Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How "School Reform" Maintains the Status Quo

3 random definitions for status quo:
1. Heaven on Earth achieved;
2. the trade-off optima we have so far managed to achieve;
3. Hell on Earth accepted.
-- Mephistopheles(?)
Faith in God's revelation has nothing to do with an ideology which glorifies the status quo.
-- Karl Barth
An economist from another solar system, non-partisan, let us assume, on most issues that concern our peoples, might report on American Education in the following manner:
There are three major market interests supporting schools: Values, Skills and Social Control. Although there is no persistent agreement as to which is most important, most schools try to respond in some way to all of them, since one well-established constituency or another promotes them.
Values, also known, occasionally more specifically, as “Cultivation,” “Snobbery,” “Scholarship,” “Academics” or “Fine Arts” involves convincing most people that things that bore them should be honored, at least, for preserving (someone’s) important traditions.

Important means “allowing tax monies to be spent on them” or “showing the proper respect” – see “Social Control” below -- when one’s social betters demand it.

This “Values” product is often promoted as “Rounding Out the Individual,” or “High Quality Education” or “Developing the Mind.” Cascades of diplomas representing no specific achievement, as well as profusions of higher degrees, are the deliverables generated to support this interest.

Skills involves training people how to make money (for someone) by acquiring the narrowest possible knowledge about and dexterity in producing whatever geegaws, jimcracks or whizbangs are selling at the moment or predicted to sell in the near future. High levels of skill development skills may be tolerated, even praised; but, seldom seen as cost-effective. For example, economic institutions, i.e. the Stock Market, are run by perfunctorily skilled persons who rely mainly on consumer faith to support their deliverables – which often fail to materialize.

Social Control involves teaching the great masses of people how to obey. Even in the United States, which imagines itself a multicultural Land of the Free, “obedience” means learning that procrastinating, bad-mouthing, objecting, moaning and groaning are all OK so long as one conforms in the long run to what “society” – read,“values controllers” -- expect of you.

Schools of all kinds do a pretty good job in satisfying all three markets. (This often involves some sacrificing of one market, usually Skills, to maintaining the others.)

School Reform concerns involve the pretense that Academics, a superficial hodgepodge of often unmarketable skills, is the primary, if not the sole, point of schooling. This, market strategem enables the promoters of school reform materials and processes to plausibly hawk their wares in the face of much opinion that real follow-through, which might damage other educational markets, is unlikely.

To examine these issues further, see How much can school reform enhance a student's occupational fitness?