Saturday, November 24, 2012
Dark Ages 3: Separation of the Classes has Begun
The Dark Ages haven't returned quite yet, but it's like having Thanksgiving dinner on the table and getting that "heads up" phone call: your aunt, uncle and crazy cousins will be here soon.
Okay, so I have set this one aside for awhile. Only partly done, but continually reminded of it as the presidential campaign and education reform rhetoric rolled on, and the wake left behind both rolled my raft and spilled my drink. If you have read any of my "Dark Ages" stuff, you already know where my head is at. If not, check the earlier pieces out.
"Education reform" is the label given to the most recent policy and profit grab executed by the united forces of business, government, and the entities that move between them. Presented as a desperately needed overhaul of a failing system, it is rooted in less benevolent goals and could have severe consequences-namely, an even wider divide in wealth, status, education and opportunity than currently exists. In effect, it could create a stagnant and largely under-educated society within the masses, ruled by a truly literate, capable and well connected upper-class: a modern day version of The Dark Ages. True literacy, knowledge, education and power will be reserved for only the most wealthy and privileged, and the opinion expressed by Mitt Romney (linking the level of education you should get to your wealth) will become policy. The bulk of our society will be educated to worker/servant standards, trained to do the jobs that support the wealth for more educated leaders-the ones who can afford true education.
The difference between students with and without essential resources, valuable experiences, and "school readiness" skills is apparent, and numbers are increasing among students who come to school having been sustained on a diet of low-quality food, violent video games, and weak human attachments. It is true that all students can learn. It is true that students from difficult and/or poverty-stricken homes could go on to college and/or successful, responsible careers and futures. But if the home is a source of emotional and/or economic stress it is more likely that experiences have not provided skills or positive models of success (in business, education or in life) that would buoy the other deficits with a potential life raft path to possible success. In other words, a snotty, irresponsible, zombie killing video game junkie with a well-off family is more likely to succeed in life when compared to a similar kid from a poor single parent home.
Reform is the big-box store of education, meant to minimize the service to and cost of educating an exploited underclass, while placing responsibility for their condition on public schools and educators. Curriculum is becoming more narrow and standardized for public school students as institutions and educators are subjugated to data-driven accountability. In this system, the complicated formula approach that allowed insiders to gut our economy is being applied to public schools. This time the "insiders", the communities, students, and educators, are the victims and the "reformers" are the ones with the formula. Publicly, the backers of reform policies paint their pig with words like "choice", the notion that parents can pull their students and the public money that would go with them out of a "failing school" and enroll the in a more attractive charter school.
This is the "liberation" argument education reformers sometimes use. Traditional public schools in this narrative are not only entrenched and expensive bureaucracies, they are prisons filled with overpaid, unwilling and uncooperative workers falling short in their duties to serve their communities.To begin with, though, the "failing school" mantra is one that needs to be addressed. It implies blame for our public schools-but exactly what, how and who this "failure" includes isn't specified. Specifics have popped up occasionally, but they survive so little scrutiny that they disappear quickly and a more general fog of negative PR returns. The most revealing aspect of the education reform movement is that it seemed to have blossomed after the financial crisis hit and the banking and finance industry came under scrutiny. Clearly these industries and those who benefited need new markets to exploit, and publicly funded institutions could provide them with their new cash cow.