Monday, May 31, 2010

Race to the Bottom

Here's another example of a line that would have been easy to miss. Regarding the public school system in Pennsylvania, today's paper says: “Student assessment is not among the state Department of Education's criteria for evaluating teachers.” Huh?? I'm trying to think of anything else besides student assessment that could possibly be relevant. But apparently there is an alternative, which is widely used – something called “classroom observation”. But it doesn't mention what is observed, or by whom. (If someone were to go into a school on the weekend and “observe” an empty classroom, would that count?) And there is also something called "professional development", which basically means that teachers are assessed based on the number of days spent on "continuing education" boondoggles. (What impact this has on the students is a question seldom, if ever, raised.) And I'm sure there are plenty of other measures of teacher merit just waiting to be pulled out and brandished at committee meetings -- you know, things having to do with having the right attitude and values (politics, in other words)... "caring and sharing" (AKA good intentions)... and so on -- all completely beside the point, of course.

Of course, there will always be a chorus of self-styled humanitarians who cry out that grades are unfair and discriminatory, and that they hurt people's feelings. Well, fine. It hurts my feelings that I didn't qualify for the Tour de France. But the funny thing about student assessment – AKA “grades” -- is that, in the long run, it's the only evidence we have of achievement. Grades are the biggest factor is college and university admissions... they are important to employers... they have a lot to do with scholarships of various kinds... and so on. A middle-aged person applying for a job is likely to be asked for his public school transcript, even if it's been 30 or 40 years since he was in a classroom. So if grades are this important to the student, and to the economy, and to society, why are they so unimportant to the teachers and the educational establishment?

Now, the reason this has come up at all is that there is a flavor of federal stimulus money labeled “Race to the Top”, that includes teacher accountability as a condition for receiving some of the largess. And for Pennsylvania, for example, the amount in question is not trivial – something around $400 million. So as you can imagine, public school officials are scrambling to figure out ways of making student assessment a “significant” (note, still not the only) factor in teacher evaluations. This attempt will, of course, run headlong into the teachers' unions, which have had an iron grip on public education for generations now, and you may rest assured that some compromise will be worked out which will turn on the money spigot without making any significant difference in teacher evaluation. In fact, the article admits that “a district's eligibility for Race to the Top money hinges on the support of its teachers union.” And, of course, job one is protecting jobs, as they will freely admit. Besides, these people are experts in coming up with words that make it sound like certain things are being done, when in fact not only are they not being done, but the exact opposite is being done. And we already know that every “crisis” in public education forms the basis for a new hemorrhage from the treasury (federal, state, or local), with the funds used, more often than not, in a way that simply aggravates the crisis. So it becomes a great merry-go-round where failure is turned into success on regular basis, with the only real losers – or should I say victims – being the students (and, indirectly, their parents, and society, and so on).

I continue to be amazed at how our public schools are not only allowed, but encouraged, to turn out hyperactive, ignorant, moral half-wits while at the same time we continue to represent ourselves as an advanced, “high-tech”, humane society with an “educated” populace. It has become a truism that the high-school graduate of a century ago had a better education than the college graduate today... and that doesn't even count the fact that there is so much more to learn now to prepare people for their “place in society”. Unless, of course, their place in society is meant to be nothing more than that of passive, gullible serfs – which does, in fact, appear to be the case. But even the greatest cynic might want to say that we've gone overboard on this a bit. You can have a society of passive, gullible serfs, but you still need a few smart people around to run things; but it seems we are even running out of those in some sectors – at least if you listen to the complaints of employers.

And then we have the problem (if it even is a problem) that not everyone on earth subscribes to our concept of what constitutes proper public education. Why, there are places that insist on quality... places where incompetent teachers can actually be fired... where the unions don't dominate the entire education industry (and thus, in the long run, the entire culture). And those places are showing signs of detecting our weakness, and taking advantage of it. We may indeed wind up intellectually colonized, with the “native-born” assuming the status of the native-born in a more traditional colony – doing the mindless, tedious, heavy-lifting tasks... or nothing at all... while people from somewhere else run things and reap all the benefits.

Frankly, I think the colonization of America has already begun – and certain aspects of it started a long time ago. We have certainly been politically colonized (by Israel, and also by a Eurocentric Regime) and financially colonized (by China, among others). It seems that education is intended to be the next major step – although in this case the colonization process starts within the society, with the increasing foreign dominance being an effect (intended or otherwise) rather than a cause. But what are the goals? Clearly, the weakening of any sense of American identity is at the top of the list. And what makes that so important? Because it lowers our resistance to domination by the world elite. Americans are already, by and large, a deracinated people, with no coherent cultural identity or heritage (except the one that is formalistically and ritualistically drummed into our heads by public observances). What's going on now, I believe, is a plan to render us doubly deracinated – not only cut off from any coherent cultural identity or ethnic consciousness, but also cut off from the more ideational substitutes that being an American has always entailed. And yet, paradoxically, part of what has always strengthened and stabilized American identity is the older substrate of more organic cultures – primarily, but not exclusively, those of Europe. The ideal for an Italian-American, for example, was to come up with a synthesis of Old World and New – and enjoy the best of both. But the part before the hyphen has been largely eradicated at this point, through the concentrated efforts of the government, the media, and the public schools... and now the part after the hyphen is on the ropes as well. All we will be offered by way of compensation will be the opportunity to become a “world citizen” -- and the last time I checked, that idea didn't appeal to anyone except old-time communists and NPR listeners. Everyone else knows it's a crock – and it is, because it offers no real identity to hold on to, nothing to defend, and no source of consolation in times of strife. Another way of putting it is that if everyone is a “world citizen”, then no one is a citizen... of anywhere. And this, once again, represents a weakening of the will to survive in any decent, self-respecting way... which is, in turn, the goal of the Regime. It wants to reduce self-respect and pride, and group identity, to the point of oblivion, so that people will adopt an attitude of resignation and not object to the gray, bland, serf-like existence that awaits. And one of the key elements in this very long campaign is the public schools. The last thing they want is for anyone to re-introduce Quality as an important consideration – especially since the ideal public school outcome is mediocrity. Truly educated people are dangerous, and a threat to the program; why would we want to rate schools, and teachers, based on their ability to turn out truly educated people? The whole idea is absurd.

So when it comes to the Race to the Top, so-called, expect the unions to take the money and run – but not to the top. Or, let's say, the teachers may run to the top of the pay scale but the students will continue to flounder in a pool of programmed mediocrity.

I'll close with a memorable line from the article: “The school code states that teachers can be terminated for incompetency, immorality, intemperance, cruelty, negligence...” What I'd like to know is, what would happen if we applied the same criteria to the public school system itself? Could it be terminated? One can only dream...

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