with countless others, are convinced that America’s future is in jeopardy if this woefully inadequate and harmful federal policy is allowed to continue – in whatever form.

At our first two face-to-face meetings last summer we consolidated our many decades of experience and expertise into ten statements that, we believe, are unassailable in their veracity and significance for educational practice. I present them here because NCLB ignores, violates, and/or suppresses ALL TEN. And I speak for NPN and all its friends and supporters in saying that such disregard for our inherent human qualities and capacities in the name of “standards and accountability” is simply callous opportunism at its most dangerous. These ten deep truths are:

  • HUMANS are born curious and naturally explore life and their world,

  • HUMANS vary greatly in their rates and ways of learning,

  • HUMANS are born social, and their learning is naturally influenced by others,

  • HUMANS can learn, create, and change throughout their lives,

  • HUMANS naturally use all their senses to learn,

  • HUMANS can take charge of their thoughts and emotions,

  • HUMANS can transcend their perceived limitations,

  • HUMANS’ capacities for intuition, insight, imagination, and creativity are inherent,
    powerful, and unlimited,

  • HUMANS naturally appreciate and seek to create quality and beauty,

  • HUMANS can naturally access and utilize their innate inner wisdom.

  • The New Possibilities Network and its many supporters stand ready to bring into the educational policy dialogue in this critical election year a higher vision of what our educational system can be – something that profoundly transcends NCLB’s assembly-line, one-size-fits-all character.

    Reclaiming a Brighter Educational Future for America

    To that end we encourage you to challenge your opponent on his educational thinking and policies, as well as on those other hot button issues that have brought Democrats out in such huge numbers in the 2008 primary elections. And we further encourage you to carry this positive message forward into your new responsibilities in the Senate in 2009. In this regard, please know that we both advocate and can help you and your legislative colleagues develop policies that directly encourage educators at all levels to implement approaches that:

  • Honor the intrinsic talents, interests, motivations, and identity of the individual learner.

  • Integrate the holistic and systemic nature of life experience and knowledge.

  • Respect the brain’s need for meaning, order, and organization.

  • Include important bodies of knowledge, aspects of life experience, and avenues of
    study overlooked in subject-based curricula.

  • Emphasize higher-order thought processes and complex life-performance abilities.

  • Directly address deeply significant ethical and moral issues and ways to address them.

  • Encourage novel, creative thought, problem framing, and problem solving.

  • Match life by utilizing the benefits of collaborative exploration and work.

  • You have our best wishes and strong support in your election campaign, and we look forward to hearing from you on how we can assist you in bringing this enlightened 21st Century educational message to Colorado and the nation.

    — Bill Spady
    letter to Mark Udall


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