The Education President

In his State of the Union address on January 28, President Bush, our self-styled “education president,” urged Congress to re-authorize the No Child Left Behind Act, calling it a “good law” and claiming, that because of this legislation student learning is improving and “minority students are closing the achievement gap.”  Not true, not true—student learning is not improving under NCLB, and the so-called racial achievement gap is a fraud.  But through a combination of slight-of-hand, cooking the numbers, and manipulating the metaphors George Bush could make those claims with a smile.        The education revolution that Bush touts is the result of decades of “school reform” spearheaded by business and powered by right-wing ideologues.  “Global competitiveness” is the preoccupation, “accountability” and “standards” the watch-words, all of it resulting in a ramped-up obsession with standardized testing and an emphasis on minimal competencies along a narrowed band of cognition and skills.  The business metaphor dominates the discourse: inputs in relation to outputs, discipline and punishment, incentives and competitiveness.

It’s worth asking ourselves what makes education in a democracy distinct.  Of course we want children to study hard, to be responsible, to stay away from drugs, and to be prepared for work.  But those are goals we share with totalitarian regimes, monarchies, dictators and kings.  So what is uniquely characteristic of democratic education?

The founders of American education spoke of forging a common culture and preparing youth for lives of citizenship.  The democratic aspiration was that young people would grow into reflective, critical citizens, capable of work and also self-governance, full participation and free thinking.  The aim of production in a democracy is not the production of things but the production of free human beings, the goal, in W.E.B. DuBois’ phrase, not so much to make carpenters of men, but to make full human beings of carpenters. 

A basic tenet of democracy is that the ultimate authority on any individual’s hurt or desire is that individual himself or herself.  Education in a democracy demands equity, access, and an acknowledgment of the humanity of each person.  The job of schools is to stimulate latent interests, desires, and dreams that cause people to question, to challenge, to criticize, and to act.  Obedience and conformity are the enemies of democracy; initiative and courage are its hallmarks. 

The right wing attack on public education has taken many forms: an unhealthy obsession with standardized tests as a measure of intelligence and accomplishment; the elevation of zero tolerance as a cultural weapon used to sort students into winners and losers with a disproportionate number of students of color on the losing end and the widespread use of a market metaphor to judge school effectiveness.  This campaign never raises the issue of fair funding, of equal access, of generous pay for teachers, of rebuilding dilapidated schools, of encouraging students to ask their own questions in pursuit of their own goals.  

NCLB has had a huge impact on school districts, and the impact has been devastating for poor schools.  The curriculum has narrowed to what is testable, the arts and sports have been stripped from schools, teachers have been dispirited and discouraged.  President Bush’s overall grade is F.

5 Responses to The Education President

  1. Weatherman says:

    your a terrorist

  2. Jack Brown says:

    It sounds like you should stick to education, not economics. Your post is wrong on several points, and just inserting “right wing” into your writing doesn’t make it any better. A few points:

    1) NCLB is a bad law because it is unconstitutional and comes top down from the federal government. It fails because it doesn’t encourage states to become competitors in education policy, while ironically claiming to improve competition.

    2) You gripe that: “the business metaphor dominates the discourse: inputs in relation to outputs, discipline and punishment, incentives and competitiveness” which I think is a good thing. In a free education market, the school must provide what the consumer wants, so if the people truly want the abstract goals that you claim they do they will be taught. However, centrally planned education means children get whatever their school board overlords think they should, and this is coupled with the malinvestment that comes with no profit feedback in the system. Thus you get “dilapidated schools”.

    3) Your W.E.B. DuBois’ quote couldn’t be further from the truth. Democracy and more importantly, a constitutional republic, exist exactly for the production of things. They stimulate an increase in the well being of all of us by allowing social cooperation, peaceful existence, and the division of labor.

    4) As for school access, the only way to truly lower the price of schooling is to allow free entry into a competitive school market, whereby the only winners are those who provide the best service at the lowest cost. Real per pupil school spending has tripled since the 50’s and school productivity has actually declined!

    5) On a final note about standardized tests, I agree they are somewhat flawed. However, only in a truly free education market will firms be able to discover exactly the best way to measure employee performance, as they suffer when they fire good teachers. My guess is it will be a combination of testing and subjective assessment.

    To conclude, while I’m sure you are highly competent in the education field, I feel your post is mislead when it comes to the production and distribution of school services.

  3. Robert Arcus says:

    Ayers- Left wing, ultra liberal propaganda, UIC as well as the state of Illinois should be ashamed to have this scum terrorist on the payroll and teaching the future of our country. These people complain about this country that we live in, they should pray daily that this government LET THEM exist, these so called Weathermen should have been hunted and taken out. But I guess it’s a free country and you are free to gather, voice opinions, protest and act as you wish, but if you get caught and prosecuted blame the authority. Remember tolerance, as long as you preach for socialism and agree with them you are tolerant, if you are against them you are intolerant, a racist, as well as other bad labels. What do you expect from a man who bombed and killed his girlfriend all in the name of social justice. He will suffer every day of his life because of his actions, one may never escape the truth no matter how much they spin it.

  4. Marc Herman says:

    Mr. Brown’s own economics is a bit misleading. He does not (and cannot) show convincing evidence that “free-entry competitive” schools actually improve education. Such “free education market” schools have generally been abject failures, making money for their owners but providing poor education for their students.

  5. Jill Gerard says:

    Well I’m sure not as smart as either of the two commentors above, but I can tell you that NCLB has taken personaility, integrity, and individual artistic achievement right out of the school systems. This new “numbering” system does just that.
    thank you.

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