K-12: Teaching Knowledge vs. Teaching Ideology

In 1974, Jaime Escalante took a job at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California.  He found himself in a challenging situation: teaching math to Hispanic students at a rundown school known for violence and drugs.  While many dismissed his students as unteachable, Escalante  pushed them to reach their potential.  He started an advanced mathematics program with a handful of students.  He was so successful that a testing service accused his students of cheating.  They weren't.  Hollywood made a fine movie out of the story called Stand and Deliver (1988).

Escalante's students were the last ones expected to succeed academically, but Escalante told them: "I'll teach you math, and that's your language.  With that, you're going to make it.  You're going to college and sit in the first row, not the back, because you're going to know more than anybody."

He was harassed by the usual nitwits in the Education Establishment.  They said he came to work too early, he stayed too late, his standards were too high, he was attempting the impossible, and what good could come of that?

Escalante (1930-2010) is, to put it simply, one of this country's finest teachers.  He was a great man.  It's an honor to read about him.  Everyone should know about his work.  If you are moved by nobility, and steadiness of purpose, success achieved against overwhelming odds, this guy's story will make you cry.

Needless to say, the Education Establishment should have adopted his ideas and used them throughout the country.  Instead, administrators tried to limit his influence and make him go away.

Escalante shared a lot in common with that other great maverick, John Saxon.  They had all the good ideas.  The Education Establishment hated them for this.  Anyone serious about improving a school should seek inspiration from Saxon and Escalante.

On the other hand, left-wing education consultant Heather Hackman (real name) sees all of education as a chance to advance socialist and progressive attitudes.  She speaks of "doing climate justice work through a social justice lens."  (Possibly, this means that if you live in a hot city, you get a higher grade on the theory that the city is hot only because of climate change.)

Hackman argues that teachers shouldn't even bother teaching (their ostensible job) if they aren't committed to promoting social justice in school.

Her website uses this slogan: "Deep Diversity, Equity And Social Justice Consulting For A Changing World."  Of course, "diversity" and "equity" could point at different goals, which suggests that her agenda is not well thought out.

In Hackman's telling, virtually everything associated with being a  successful student is nothing but chains imposed by racist white supremacy.

She argues that "Grades [and] Showing Up On Time Are A Form Of White Supremacy."  (How racist is that?  Apparently non-white people can't be punctual.)

Hackman's solution is "to train teachers to move away from all these aspects of white privilege in education. She routinely touted the benefits of collective assessments (measuring student learning at the class level instead of determining whether each student knows the material), as well as eliminating all school grades entirely."  Now, imagine a design school, flying school, or law school (i.e., any real school) trying these stunts.

Hackman graciously concedes that "in the current white supremacist system, there is some expectation that teachers will know conventional English and possess other basic knowledge. As a result, she admitted modern activist teachers should try to learn those things sufficiently to get a job, but only for the purpose of infiltrating schools to change them from within."

If you want to emphasize ideological  maneuvers, as John Dewey and his successors always preferred, then you will continually create inferior school systems and mediocre students.  That's a price that Heather Hackman is eager to pay.  And she gets paid for recommending these priorities.  However, the students themselves might prefer to move ahead in their chosen careers.  The society needs people who can do a good job and want to, as opposed to an inferior job and a bad attitude.  Heather Hackman serves her ideology ahead of the needs of society and students.

In the 1990s, Reform Math included that most bogus of all programs, MathLand.  It contained such questions as "If math were a color, what would it be?" and was explicitly based on the premise that girls and minorities cannot learn math.  This was precisely the premise that Escalante and Saxon repudiated.

Now, let's ask ourselves: who is the true liberal in this story?  Heather Hackman will undermine everyone by her mandatory collectivism.  Jaime Escalante and John Saxon say, no, you can bring out the best in yourself, you can reach higher, and that's the intelligent choice for you and your society.

Bruce Deitrick Price explains theories and methods on his education sites Improve-Education.org.  (For info on his four new novels, see his literary site Lit4u.com.)

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