I’m an optimist by nature. That’s why I awake each day thinking I can make the world a better place for children despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For years I believed that public education would hit bottom like an alcoholic and then rise from the ashes unencumbered by the shackles of past policies and practices. When that Phoenix rose, I would be ready. I had worked in the best and worst public and private schools in the world. I worked with homeschooling communities and even created productive contexts for learning within a prison for teenagers. I would be prepared to help reinvent public education as soon as the conditions were ripe for such transformation.
The problem with the rehab or resurrection myth was that I never anticipated the chance that American public policy regarding public education was that there IS NO BOTTOM to rise up from. It now appears that schooling and the way in which some Americans treat other people’s children has no bottom. Things can and will get worse, perhaps indefinitely. The public is on a collision course to defund education and other services intended for the common good. I have chronicled this trend for a decade, but hoped things would never get this bad.
I clung romantically to fantasies that Americans embraced democratic principles, the common good and loved children. Learning otherwise is a somber realization, especially on Easter Sunday.
It has been suggested that Ronald Reagan made it cool to distrust government and ethical obligations to help your neighbor when in 1988 he said the scariest words you can hear are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” A decade earlier, Proposition 13 in California taught “citizens” that no matter what your neighbor or community needs, you will never be asked to reach into your pocket again and pay for it. Selfishness had become cool. America replaced the ideals of the Founding Fathers with the adolescent fantasies of Ayn Rand.
The singular genius of George W. Bush was recognizing that while people might dislike “school,” they like their children’s teacher. If you wanted to destroy or privatize (a semantic difference without distinction) public education, you needed to find a way to erode public confidence in the each and every public school. But how to do that?
Create an Orwellian law like “No Child Left Behind.” Give corporations billions of dollars for the creation, implementation and frequent mis-scoring of deeply miseducative and misused standardized tests. Require 100% of all students to be above the norm on largely norm-reference tests by 2014 – a statistical impossibility – and when everyone is not “above average” quickly enough, blame teachers, takeover schools, make kids repeat grades and make already troubled schools even more joyless and irrelevant.
Along the way, tell parents constantly and with increasing volume that your child’s teacher is failing your child and the Voila! you will withdraw your support for the system.
Cue the charter schools, get tough reformers like Michelle Rhee and get Oprah to pimp a simplistic propaganda film. Mission accomplished! Heckuva job, Brownie! As the great patriot Glen Beck once sang, “We Shall Overcome!” When the three wisemen – Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich team-up as “school reformers,” one can expect things to get old testament bad for public education. As long as unqualified is the new qualified, things will get worse for our children and even worse for other people’s children.
Please! Please! Please! watch this video clip from the Rachel Maddow show, share it with friends and then try to restrain your violent impulses or find the strength to carry-on for another day. I’m sorry you have to watch a cheesy commercial first and that you may not like the messenger. The message is really important and stunning.
This is the tale of how two generations of severely at-risk young people are having their chances for a productive life and slice of the American dream sacrificed on the alter of capitalist greed, authoritarian impulses and callous disregard for the vulnerable.
Note to self: Next time I decide to arrest teen mothers demanding a quality education, be sure to run the police sirens to drown out their cries and screams.
Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Here are some additional links regarding this story:
- Mark Maynard’s blog report has a lot of local discussion going.
- The independent Voice of Detroit has terrific reporting from inside the sit-in at Catherine Ferguson, including accounts from people we showed last night.
- The website Defend Public Education has a petition going, as does Change.org.
- You can learn tons more about Catherine Ferguson Academy through the “Grown in Detroit” documentary.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.
8 thoughts on “Things May Not Get Better!”
Unfortunately, you probably are correct and I agree with your premise that things may not get better with the current educational and economic policies (which seem to be intertwined today) of the U.S. We have not hit the bottom of the educational policy outcomes and more than likely are only about half the way there on our present course. So it looks as though we have a long way down still to go at our present rate.
So what happens when as a result of the present education policies that we loose 2-3 generations of American children to the test and money leadership that we have in place today?
That is something that these “money managers” should think about in light of what is happening in the middle east today and what happened in our own Country in the 1960’s.
That is what concerns me – what will happen if we stay on this present course.
Like you, I try to be optimistic everyday about the wonderful things that are occurring in education. But the state of politics is not very promising. The same people who arresting these young women for demanding an education and doing so in a civil way are the same people who will be complaining about them when they have to get on welfare and possibly stay on it because their right to learn has been stripped away from them. As fast as technology catapults us into the future, there are a great many people dragging us back to a time where sexism and racism was there norm. They say you can tell a lot about a society based on how they treat their children, and that is exactly what is being said.
I’d like to ask any education reformer this question… at what point in history was the privatization of education unmistakeably proven successful for learning?
I’m deeply troubled by the “emergency manager” politics. I don’t see it happening in my suburban world anytime soon, because many in my area may not blink an eye at, let alone know of, what is happening in Michigan.
I’ve written elsewhere in support of this student action, but I remain worried about the prominence of BAMN, a highly politically correct extremist group (at least in SE Michigan, if not elsewhere) with a history of intolerance for dissent from their own. I, for one, am not willing to use “any means necessary.” In my experience on the left, the means in no small part SHAPE and in some cases DETERMINE the ends, and those ends rarely, if ever, justify some of those means. As a teenager, I thought that extremism in the defense of “the people” was indeed no vice, but it generally has proven to be just as wrong when employed in left wing causes as in right wing ones. Barry Goldwater mellowed in the end, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of mellowing on the part of folks like Shanta Driver, the national head of BAMN and, much to my dismay, a vocal opponent of what she terms “free speech for fascists,” a nebulous group of folks who dare to hold views with which she disagrees.
That she is at times an extremist in support of causes with which I happen to agree makes me no less appalled by her rhetoric, illogic, and tactics, and her active attempts to suppress the free speech rights of others (no matter how much I may personally revile the viewpoints those others espouse). Free speech must be for everyone or it is ultimately for only those with the power to use it without interference. That is the timeless lesson Driver and those like her never understand. If there is to be “no free speech for fascists” (and if Shanta Driver, BAMN, et al get to determine who counts as a fascist), then we might as well be living in Tsarist Russia or Nazi Germany. Sooner or later, the very people Ms. Driver wants to deny free speech to will be happy to turn the power of the state against her and against people I find far less extreme.
I don’t imagine that the kids at the Academy really get what BAMN is about or that if they did many would refuse to be associated with it, but just in case I’m wrong on that score, I will continue to point out who these folks are and what they stand for in hopes that those of us who support the rights of that school’s community to fight for itself will be circumspect about what political bedfellows they are perhaps unwittingly making.
I know that the history of the left in this country and elsewhere is littered with the splintering of causes because of trivial disagreements (not to mention the work of agents provocateur),. However, I don’t consider my disputing the tactics of BAMN to be at all trivial, and I would be loath to work with them until they disavow their anti-free speech policies and tactics.
When I got out of the US Army in 1973, I began looking for a teaching job. As I was looking around I had an uneasy feeling that something was going wrong in American education but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Not finding a job (with the draft being over and all), I took a job in Canada. Canada has been so good to me that I lost track of what was happening south of the border. Oh, I heard about “No Child Left Behind” but thought it was too stupid to be real, as you pointed out in your article. Your article was bad enough news, but Rachel Maddow’s show tore my heart out. Although I’m a Canadian citizen now, I still love the land of my birth. To see students arrested for wanting to keep their school open and elected officials deprived of their power is not the America I knew. What is next? A fire in the Reichstag, excuse me, Congress!
Dear Mr. Gary Stager,
In your article “Things May Not Get Better” I disagree that schooling is as terrible as you make it sound like. I agree that there are minor flaws in education, but there’s always something you can do to fix it. When learning, students know what to do by paying attention and applying them to do what the teacher tells them. If they don’t pay attention and apply themselves, then they could have to repeat the same grade that there at. The law “No child left behind” is a good law because it makes students with disabilities not have to get left behind if they don’t learn what their suppose to. Also it’s a good law because if the student has autism or other disabilities then they have to have more learning so they can understand what they’re learning.
Dear Mr. Stager,
In your post “Things May Not Get Better” I partially agree with your statement that education in America is on its way down and there is not bottom to rise up from. I do agree that a lot of people in the world don’t care about their future enough to actually want a good education and take the initiative to learn so they can help themselves and everyone around them but, I do know that there are many people that want to make a difference in the world and a lot of schools, like mine (Arapahoe High School), that are doing what they can to help the students of today learn so they can better the future. I believe that it all starts with the student for whether or not that student gets a good education. For one, if a student has the wrong attitude towards learning and wants not to learn, not any way of teaching will make that student actually learn. That is why its not the schools that have to rise of from getting worse, it’s the students that have to take the initiative to want to better their future by making the most out of their education.
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