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Great minds (sometimes) think alike

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Dear Diane,

As I was driving along making lists, I made one on our agreements and disagreements. I wonder if you would agree with me—or if you might put it a bit differently. Here's a try:

1. We disagree about the role and meaning of progressive education—both historically and today. You see it as having had a significant and negative impact on the schooling of America's kids, and I see it as having been largely ignored, but as representing important and useful ideas for what democracy and equity in education might look like.

2. We disagree about the importance of the particulars of this or that curriculum in defining what makes someone "well-educated." You feel strongly that there are particular facts, information and stories that are at the essence of being well-educated. I argue that there are "habits of mind" for approaching subject matter that are of prime importance, and that what we study is of secondary importance. You see "academic" preparation as the key, and I would argue for some broader definition of intellectual preparation.

3. We disagree, in part due to (see #2 above), on where the locus of authority should lie—at least with regards to subject matter, and maybe with regard to other things as well. I feel less uneasy than you at the prospect of providing the local constituency with authority. You are more inclined to look to experts chosen bynational or state-wide authorities. (Related disagreement: you have more respect for the recently invented "science" of education than I do.)

4. We disagree on the merits of standardized tests. We are similarly concerned about the existing testing mania, but have different solutions because we disagree on the potentiality for unbiased, objective "expert-driven" systems of measurement to resolve this disagreement, and on what is most important to measure.

5. We disagree about how much of a crisis we are in as a nation—and whether the real danger is foreign competition. I'd place democracy, as the crisis issue--she may or may not agree with me on this. Of course the status of our workforce and democracy are not unrelated, but we may disagree on whether raising our youth's skill level is going to create well-paying jobs.

What do we agree on?

1. We agree on the essential idea that schooling should belong in the public domain—that it is an essential public good. Further we agree that decisions regarding public schooling should not be made by private authorities, accountable only to themselves.

2. We agree that standardized testing as we know it has not served us well, and that the higher the stakes we place on them the more corrupting they are likely to be.

3. We agree that professionals in our schools cannot do their work well if outsiders make all the decisions guiding their work. (Above all on matters of pedagogy—see above where we divide re curriculum.)

4. We agree that the idea that schools are a "business," and that they can be run with a parallel mindset is a profound misunderstanding of what's involved. We may even agree that good businesses—if they have the long-term health of their business in mind-might not operate quite the way business advisors recommend we operate schools.

5. We agree that Americans should all have the right to organize into unions; and furthermore that the existence of teachers' unions has more often benefited good schooling rather than harmed it and has been a major force on behalf of equity and public accountability.

6. Perhaps we also agree that the inequities facing children and their families outside of the schoolhouse have always been a major factor in the inequitable outcomes of too many of our schools. To produce equity within school, and to truly serve the purposes of democratic governance, we need to tackle inequities in school financing, and those related to the poverty and ill health that so many young people face today.

That makes it 5 to 6. Maybe we should check these out before adding to either list?

Deb

1 Comment

Deborah,

As a retired public school teacher (34 years) I respectfully disagree with you (and Diane?) on the following:

1. Schools, as part of our free enterprise economy, should not be operated as a monopoly. There should be choice for all students/families as to which schools they attend. These choices should not be limited to children of wealth.

2. The state NCLB tests are needed, albeit it, they should be a federal test with federal standards so all students would have access to the same rich body of knowledge we would want for our own children. If you wanted to rid our schools of the achievement gap you could get rid of these tests and the achievement gap would miraculously disappear over night. However, I hope that's not the way you want the achievement gap to be "cured."

3. For years the educational establishment called the shots as to how our schools ran. It was an embarrassment. Finally, the business community pressured state legistures to develop education reforms for their local schools. The only question for me here: why did it take so long for an outside agent to intervene?

4. Schools can be operated more under the business model than you would have your readers believe. Think about our entire culture, our society. Almost all aspects of our lives contain some form of competition. It's what makes our country and our economy great. The folks who have historically run our schools have fought competiton kicking and screaming (against it) every step of the way.

5.The NEA has done more harm to our schools than good. They focus on too many of the wrong issues: money (from their 3.2 million memebers), a monopoly on the student constituency, political power, and enigmatically a voice in aspects of our world that have little or nothing to do with education.

6. Inequities (at least here in Massachusetts) in school finance have either been eradiacted or are well on their way to being rectified. Robin Hood has finally entered the classroom. The real elephant in the schoolhouse of inequitable outcomes is the perpetuation of a culture which places minimal value on the importance of an education. From generation to generation there's one excuse after another. They're always the victims. How have Asians overcome everything they've had to deal with, including a genuine foreign language, to be as successful as they have been in our schools? But it's poltically incorect to discuss this issue, isn't it? Bill Cosby doesn't think so!

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