The epiphany Arne Duncan didn't have
What policymakers, including Duncan, call education under criteron-based test-heavy "accountability" is more like training, conveyor-belt work, awaiting the stamp of some industrialist's approval.
by John Young
It doesn't come often in the average person's life -- maybe never: the transformative thought. The light bulb of invention and inspiration. It came often to Einstein, Edison, Tesla. For us? Not so much.
For the sake of America's children, let's hope the one Arne Duncan just announced isn't it --that epiphany America's secretary of education thought he had.
Not that his idea doesn't have merits, which we'll discuss. But saying that his department is prepared to grant broad waivers on No Child Left Behind's most outrageous requirement is nothing transformative. Mainly, it is more of the same.
Before discussing Duncan's decision, I'm going to give him a second shot -- a mulligan, a do-over on the fairway of inspiration. I'm going to place this link on a tee before him, and you.
Sir Ken Robinson, internationally acclaimed expert on creativity in learning, says on Ted.com that education is supposed to take us to a "future we can't grasp." It seems we hear versions of this all the time, except the only future we can grasp is how it fits into a capitalist's world view or possibly the views of Chinese capitalists. Neither of these matter to Robinson. Creativity is what matters. He is right.
"All kids have tremendous talents," he says, "and we squander them pretty ruthlessly."
Hear Robinson and know his barb is not aimed at teachers in general, or necessarily at schools as institutions. His critique is of what society and policymakers insist: regimentation, homogenization and standardization. In the "age of accountability," these traits are saluted like the flag, as they beset America's classrooms like a black dust storm.
In the face of inaction by Congress to address the impossible-to-achieve NCLB requirement of "100 percent proficient" on core requirements by 2014, Duncan's offer of waivers has good sense on its side, much like the sense it takes to shut off the water when a broken pipe is about to flood the gymnasium. It does nothing, however, about the fate and function of the school.
Instead, the waivers Duncan offers are based on criteria that further pump up the pressure relative to test scores (using them to evaluate teachers for tenure, for instance, as Colorado had mandated), and homogenization (obeisance to the Common Core principles touted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
The organization Parents Across America calls Duncan's initiative encouraging in concept, but in execution "likely to expand the destructive agenda of over-testing, school closings, and privatization."
As self-evident as it is that schools cannot reach "100 percent" of anything under threat of federal guillotine, granting a stay of execution is only that -- a stay.
Duncan, and his boss in the Oval Office, need to hear Ken Robinson. They need to agree that such words reflect what each parent wants. But when so much hinges on passing and administering tests, we expel from school the creativity, the excitement, the passion each of us needs to advance humanity, and ourselves.
What policymakers including Duncan call education under criteron-based test-heavy "accountability" is more like training, conveyor-belt work, awaiting the stamp of some industrialist's approval.
"Creativity," says Ken Robinson, "is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status."
Take this second opportunity at your epiphany, Secretary Duncan. Listen to Robinson. Then run through the streets. Make it your angel-on-the-snowy- bridge moment. Be Jimmy Stewart. Tell the nation you're a changed bureaucrat. Tell the nation you've been wrong. Go ahead, use "we" ΓΆ€” we've been wrong ΓΆ€” because it's a collective abomination we've committed under "accountability."
Become evangelical, Mr. Secretary, about what real education is and how top-down, corporate-style edicts prevent schools from providing it. This can be the game-changer you went to Washington to deliver.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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