Educational 'Reforms' Are Crushing Our People

We see social engineering now at the center of all educational reform.  Whether at the local level or, as is now more and more the case, at the federal level (Race to the Top moneys to support Common Core), the meta-purpose is a new social engineering whereby the individual teacher, the individual student, or even the individual principal is moved away from center stage. 

Systemic reorganization of educational institutions pretends to have as its highest goal "efficiency," where students move smoothly toward their goals without setbacks, failures, or unnerving attacks on their self-esteem.  A new meta-control by the master puppeteers of management infrastructure working alongside software curriculum creators is the basis for a new partnership.  The roles of individual actors within the schools – student, counselor, teacher, or even principal – become supporting cast, so to speak, for the overarching goals set by this partnership.

Even the widespread use of technology to provide the students with computers and new software to facilitate learning, while useful, merely creates an appearance of structure over a dumbing down and settling into mediocrity or worse: total contempt for and disintegration of learning and mental process for the vast majority of people.  The individual student does not have to think; rather, the program he or she is using takes him or her step-by-step, inexorably to the correct answer.  This serves the agenda of the master puppeteers mentioned above.  They will tighten their controls and the dependence of others who are struggling in the schools. 

Controversy over implementation is superficial and tends to obscure the totalitarian impulse behind their machinations.  For example, Michael Bloomberg and William “Bill” de Blasio are successive mayors of New York City.  Both are statists.  Both believe that the government should organize most facets of human experience and suppress individualism in the schools and other segments of society.  Both want to dumb down the schools in the context of a gung-ho spirit of reform.  There is to be an illusion of progress and success despite an ongoing downgrading and dilution of educational achievement and motivation.

The weaknesses, failures, and ultimately the path of doom that we find in education has not been and cannot be remediated by the measures of so-called reform taken during the past twenty-five to forty years, of which Common Core(CCSS) is only the most recent.  Before Common Core, we had No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Before that, we had outcomes-based programs combined with school-to-work paradigms.  All these schemes resulted in an unprecedented influx of federal money into state education systems.

Under Common Core, state and local control is compromised as never before.  Standardized testing across the curricula is establishing new standardized goals and norms for curricular content.  New teacher evaluation frameworks à la Danielson and others are being implemented nationwide, with an unsurprising similarity of criteria for determining teacher effectiveness.  Extending the length of the school day or the number of years the youth spend in school is standard in the national mantra of “reform.” 

Common Core State Standards has followed No Child Left Behind as the central federal initiative in education.  But unlike NCLB, Common Core was not instated by legislation to be reviewed by our representatives with a response from the public, but as a fait accompli imposed on the public by a vast strategy implemented by government bureaucrats concentrated in the U.S. Dept. of Education, NGOs (that have a stake in consulting, providing curricula, and analyzing test composition and results), software developers of educational software, and educational book publishers (often participating in corporate conglomerates with the software developers). 

Additionally, schools have become one-stop social agencies in many cases, with clinics to deal with mental and physical health problems, pregnancy and abortion counseling centers, and social and emotional learning (SEL) programs to teach more primitive personalities the meaning of the Golden Rule.  Thus, in loco parentis has given way to the reverse formula, where families are called upon to support the mission of the schools instead of schools supporting the mission of the family.

Disruptive behavior in the schools has increased exponentially during the past 30 years.  Testing is often an alternative to education rather than simply a part of the educational process – questions are created and scored in order to assure certain outcomes (i.e., percentages who will pass).  The teachers’ grade books have become publicly available (typically, all grades have to be published on the internet using programs like Skedula or Pupil Path), thereby undermining some of the teachers' authority and control.  Teachers have been reduced to being “facilitators.”  This is the new “f-word” to describe the essence of the teacher’s role.

The teacher as authority and the student knowing his or her place in the universe have been partially invalidated.  The teacher as friend, mentor, and big brother or sister is increasingly perceived as the most desirable interpersonal model.  A more reserved relatedness of teacher to student has given way to the “new informality" (a "give me five" mentality).  Grade inflation to gratify the endless demand for self-esteem-building is seen as encouragement rather than self-seeking deception.  Goals like making a living or rising to new standards of excellence are downgraded in favor of an enhanced "sense of self."

These many “meta-changes” are being embraced by the entire spectrum of political positions; both red and blue states have accepted the premises and goals of NCLB and CCSS, with only a few exceptions.  Yet I would propose that these reforms or “irreversible changes” are exercises in futility, and could possibly lead to the mental and physical enslavement of the population instead of leading to, as Alexis de Tocqueville envisioned, a thoughtful and responsible democratic citizenry.  Ultimately, the changes taking place in education have evolved from a leftist/statist/fascistic worldview – a totalitarian impulse.  The pre-eminence of systemic thinking as opposed to focus upon the individual student and teacher – i.e., the classroom – for reform and improvement tends in the direction of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  It seems a barren vision of a vast army of clones and drones satisfied with their ignorance and lockstep conformity.  Further, it betrays the federalism enshrined in the Tenth Amendment of our Constitution.  And it attempts to replace an ideal of individual freedom before a just God with the ideal of collective rights before an all-knowing government.

The public schools are making guinea pigs of our children.  It is amazing to this writer that the outcomes are not even worse than they are.  But the definite lines of hope for education are fading fast; an era of extreme educational decline is coming upon us unless we begin to retrench four decades of reform and get back to some basic ideas, principles, information, and goals that we have lost sight of.  Knowledge, rationality, and compassion based on Judeo-Christian values must be reaffirmed as the determinative values of education going forward.

Jeff Ludwig has taught at Harvard, Penn State, Juniata College, CUNY, and for 21 years in the New York Public High Schools.  His latest book, The Catastrophic Decline of America’s High Schools:  New York City Schools, A Case Study, will be out later this year or early 2015.

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