Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pseudo-Planning: Disguising Leadership Weakness?

Both teachers and students want science to be authentic, challenging, and engaging. How do you make this happen?   -- ASCD Twitter entry, link to source.

Noble aims no doubt: the kind that warms the hearts of the technically challenged in any field. Leadership cadres are not infrequently composed of no minute proportion of those once-upon-a-time competent persons elevated -- according to the Peter Principle -- beyond their level of competence. Such governing groups tend to rest confident of having done a day’s (a meeting’s) work when they formulate goal statements that ring of sound public relations planning.

Who would reject as undesirable -- using the ASCD examples -- such outcomes as authenticity, challenge, and engagement as goals for school curriculum? But two problems tend to be sloughed off as merely technical, i.e. to be left to subordinates whose burden it will be to try to implement the pursuit of such Holy Grails without knowing their targets or the unavoidable costs involved in achieving them.

Of course, should these technicians threaten to spend more than a pittance of resources researching these problems, i.e. target consensus and feasible implementation, budgets can be restricted to what is politically possible, i.e. to levels that will not raise objections from external powers, equally technically challenged, whose objections might threaten the continued incumbency of the leadership.

So, for example, the “American public” -- read “strong political influencers” -- is concerned about terrorism and lawlessness, but apparently more concerned about the high costs, both to budgets and individual convenience, of technically efficient approaches to dealing with them, e.g. intensive surveillance and inconveniences to personal freedoms.

This situation illustrates the Rule of Imminence: the more distant the threat, the greater the cost discount (unless the more distant cost is vastly greater than the nearer, e.g. nuclear conflict vs. loss of control over a market.). So it is that defense industries exaggerate imminent possibilities of US involvement in foreign armed conflict, while their competitors beat warning drums about domestic infrastructure failures.

Educational and political leaders play this out as, for example in the recent past, a matter of trying to raise graduation rates by changing curriculum for fear of loss of national competitiveness. Forget about other so-called more important influences on a child’s school success. Those are likely cost-enhancing technical quibbles by politically insensitive squints. Defining school goals are the leadership’s task!

Wadoo, zim bam boddle-oo,
Hoodle ah da wa da,
Scatty wah !
(- 1935, Ira Gershwin, It Ain't Necessarily So)

To examine these issues further, see America 2000: A Notable Educational Charade

--- EGR

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Public School Reform: a Major Tactic in America’s “Hidden” Class War

During the period 1985 – 1986 I spent about 15 months, officially and unofficially, as the headmaster of a small, struggling private school in an affluent and very status-conscious suburb of Philadelphia. Not infrequently I attended meetings for headmasters or parents of private schools. At these meetings, one of the most pointedly disregarded “elephants in the room" was the issue of social class. It was “un-American” to broach such a topic among these proclaimed “conservatives,” who often mistook narcissism for devotion to the philosophy of Edmund Burke.

But it was very clear that the regnant opinion in such gatherings was that there was no competition between private and public education. They were "different" schools for "different kinds" of people. In fact, when a bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania legislature to provide tax relief to the parents of children who were attending other than public schools, people involved in private schooling, excepting the impoverished Roman Catholic parochial schools, successfully opposed this approach to “equalizing” education

Why? As the headmaster of a famed, old school near Philadelphia put it, "We wouldn’t want the wrong people to come knocking at our door just because they could afford tuition with government money."

There is no clamor to reform private or parochial education. It is not because such schools are highly successful or efficient trainers in scientific, literary or mathematical skills; in fact, many, many are not – after all, what is an admissions committee for? And many of the most "successful" students are the most "surreptitious."**

But, let's just call their behavior, "discretely in-group-goal-oriented." They are, after all, training to be masters, not servants. (See Peter W. Cookson, Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell, Preparing for Power: America’s Elite Boarding Schools. New York: Basic Books, 1985)

To examine some related issues, see Pre-Critique Draft of Major Paper on Class Bias

--- EGR

**See Cheating Well

Cf. Peter W. Cookson, Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell, Preparing for Power: America’s Elite Boarding Schools (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 138.