Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Torture Doesn't Work at Guantanamo but Works in Public School

There are a number of analogies that are appearing in debates about the torture of terrorists that have an unsettling and uncanny resemblances to current educational practice myth. The irony is that there is endless hand-wringing about the use of torture techniques against terrorists and little if any when these same techniques are sanitized and repackaged as educational motivators.

In Science magazine, in an article entitled Torture Can't Provide Good Information, Argues NeuroScientist, many of the assertions presented can be easily transformed from terror to education narratives. For example, nueroscientist Shane O'Mera asserts;

...the idea that repeatedly inducing shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control is more effective than standard interrogatory techniques in making suspects reveal information. Information retrieved from memory in this way is assumed to be reliable and veridical, as suspects will be motivated to end the interrogation by revealing this information. No supporting data for this model are provided; in fact, the model is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence.

Now, for the most part we don't shock children but everything else that's described is pretty much our national model of teaching to the test. Teachers will be absolutely and ruthlessly evaluated by test scores and students must cough up the answers under stress, anxiety, lack of control, and so on.

Is NCLB wrong! Given that Arne Duncan and his plutocratic supporters are all about teaching science on a globally competitive basis, we have to believe that this interrogation science is wrong. Maybe when we torture terrorists we need to first give them Ritalin like we do with boys in elementary and middle school. If this prescription works for school reformers then surely it will work with terrorist suspects whose fashion sense is still gray pajamas - tops and bottoms!

Science blog goes on to say.
"Given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, it is unlikely that coercive interrogations involving extreme stress will facilitate release of truthful information from long term memory," concludes Professor O'Mara. "On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting both memory and decision making."

Compromise brain tissue! It's hard to believe the military is falling for such sissy arguments. In education, we all KNOW that raising the bar higher may cause a little stress but the best remedy for that is, well, to raise the bar higher. We're not asking students to memorize facts forever, just pass tests. And forget about decision-making, that's what parents are for. If it's a good enough, common sense recipe for education, why should we spare the standardized testing techniques on terrorists? Absurd.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Hillsborough County, Fla., public school district has introduced a ninth-grade "reading" course that actually is an SAT-prep course that grades high school freshmen on their ability to improve on SAT practice tests. Not only does this strike me as highly unusual, but the grading scheme makes little sense. Children must score higher on each practice to get an A. If they score high and repeat that but don't improve it, they get a B. No matter how high their score, if the score drops next time around, they get a C. Thus, my straight-A daughter, who is taking challenging courses and has always scored highest in reading-related subjects, is flirting with a C grade that will affect her grade point average. I am curious as to whether other public school districts are doing something similar.