Differentiation is the New Diversity!
If you can't do, then teach. And if you can't teach, become an education professor. Education professors can be taken about as seriously as their PhDs. They both may appear to have heft and authority to an outsider, but on closer inspection, they are both transparently ridiculous. And what is more, they have taken a perfectly good word and given it an awful connotation:
For many teachers and principals, that is a big word, and it is clear that they feel sophisticated casually throwing it around: "sure I differentiate my instruction."
To differentiate instruction means to provide a different learning experience for every individual student in the class. Perhaps there is a student who is just learning English in your class. And perhaps that student sits next to another who wants to have an in-depth discussion about Shakespeare. Should these two students prove difficult to teach at once, a normal person might consider what the root problem is -- that they shouldn't be in the same class. But the wise education bureaucrat knows that any problem here must be the teacher's -- he must not have differentiated his instruction enough.
Separating students according to ability is traditionally known as "tracking," and it is frowned upon by the educational establishment. Having students of varying ability in the same class is known as "inclusion," and it is smiled upon. While I was earning my MAT, I quickly realized that advocating tracking was simply not a valid position to put forth in education world, or "thought world" as E.D. Hirsch described it. Tracking is unfair, and undemocratic. It perpetuates the pattern of hegemony and domination present in the larger culture.
This is no exaggeration; rather, this is the kind of charged language one can easily find in an education textbook. Multicultural, anti-Western, and feminist ideologies take precedence over any substantive or useful ideas about how to teach. In turn, these ideologies will be passed on to innocent schoolchildren who will not realize that they are being indoctrinated. And, perhaps even more disturbing than that, most teachers do not even realize that they are indoctrinating the students, because they are often too ignorant to realize that they themselves have been indoctrinated by education professors! What a lovely cycle.
Whereas there is a lot of hyperbole in political discourse, when it comes to what is going on in education, it is difficult to understate how overboard the left really has gone. They took over long ago and are using their power to the detriment of the next generation, not to mention generations past. Again, I do not use such language lightly, but in this case the rhetoric fits the situation all too literally.
Although to be "liberal" or "progressive" in matters of education is not exactly parallel to the political sense of being "liberal," the sensibility is certainly similar. The offensiveness of progressive education ideas is transcendent enough, though, that a political progressive may find them equally as ridiculous as a conservative does. That being said, often one's politics will be consistent in both contexts. Overarching debates which play out in education are reflective of political debates, to some extent, and are duly combative, except for the fact that there is really no debate because liberals have such a monopoly.
If I had to compare the word "differentiate" to another term which rivals it in meaninglessness and cliché, it would be "diversity." Both words more or less place a value on everyone being "different." No one is better or worse, more intelligent or less; they just have different "learning styles." The silliness of different "learning styles," though, merits an entirely separate article. But again, there's that precious word, "different."
It is now unacceptable to simply teach a lesson to a class, and assess the students according to how well he demonstrates his knowledge of the content. Different students should have different lessons with different assessments. Needless to say, this is completely unworkable in practice. It is doubtful, really, that any teacher actually does this. If one did, it would likely be a chaotic disaster in which learning is incidental or nonexistent.
Yet most teachers at least hold up the pretense of "differentiating" instruction, because it appears to be a requirement. Those who do so cannot be blamed. What is more worrying are teachers who enthusiastically support these fads and sincerely advocate them.
Teachers take a lot of flak in the conservative media, perhaps deservedly so in some cases. But I can confirm this much: teaching is far from an easy job. Not all of us are in it to spread multicultural propaganda. To add to the considerable challenges we already face, the idea of providing "differentiated instruction" to each of a teacher's 150 students is simply laughable.