Sunday, November 28, 2010

Educational Nausea: The Systematic Retardation of Education

You may be wondering why I post more infrequently about education issues and the reasons are actually more complex than the following explanation may imply.

I'm hypnotized by Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson. Ravitch is a lifelong bureaucrat/educationalist who spent decades serving the conservative think tanks from Reagan until just recently on educational matters. And Haimson runs or is somehow a principal in a New York organisation called Class Size Matters. I follow them both on Twitter and they're a bit of a tag team and mutual echo chamber.

Haimson's a lawyer and I started following her on Twitter because she had initially posted some interesting references on educational matters. I also visited the website of her non-profit and the lone thesis there seems to be that small class sizes are the most important school reform she could imagine. Well, I did the homework on this years ago and examined their reference links. Lo and behold, Haimson largely cites a study whose findings have been the basis of billions of tax dollars being spent on smaller class sizes based on a totally disingenuous interpretation of the study itself (the STAR study). So I wrote Leonie and pointed out the obvious problem - um, class size does matter pre-k to say, grade four and in certain circumstances beyond that but... you know the story. Anyway, since then far more links have been added to that site but none substantially change the logical conclusion of the original study.

I didn't expect her to change the name of the organisation (though it would be a good idea). In big cities where classes are larger than the mid-twenties, Leonie's argument is absolutely correct - classes should get down-sized to reasonable sizes. But for most of America's schools the prescription not only rings hollow but it has proven to be a pyrrhic and ineffective remedy for public school mediocrity - something Haimson seems to remain blissfully ignorant of.

Diane Ravitch, on the other hand, is a more interesting study. Here's an education professional who spent decades prospering and personally profiting from becoming a willing partner in the ranks of the Reagan and elder Bush regimes. And she flew under the radar with Clinton and the rabid Bush years. Nor was she a minor character on the national education scene. She was at all times in positions of authority or influence to suggest or even direct constructive educational policy.

But in the past few years she authored a book on education that outlines the history of American Education from her point of view. And since then she's cashed in quite handsomely, not by explaining the government mandated reforms she helped craft but rather by acting shocked (SHOCKED! I tell you) at how bad those reforms are. In fact, Ravitch has become the Teacher Unions best performance artist. Best friend of the teacher who is about to be evaluated, defender of public education, and able to leap tall NCLB legislation with a single binder. She's not superman, she's Wonder Where You've Been Woman! Resolving this seemingly obvious exercise in logic as epiphany for Ravitch is hard to wrap one's head around. How can one so -cough- "educated" have ever believed that the conservative attacks on education had veracity? It's a modern day Pygmalion story. A marginal, unimaginative conservative think-tank wonk transforms herself into the avenging queen of the eternally complicit teachers unions. I'm just in awe of the phenomenon.

Haimson and Ravitch largely Tweet criticism's of Obama's reform initiatives in a way that makes even me root for the reformers (who I think are as worthless as the Department of Education). The reason is that Haimson and Ravitch offer no legitimate alternative to Obama's bleak and bankrupt ideas. They all (ever single one of them) operate from the same lowest, meanest, and self-serving standpoints - nothing will get better for our kids, the fight is political, and its already decided.

When Ravitch Tweets a criticism of, say, a Gates education initiative I tweet back asking her for a better idea - none is ever suggested. Given her experience I expect dozens of ideas. What follows are silly and expensive notions that teachers work hard, it ain't so bad, and reform won't work. Haimson cheers her on. It's a tired and intellectually vacant act.

You and I know that schools need to change but the education legislation Obama ram-rodded through State legislatures drooling for Federal money has doomed the public schools to a future of indentured servitude to federal standards and Draconian handouts that are as devoid of legitimacy as Obama's presidential campaign. Nothing good is going to come of all of this.

We have reached a tipping point in our democracy in which the looniest presidential candidate cannot be worse than the one we have. And the critics who get the most attention are all profiteers.

Our government is increasingly becoming a closed system with the insiders being a privileged class and the outsiders being an inferior class of citizen to whom any and all forms of torture, humiliation, and marginalisation of wealth and rights is sanctioned. And so it has become with our schools.

Resistance is futile.

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