Discussing Education... Can We, Please?

In her latest post on her Education Week blog "Bridging Differences," Diane Ravitch writes:

I worry about the one-sided treatment of education issues... in the national media. The corporate reformers seem shocked when anyone questions their narrative. They see no downside to their dogmatic belief in closing schools and firing principals and teachers, nor to their dogmatic faith that higher test scores are the goal of education. They accuse critics of "defending the status quo," even though it is they who are the status quo, the champions of get-tough accountability. They don't understand that they might be wrong, that their critics deserve a hearing, and that disagreement is healthy. ...

For many years, I kept a clipping in my wallet, something that [Robert Maynard] Hutchins said. It was the last line of his obituary in The New York Times (May 16, 1977). He said: "The only political dogma in America is that discussion leads to progress, that every man is entitled to his own opinions, and that we have to learn to live with those whose opinions differ from our own. After all, they may turn out to be right."

Those of us trying to protect and improve American education, but who are attempting this outside of the juggernaut of the new education establishment (dominated by those corporate reformers Ravitch refers to, catered to even by Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) end up constantly battling people who never even try to listen to points diverging from their own. When I post on education (here, or on my own blog or Daily Kos), I am often beset by people who deliberately mistake my opposition to the current mania for standardized testing as a disdain for standards and evaluation. Or by people who insist that the problems with education stem from unions and from protection of "bad" teachers demanded by unions. Or by people who tell me that "our" schools are worse now than they've ever been.

The "discussion" that ensues is no discussion at all, but a diversion. Such people have already made their decisions about education, and are going to move forward, come hell or high water. They just want me, and those like me, out of the way.

I wish they'd stop for awhile and talk. If they insist on sticking to what I think are relatively peripheral issues, I'd like for them to explain to me just how test scores relate to real success of education in people's lives. I'd like for them to show me, and not just through anecdotes, the "bad" teachers hiding behind union protection. I'd like them to present an honest comparison between schools now and, say, fifty years ago (just after the end of the segregation era), showing exactly how American schools, taken as a whole, have regressed.

I'd like the chance to respond, to take them back to John Dewey's "My Pedagogic Creed" and ask if he was, in some fundamental way, wrong in what he wrote there. If he was not wrong, and life is not simply a factory, then why (I'd like to ask) are we making schools factory-like, with measurable products and results the goals rather than recognizing, with Dewey, "that to set up any end outside of education, as furnishing its goal and standard, is to deprive the educational process of much of its meaning and tends to make us rely upon false and external stimuli in dealing with the child."

If we start having real discussions (and move our conversations on education away from profit-motivated corporate movements--but that's tangential, here), maybe we really can improve our schools.

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