by John Konopak, Ph.D. (LSU, 1989, Education) WWH/CJE
Seattle teachers who took a strong and public stance by refusing to administer a “flawed” but mandatory standardized test earlier this school year are celebrating a victory after an announcement by the school district saying the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test will not be given to high school students next year.“Finally, educators’ voices have been acknowledged,” said teacher Jesse Hagopian, who teaches history at Garfield High School in Seattle where the boycott movement began. “This is a great moment in the movement for quality assessment.”“The teachers at Garfield are overwhelmed with joy,” Hagopian said. “I think this is a real vindication of the movement that was started at Garfield High School by teachers but was quickly joined by parents and students at our school, and around the city, and really around the country.”
A fundamental struggle for democracy is going on behind the scenes in statehouses around the country, as a handful of wealthy individuals and foundations pour money into efforts to privatize the public schools.The implications are huge. But the school privatizers, and their lobbyists in the states, have so muddied the waters that the public does not get a clear picture of what is at stake.So it was fascinating when investigative reporter Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ripped the veil off a secretive organization and its hidden political activities by publishing a copy of the American Federation for Children’s “2012 Election Impact Report.”
Whether they want to admit it or not, America’s leaders have fallen in line with the dismissal of—if not outright contempt for—teachers. Talking heads with messages about changing the status quo often use coded language that means, “Let’s get rid of teachers.” For instance, former New York City Department of Education chancellor Joel Klein based his entire tenure on making teachers work longer hours, even when teachers there already have the most time with students in the world. Every “pay raise” Klein negotiated with the United Federation of Teachers came with givebacks that made him trustworthy enough to go on to work as Rupert Murdoch’s consigliere at NewsCorp.Klein’s not alone in his disdain for educators. Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg, and a slew of other prominent policy makers and politicians work under the premise that, as long as their friends in the media can gloss over the more deleterious parts of their initiatives, they can continue to depreciate the value of teachers. The American public generally sees right through this, as evidenced by the high approval rating for teachers on Gallup polls year after year.
“The Christian home school subculture isn’t a children-first movement. It is, for all intents and purposes, an ideology-first movement. There is a massive, well-oiled machine of ideology that is churning out soldiers for the culture war. Home schooling is both the breeding ground – literally, when you consider the Quiverfull concept – and the training ground for this machinery. I say this as someone who was raised in that world.” …In America, we often take for granted that parents have an absolute right to decide how their children will be educated, but this leads us to overlook the fact that children have rights, too, and that we as a modern society are obligated to make sure that they get an education. Families should be allowed to pursue sensible homeschooling options, but current arrangements have allowed some families to replace education with fundamentalist indoctrination.
Companies, colleges, and columnists gush about the utopian possibilities of technology. But digital life has a bleaker side, too. Over the weekend, a cross-disciplinary group of scholars convened here to focus attention on the lesser-noticed consequences of innovation.Surveillance. Racism. Drones. Those were some of the issues discussed at the conference, which was called “The Dark Side of the Digital” and hosted by the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s Center for 21st Century Studies. (One speaker even flew a small drone as a visual aid; it hit the classroom ceiling and crashed.)After a week of faculty backlash against online education, including the refusal of San Jose State University professors to teach a Harvard philosophy course offered via edX, the down sides of digital learning emerged as a hot topic, too.In a talk dubbed “Courseware.com,” Rita Raley, an associate professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, described how societal and technological changes had “reconditioned the idea of the university into that of an educational enterprise that delivers content through big platforms on demand.”
… Equating (teaching) with simple content delivery “denudes” what it means to teach and learn, in this view.
Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.
Corporate America has declared war on public education by closing schools, privatizing schools, gaining control over curriculum, imposing a barrage of hi-stakes testing, limiting citizen involvement and attacking teachers unions. The worst attacks are against working class education.Corporate America sees no reason to educate working class students beyond the most basic level. They are seen as nothing more than future low paid drones in a brutal dog-eat-dog-cat-eat-mouse economy. The war against public education is a class war being waged by the wealthy against a growing working class resistance.It is a New Civil War.Chicago has become a major front in this New Civil War. Every war has its battlefields, but in Chicago the New Civil War battlefields don’t have names like Bull Run, Antietam, Gettsyburg or Fort Pillow. Instead they have names like Henson, Chalmers, Paderewski, Bethune, Pope, Manierre and Stewart. These are just a few of the Chicago public schools slated for closings and school actions.