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Preface

This diary is not one of those calls for reform that argues that "the schools have failed" and advocates more and harder work for all parties -- that sort of reform was rebutted admirably in a (1996) book titled "The Manufactured Crisis" by David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle.  Berliner and Biddle show that the schools do well at what they do and that their main problem is that some of their students are materially disadvantaged, a theme which I will discuss in detail below.

Rather, I will argue that what public schools in America do well is to deliver a middlebrow education, guided by half-baked ideals of adequate student participation in the political and economic status quo.  This sort of education can do good -- but its form appears fragile in our current era of school reform.  It is because education takes this form that it is so easily vulnerable to reforms such as No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top, and that, after these reforms were enacted, we could see that the old radicals were correct to assume that a more student-centered education would be a better one.  This is why many of the references in this proposal are old ones -- my educational thought begins with John Dewey and Paulo Freire, and continues with those who came after.

1) Many of our most standardized practices for education, from grades and grade-levels and ranking to individualized learning and testing to tracking and specialization, are implicated in the reproduction of the social class structure.
 The analysis of class-based schooling, as well as the specification of a socialist alternative, are given in Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis' (1976) classic Schooling in Capitalist America.  The history of the dual purpose for education, one education for the upper classes and another for the lower classes, is laid out in David Nasaw's Schooled to Order.  This is the way it's been -- schooling accommodates the children of the various social classes to their places in the social order.  

It is true, of course, that there isn't any necessary "correspondence" between hierarchical practices in the public schools and hierarchical practices in the capitalist workplace.  There are indeed also a significant variety of schooling practices in public schools, today.  But it's not an accident that the outcomes of public school attendance for the preponderance of students largely reflect the class positions which said students had when they were in school.  This should be even more the case today than when Gregory Mantsios wrote Class In America or when Jean Anyon wrote Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, given the hardening of class divisions since the 1980s.  

2) School's role in the perpetuation of social classes is expressed as collaboration in a ritual continuum -- the ritual orders of school-life, of home-life, and of the peer life of students combine to consign students to social classes.  This is the subject of ethnographic study -- the classic texts in this regard are Paul Willis' (1976) Learning to Labour and Peter McLaren's (1986) Schooling as a Ritual Performance.  (Please update me as to the new ones if you know them.)  But part of the perpetuation of social classes in schooling is in its granting of advantage to students with more scholastically-competitive experiences in home life. In other words, the less school-oriented home life of lower-class parents grants them a competitive disadvantage as against the more school-oriented home life of well-off parents.  This difference is exposed ethnographically in the 2nd edition (2011) of Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhoods.  The point is this -- if you are struggling all of the time to earn a living, you don't have the time to devote to "push" your children in the competition that schooling in America has become.  Parents with more money and more time for their children are more able to grant their children opportunities involving the "concerted cultivation" of their abilities through after-school activities, which results in said children developing a "sense of entitlement" (2) to their class privileges.  Even if school cannot be blamed for class differentiation in the childhood and youth experiences, it can't be credited for "closing the achievement gap," either.

3) If anything, what is now called "school reform" tends to exacerbate the inequalities that schooling would otherwise produce.  Specifically, the higher social classes have a cultural "leg up" on the cultural regurgitation that is supposed to take place in the teacher conformance with "standards" and the student performance on standardized tests.  This is reflected, for instance, in the strong correlation between SAT scores and family income.

4) Even without a clear analysis of the relationship between differential school experiences and different places in the economic hierarchy of American society, we can observe that the archaic forms of schooling (especially public schooling) today, as can often be observed in lower-class schools (and which are promoted by the testing-and-standards movement), are in direct opposition to our society's need for divergent thinking. That is to say, if our society is to produce divergent thinkers to deal with extraordinary new crises in economy, the environment, politics, and so on, it is going to have to redesign schooling to free up students to think differently.  See, e.g. this video:

We are, simply put, using developmental processes to fashion (young) people to conform to systems, first schooling and then work, when the systems ought to be working for them.  As a result, our society, and indeed world-society, is going to pay a very very high price for its lack of insight into the ways in which it socializes its youth.

Given all this, here are some starting principles for school reform:

1) School performance is, by whatever measure one cares to name, preponderantly dependent upon the social class membership of the students and of their parents.  So, if the students' performance is to be improved, there needs to be a bedrock income for the parents.  This can be most effectively achieved through a guaranteed basic income for all.  A basic income guarantee can be most effectively promoted through the old cliche that "children are our future."  No child should go to school homeless, and no child should go to school with an unfair disadvantage in parenting practices because their parents can't afford to offer them competitive learning experiences.

2) Take away all of the money being spent on testing and test-prep materials, and spend it upon learning equipment for the schools, with an emphasis upon facilitating the creation of learning experiences that will promote divergent thinking.  We don't need any of the assessments that were introduced by the NCLB (and reinforced by RttT) -- before Federal- and state-level testing-and-standards mania began, there were plenty of assessments already in existence that can still do a better job today of a) assessing teachers and students and b) promoting a humanistic atmosphere in the classroom.  For a lot of schools this is going to mean better computers and more books in the classroom -- for others it will help schools use the resources that are there in their communities.

3) Organize open debates and a nationwide consensus-oriented political public sphere around these questions: a) what is the future going to look like, and b) how can schools best prepare students for this future?  Ultimately, we should want to transform school boards into agencies much like the "juntas de buen gobierno" or councils of good government employed by the Zapatistas.  We want an officially-approved "Occupy education" to solve educational problems.  Spread this process into the schools themselves -- require the teachers to teach consensus process.

4) Create more initiatives (possibly the non-profits can be directed to spearhead this) that will spread appreciation of student and community knowledge as a resource rather than as a hindrance.  Indeed it is true that teachers have a more developed perspective than do students -- but education is not improved when it is conceived as the pouring of information into ostensibly-receptive heads.  See Paulo Freire's (1968:2000) Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the low-down on this perspective.

We can start this process by opening schools up to multilingual education -- if our students speak Spanish or Mandarin or some other language, then they and their parents can show us how to speak it too (perhaps only to a limited extent, but that can be enough).  "English-only" is silly, given that English is itself a mish-mash of Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse (or "Danish" if you like), and Middle French with a vowel shift thrown in and a lot of words added to the mix from Greek, Latin, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, and other languages.  

In conclusion, we can say with certainty that the cliche is true and that children really are our future.  So why are children turning into cynical old men and women before their time?  We need an educational reform movement that promotes the social goal of general versatility as laid out in this diary, which I put out in July.  I'm sure some of these initiatives are already "out there" -- but I know of no agency which is willing to promote all of them at once.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I will be out for 45 minutes after publication (20+ / 0-)

    of this diary -- please rec if you want to see a vibrant debate at DailyKos.com about its assertions.

    "There will be midterm elections in under a year. Do you know what might be savvy? To run on a Medicare For All platform..." -- Dan Fejes

    by Cassiodorus on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 11:09:23 AM PST

  •  We need to change how mathematics (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SpecialKinFlag, Cassiodorus

    is taught in the United States because current practices seem to be leading to a nation of youth who don't understand the kind of mathematics needed to excel at quantitative science and engineering.

    We're creating students who don't know how to write and manipulate equations, don't know how to factor, don't understand any set theory, don't understand the purpose of calculus, don't understand what a proof is from geometry, are hopelessly dependent on calculators even for simple calculations in equation manipulation, etc. etc.

    •  What will people of the future do (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JesseCW, triv33, quill, historys mysteries

      with more people who excel at quantitative science and engineering?  What sort of incentives will convince students to care about such material?

      "There will be midterm elections in under a year. Do you know what might be savvy? To run on a Medicare For All platform..." -- Dan Fejes

      by Cassiodorus on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 01:46:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think our kids are learning enough math. For (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassiodorus, triv33

      example, the majority of them can understand why they shouldn't take out a 100,000 dollars in loans to get a masters in engineering that will likely lead to an income of less than 50,000 a year averaged out over their work life.

      "I read New republic and Nation/I've learned to take every view.." P. Ochs

      by JesseCW on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 01:51:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's for damn sure ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LakeSuperior

      ... I just finished teaching Basic Math to a collection of students, and we're creating students who don't know how to pick the right conversion factor out of a list to convert dollars to pesos or pounds to kilograms.

      Write & manipulate equations, calculus, proofs? Fuggedaboudit.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 03:02:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  exactly technological literacy needs to be leveled (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus

    when every kid has a cell phone, they should also learn to code, program and speak other languages with it.

    1) Many of our most standardized practices for education, from grades and grade-levels and ranking to individualized learning and testing to tracking and specialization, are implicated in the reproduction of the social class structure.  The analysis of class-based schooling, as well as the specification of a socialist alternative, are given in Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis' (1976) classic Schooling in Capitalist America.
    We can start this process by opening schools up to multilingual education -- if our students speak Spanish or Mandarin or some other language, then they and their parents can show us how to speak it too (perhaps only to a limited extent, but that can be enough).  "English-only" is silly, given that English is itself a mish-mash of Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse (or "Danish" if you like), and Middle French with a vowel shift thrown in and a lot of words added to the mix from Greek, Latin, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, and other languages.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 01:28:04 PM PST

  •  Well then (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus

    I can get behind multilingual education - indeed, I plan to raise my children bilingual in French and English from birth. But English is a necessity. You can't truly educate children in this country without them being completely proficient in English.

    I can also get behind the elimination of national test standards. The problem, of course, is that certain districts may start to teach curricula that is not fact-based, i.e. creationism or Texas's whitewashing (Christian-washing?) of history. Perhaps the burden of standardization should fall on school boards rather than school children.

    I can't say that I agree with a guaranteed national income, however. Far better to use that money to create a national job infrastructure a la FDR, or programs for affordable/temporary housing. The last time we advocated for a guaranteed national income was 1972, and needless to say, we got creamed. That was when the New Deal coalition was still alive - the most economically leftist generation in American history. If it got creamed then, it wouldn't stand a chance today.

    Advocate for realistic reform, not pie-in-the-sky liberalism. Idealism is for the Tea Party. Incrementalism wins the race.

    •  If it's hard to persuade people you're right, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassiodorus, triv33

      then make your opponents arguments for him?

      We've been doing that since Clinton.  It's not working.

      Well, not for anyone in the bottom 90%.

      "I read New republic and Nation/I've learned to take every view.." P. Ochs

      by JesseCW on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 01:53:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Point-by-point reply (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, quill, DawnN

      1) People are learning English faster than ever before in America today.  There is already an enormous incentive for anyone in this country to learn English.  It's hard for me to imagine why people think this is a problem, but I guess they do.  (The real problem, of course, is literacy -- which is why more books in the schools is important.)

      2) Having the students learn critical thinking will bypass any tomfoolery one can expect from certain segments (e.g. fundies) of the public.

      3) The right to a minimum income undergirds everything else we can do for education.  Without it we can expect more of the same -- right-wing fools blaming teachers when the real solution is to make the parents rich enough to stay in the game.  If you want to guarantee that through a full-employment jobs program, that's fine.

      4) The only incrementalism that's actually succeeded in government post-1973 is right-wing incrementalism.  How do you account for this fact?

      "There will be midterm elections in under a year. Do you know what might be savvy? To run on a Medicare For All platform..." -- Dan Fejes

      by Cassiodorus on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 01:57:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, teaching people to take tests about ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... individual points in an English curriculum is far from setting up an environment in which people gain and improve on literacy.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 03:05:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There's always miscue analysis -- (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF

          and of course teachers will want to teach syntactic, semantic, and graphophonemic skills in addition to providing periods of free reading from libraries in which all students can find something that interests them.

          "There will be midterm elections in under a year. Do you know what might be savvy? To run on a Medicare For All platform..." -- Dan Fejes

          by Cassiodorus on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 03:11:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  But the best driver for wanting to learn ... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Cassiodorus, DawnN

            ... syntactic, semantic and graphophonemic skills are wanting to understand what you are reading and wanting to be able to express yourself clearly ...

            ... no wanting to get a "83" instead of a "74" on a standardized test.

            Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

            by BruceMcF on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 04:54:05 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  One key ingredient missing (0+ / 0-)

    You provide various prescriptions, generally reasonable-sounding. Education, however, has always had plenty of prescriptions and trends, most of which seemed like good ideas at the time. More lasting educational improvement will require some systematic experiments with different educational reforms, with at least some sort of measure of how well these things are working.
    I say this not just because it's important in guiding educational practice, but even more because it represents a way of thinking that I hope  would be at the core of what we want education for. If we want students to think and evaluate ideas using evidence rather than just accept various authorities, it would help to set a good example.
    This sort of evolutionary process may turn out to be more important than the particular next set of steps taken.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 03:47:29 PM PST

  •  inequality is the key (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, BruceMcF, jbsoul, DawnN

    Virtually every problem in education is tied to inequality - economic, racial, sexual, you name it. If we do nothing to education but instead improve inequality,  then educational performance will improve. If we do anything to "reform" education but nothing about inequality then education outcomes will never significantly improve.

     

    "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

    by quill on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 04:21:29 PM PST

  •  Economic equality and also equality of rights (0+ / 0-)

    See Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom.

    I work with Sugar Labs, the software and content partner of One Laptop Per Child, on e-learning materials for free distribution. It is an essential fact that computers now cost less than printed textbooks, and another essential fact that replacing textbooks with Open Educational Resources under Creative Commons licenses would break the stranglehold of commercial publishers on the education market. They are deathly afraid of this development, which is inevitable, but requires us to do a lot of work, like anything else worthwhile.

    OLPC aims to end poverty by allowing every child to learn enough to get a job. But doing so has many other consequences, such as ending the forms of oppression that are based on poverty; allowing children around the world to collaborate with each other, and form the basis for lifelong collaborations in friendships, culture, business, and civil society, and to tackle the problems of the world together.

    There is much more to this story than I can tell here. Much of what we do around the world bears on education in the US also.

    Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

    by Mokurai on Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 10:50:58 PM PST

    •  Education won't end poverty by itself. (0+ / 0-)

      There has to be money coming in, and it has to be enough money for each to afford basic necessities.  All that depends upon a sufficient economy, and education won't bring that about all by itself.  A basic income would help; universal employment with a sufficient minimum wage would help.

      "There will be midterm elections in under a year. Do you know what might be savvy? To run on a Medicare For All platform..." -- Dan Fejes

      by Cassiodorus on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 03:28:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It turns out that the problem of poverty (0+ / 0-)

        in developing countries is not due to a lack of money in those countries, as Adam Smith was at pains to point out in The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.  Wealth as he explained it consists of the ability to produce what people need, and the ability to distribute that to the people who need it. Money is merely useful for record-keeping, for representing potential claims on real resources.

        An excellent example is the Netherlands, which prospered after it threw off Spanish rule and declared Freedom of Conscience (i. e. religion) and Freedom to Trade (with any country). The Netherlands is notably resource-poor, without major natural resources, with poor soil and a very high water table, so that the Dutch were forced to grow rye and grass and produce meat and dairy products, rather than wheat and other grains. Meanwhile Spain, with all of the gold and silver and jewels of its South American colonies, put itself into the worst inflation in the world at that time by making a law that none of its riches could be spent outside the Empire, and simultaneously destroyed its agriculture and industrial production by diverting so much effort into chasing all of that supposed money.

        The problem of national poverty in developing countries is to do with mismanagement of available resources and to government corruption, apart from the extreme case of civil war. Education can definitely deal with such problems when it results in the growth of civil society and, as we say here, the creation of More and Better Democrats.

        Investing both local resources and foreign aid in infrastructure, notably schools, renewable energy, transportation, and communications, and in the rule of law and human rights, rather than in military nonsense and further enriching the rich, would go a long way to help.

        Minimum wage and basic income are solutions to First-World Problems, after the economy has been built up.

        Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

        by Mokurai on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 07:52:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes of course. (0+ / 0-)
          Minimum wage and basic income are solutions to First-World Problems, after the economy has been built up.
          This is a diary about American education.

          "There will be midterm elections in under a year. Do you know what might be savvy? To run on a Medicare For All platform..." -- Dan Fejes

          by Cassiodorus on Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 01:54:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  A radical approach to secondary teaching (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, BruceMcF

    I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that I adopted a simple but radical program in my high school classroom. Our goal was a class goal, to have 85% of the class receive A's for the course. I pledged to test only what had been taught, for complete congruence between teaching, study, and testing. I assured them that almost all of them would receive an A. The purpose of our class was to teach, not stratify. After a test, those who had failed to make an A studied the material again, often with the help of those who understood it, then took the test again with the second grade being the only one that counted. (Only two shots at the test.)

    With this method, teaching is slow at first, as people get used to waiting for everyone to understand. Then as people start to get into the 85% success rate, and especially as people realize that this year won't be just another exercise in math shame, we would be flying through the material by Thanksgiving. "We're ready for the quiz, Mr. Moore. Come on, let's go." Simple but quite radical.

    In haven't checked on the veracity of this, but the people who promoted this method claimed that they instituted it in South Korea and that it resulted in a problem for the society:  once it becomes clear that most people are capable of performing the tasks historically thought to prove exceptionality, the question arises, "Who will be the gardeners?"

    Secrecy is a hot bed of vanity. - Joseph Brodsky They who have put out the people’s eyes reproach them for their blindness. – John Milton 1642

    by geomoo on Tue Dec 24, 2013 at 11:49:15 AM PST

    •  The gardeners will be ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... those who like working with growing things. The problem is really "will we have to pay gardeners a better wage, when people aren't forced to be gardeners?"

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue Dec 24, 2013 at 02:32:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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