Friday, December 9, 2016

Public Schools: Not Education, but Social Engineering - By E. Jeffrey Ludwig

Whenever we recall Book VII of Plato's Republic, the "Allegory of the Cave" that many of us studied in college, we remember that the chained population in the cave was always looking at shadows on the wall of the cave and mistakenly believed that those shadows were reality.  Shadows of unreality are being reflected today by the policies and practices of many school systems.  Vague talk about improving our schools, becoming more competitive globally, and opening doors of opportunity becomes rubrics that express "shadows" of the reality that managers of education are in fact implementing progressive – i.e., totalitarian – social engineering. 

The implementation of this social engineering is closely tied to getting non-educators and inexperienced educators into the schools as teachers and administrators and getting older, experienced teachers and administrators out.  

These younger individuals will not have the deep inculcation of educational values, those values of learning and of relationship established at the nexus of humanism and Judeo-Christian values.  They are persons who do not see and do not wish to see that curricular innovation, creativity, knowledge, teacher morale, school tone, the family of man, student character building, and caring and love of all for all (said list can be summed up as "the pursuit of happiness") are in direct opposition to and are the antidote for the social engineering agenda now sweeping the country.

The emphasis on bringing in and promoting "change agents" is supposedly to refresh the profession that has been too insulated from accountability and new ideas for too long.  For example, New York City has a "Teaching Fellows" program to recruit new teachers from other occupations.  One can find people coming into education from facilities management, the petroleum industry, pharmaceutical sales, and lobster wholesaling and delivery backgrounds.  They are "career change" types who have decided they want to make a buck in education that had eluded them in the private sector or, in some cases, follow an easier path (but education actually isn't easier).  They soon learn the realities of life in the schools, and many leave.  Many teaching fellows are also brilliant and idealistic and come into education to make a difference in the lives of individuals and society as a whole.  

However, they find that they not only have to deal with incredibly complex and difficult classroom and building situations, but many times are badgered by clueless administrators who are "new breed" social engineers, not educators.

The new breed of educational leadership believe that they are eminently qualified to make great decisions.  Guess why they have this belief.  First, they believe this lie because some are willing to hire them to manage schools.  Pure ego satisfaction.  Second, they are convinced they are not weighed down with all that trashy experience of educational failure that those with educational experience have as baggage.  The new generation of change agents taking over the public schools look down on the former generations of teachers, those who loved education, cared about kids, made a lifetime commitment to serve in the schools, looked for security instead of stock options and bonuses – these people brought with them, secretly (assumed by the change agents), the baggage of failure.  They were messing up kids and their futures – and they didn't even know it.  Generations of complex and engaging board work is being debunked with wholesale contempt as "chalk and talk."
These agents of change are implementing an agenda driven by statistics (scores), savings (money), and systems (depersonalized bureaucratic mechanisms and rules). 

What reforms do the new generation of administrators and teachers seek to implement?  They are driving toward the six- or seven-class-a-day high school teaching load, the 9-5 schedule for the schools (or longer), school provided free and compulsory for ages 2 to 22 (or 26), the six- or seven-day school week, and the longer school year (with two- or three-week vacation breaks scattered throughout), all controlled by a vast bureaucracy nationwide and justified by the implementation of "national standards."  Thus, the schools become the "big brother," and instead of reinforcing parental standards and values (in loco parentis), schools are substituted for the nurturing home (fast disappearing from the USA).

Under the new system, adopt-a-school programs increasingly will be put in place, where school-to-work programs ready students for college and employment in a particular large company (multinational or national chain), which has "adopted" the school.  Also, programs are being developed where students study on their own on computers, and teachers are the backup facilitators to answer questions the computer cannot resolve.

Under this new vision, the individual and small group daily contacts between teachers and students will of necessity (because of the scale of the changes) be de-emphasized in favor of systems that manage administrators, teachers, and students in a more holistic way.  Each employee and student will be pigeonholed with certain limited and defined functions and directives.  Attempts have already been made to have written scripts for classes, promoting uniformity across numerous classes with the exact same exams being given on the same days on a large scale as students uniformly finish units of study at the same time.  Also, the ubiquitous insistence on "rubrics" today (they were not used in education on a large scale 25 or more years ago) is a forerunner of a more exact and fine tuned manipulation of every educational activity (lessons, units, tests, and even personal interactions).

The public is being softened up to accept these changes.  On the one hand, with greater numbers of families where both parents are working, compulsory pre-K and pre-pre-K and longer school days and school years will be an attractive cost-saver for young parents and unmarried moms.  Also, there is a perennial drumbeat of public statements about the U.S. lack of educational competitiveness with China, Korea, Singapore, Japan, and even Finland.  We are repeatedly told how poorly American students fare on international tests of math and science as a way of gradually justifying more and more control over our children by the public schools.  Truthfully, despite being in education for decades, this writer has never met one student or one adult who has ever taken one of these international tests in math and science that show us to be "non-competitive"! 

We can also see that independence of student thought is being undermined as increased numbers of students are asking teachers mind-numbing questions about minutiae of classroom practice and protocol.  For example, how many students, if an essay question includes three parts labeled as (A), (B), and (C), will ask the teacher if the answer to the question should be presented as a list or in paragraph form? 

Or, outside English classes, students may be heard asking, "Will I lose points for a grammatical error?"  Going back a few decades, this kind of student question did not exist on the large scale of today.  Students were more decisive and wrote the answers as best as they could.  Often these questions are mistakenly believed to reflect the young person's need for structure.  But what is really being expressed by them is fear and acquiescence to bondage, a bondage of minutiae and imposed indecision created by the puppeteers of education and society.  (Just observe the administration of AP and SAT exams, and one will notice the lengthy mind-numbing script that students must listen to and follow.  Pure, unadulterated bondage.)  

There are elements of hope in this seemingly dismal picture.  Many parent groups are resisting the prevailing progressive-oppressive vision.  Also, there are those in minority communities who increasingly realize that the public schools are walking down a path not of democratic unity as originally conceived by John Dewey, but of totalitarian control.  Donald Trump's Department of Education appointee, Elizabeth "Betsy" DeVos, a believer in school choice, is a light shining into an otherwise dismal picture.  Further, we have ever increasing numbers of parents homeschooling their children, and the private school option continues to be attractive, yet the costs can be prohibitive.  Also, we have some great online videos exposing the idiocy of certain Common Core strategies, especially in math problem solving.

Importantly, we have the consistent Socratic challenge to the educational establishment, both in print and online, being presented by such wonderful educational analysts as E.B. Hirsch, Charlotte Iserbyt, and American Thinker contributors and authors Robert Weissberg and Bruce Deitrick Price.  They have been alerting us to the problems in education for a long time, but with our new president, we may now have the will to challenge the drift of the last three decades and reverse course.
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