Sunday, February 24, 2013

America 2000: A Notable Educational Charade

To those who want to see real improvement in American education, I say: There will be no renaissance without revolution. ...
We've made a good beginning by setting the nation's sights on six ambitious National Education Goals.
...George H. W. Bush, (April 18,1991)
What were those goals?
By the year 2000

1. All children in America will start school ready to learn.

2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.

3. American students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so that they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.

4. U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.

5. Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

6. Every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.

-- America 2000: an educational strategy (DOE, 1991) p.3,
Seventy-six trombones lead the big parade… to nowhere. Were these targets met by 2000? No. Have they been met by 2013? No.

What were these “educational revolutionaries” thinking? How were decades-, even centuries-old impediments to be identified and addressed? Where was the money for this revolution to come from? Who had which responsibilities? Who would hold their feet to the fire to make sure they came through?

Think of the all planning costs of this debacle: the per-hour payments to discussion participants for attendance, room and travel; the trees sacrificed to recording what was best bound for recycle; the tons of sitzfleisch constrained to aching fallow; and, worst of all, the ultimate disappointment and cynicism provoked in reaction to its failure.

Did anyone in 1991 stand up and rage against the presumption, the hubris, the wishful thinking underlying these “visions?” If they did they were ignored, invisible to our media, our bulwarks of democracy. Not one trombonist, not even one piccolo player wanted to know of anyone trying to piss on their parade.

Does anyone today hang their head in shame, or even offer a vague apology, for having participated in this scam? Why should they? There is an escape clause written right into the document that relieved these planners and prognosticators of their responsibility for failure:
Without a strong commitment and concerted effort on the part of every sector and every citizen to improve dramatically the performance of the nation’s educational system and each and every student, these goals will remain nothing more than a distant, unattainable vision. -- America 2000, p.41

See, folks? It wasn't our marching band or our paraders at fault! The critical word in the previous paragraph is "every." America 2000 failed likely because some kid, somewhere, bugged out of his responsibilities -- probably didn't do his homework -- that brought our parade, our crusade, to a halt. (And wasted all that time, effort and money.)

For references and to examine these issues further, see America 2000: an educational strategy

--- EGR

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Multicultural Education: a solution to problems of immigration?

“This Melting Pot of ours absorbs the second generation over a flame so high that the first is left encrusted on the rim.” -- John Tarkov, American writer
Previously, when American school systems absorbed millions of immigrant children at the early part of the last century, there were only minimal adjustments made to help them along. The result? Tsk, tsk! A vast underclass of non-millionaires, who had to manage day-to-day working at some non-intellectual pursuit, who proudly called themselves Americans, although they could hardly tell a Mayflower from a daisy, or a pate from a fois or a gras. Happily times have changed. Now, we have multicultural education.

Those early immigrants appeared, on the surface, to get along with each other, even intermarrying, but underneath it all, there was dislike, even hatred, as words such a hunkie, polak, spic, etc., demonstrated.

Now we have educators who have been trained to believe that they are capable of various and extensive depth therapies: textbooks tell teachers -- whether or not programs provide training -- they must be prepared to diagnose and handle sexual abuse, Tourette's syndrome, student depression, suicidal impulses, and substantial variations in intelligence, competence and motivation.

Now we have multicultural education. We educators can now expunge those deep hatreds, and make each individual self-actualizing and independent, while at the same time, strengthening ethnic and cultural practices and beliefs.

With our new, revised concept of culture which means ... uh, whatever it means, we will analyze and understand the behavior of students, who even if they look and act normal we know to be different but that's ok 'cause we're all in the salad together. All struggling with each other for the occasional crouton.

To examine this issue further, see Multiculturalism & the Problems of immigration

-- EGR

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency

Heaven and Earth will disappear,
But our Dear Followership will continue forever.
--- adaptation from Himmel und Erden werden vergehen
Rule #1: Organizations strive for Immortality. Example: Rome’s highly paid and indulged Praetorian Guard, formed in 27 BCE to provide protection for a relatively few individuals, e.g. Augustus Caesar, his retinue and family, eventually came to the point of choosing and disposing of emperors. It lasted until the 4th century when it was dissolved by Constantine.

However, in our reality of rocks and humans and clouds, organizations are not the kinds of entitites that can be said, literally, to strive. They are, in law, merely fictional individuals. It is their their leaders, members and supporters who are the real, flesh and blood, coveting, striving, needful and prideful persons.

Rule #2: Membership involves "sunk" costs, e.g. time, opportunity, prerequisite expenditures, e.g. education or licensing, etc. These may not be costs one can recoup if the organization goes out of existence. Also, because organization members tend to admire and aspire to rank more than accomplishment, members don’t plan for their own occupational demise once the original purpose of the organization is accomplished or no longer viable. There are no "sunset laws" to be obeyed. This is particularly true of those whose basic needs are most dependent on the organizations' continuance. So it was that the Praetorian Guards did not say on August 19, AD 14, “Too bad. Augustus has died. Let’s hike out to the boonies and go back to being regular, underpaid and overdisciplined soldiers.”

Many leaders, particularly, tend to pursue permanent incumbency, having long developed a taste, an addiction, even, to the substantial and psychological rewards of leadership. What the organization was set up to produce, becomes less and less important as leaders participate less and less, operationally, and serve mostly political purposes -- the most important being organizational continuity.

So it is we have corporate-form organizations that outlast their members in the form of churches, industries, armed forces, universities and unions. Along with such corporate organizations we have, over a span of time, successions of so-called “leaders,” less expected to be producers than figureheads, whose often dispensible prerogatives of office are paid for at the cost of those who are compelled to support them.

The upshot of all this is this: it may not matter in the long run what kind of regime installs itself, or what kind government the people elect. It could be communist or fascist, authoritarian or democratic, liberal or conservative, religious or secular. In the long run, unless externally constrained, organizational politics will play themselves out and incumbent dynamics have more to do with who governs and how, than whatever political philosophy is given lip-service to. Only the governed will suffer.

For references and to examine these issues further, see LEADERSHIP AS USURPATION?: the Grand Inquisitor Syndrome and Morality in Rank-Based Organizations



Friday, February 1, 2013

The School Failure Mythology

edited 10/11/20
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!. -- The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe (1816 - 1887)

Philadelphia’s new (2012) Superintendent of Public Schools has declared a substantial number of schools to be “failing schools” and has announced that they will be closed down. The newsmedia, which fanfares almost every new superintendent as an educational savior -- and remains strangely quiet when said saviors leave to escape the mess they have enhanced -- is again bubb-bubb-bubbling with delight.

The parents of the children who attend the “failing” schools are vociferously NOT delighted. They want the schools to remain open. The idea of having to pry kids out of bed earlier to be bussed through hostile gang territories to schools out of the neighborhood is clearly not a welcome prospect. And how, many ask, is destroying relationships with teachers and administrators the kids know supposed to help them avoid “failure.”

Also weighing in on (or dodging) the issue are teachers, administrators, and university people. For not too obscure reasons the teachers side with the parents, the administrators have determined silence to be the better part of valor, and the university professors of education tend to side with the superintendent, although there are nay-sayers.

Three basic facts are persistently disregarded:
1. Without a substantial, persistent consensus on what schools should be about, there are no practical standards to determine what counts as success or as failure, no matter what litanies of directives fall from the lips of funding agencies.

2. Just because one party (or a few parties) to the controversy presumes to impose a set of standards, does not automatically bring every interested party into agreement.

3. Ignoring or denying 1 and 2 above does not change their reality.

Many a state legislature in its profound unwisdom has put some phrase into their school code about providing each child with a “thorough and efficient education.” New Jersey did this back in the early 1970s. I was in a Temple University group asked by a New Jersey legislator in 1973 to help define "thorough and efficient education" after the legislation codifying the language had already been passed. Despite our best efforts, he did not manage to get the definition we produced, as “accommodating” (read here, “vague”) as it was, widely accepted when he took it home.

Through the early 2000’s I would ask administrators from New Jersey what had been decided about the meaning of the phrase “thorough and efficient education.” How was it put into practice? The general response was “inconsistently” or “haphazardly,” adding that it was a “mess of a criterion.”

The underlying situation is that our citizens have long entertained a variety of conceptions as to what schools should be doing and what should count as school success. The fact that there are, besides public schools, parochial and private schools in great variety is one proof of this.

Another proof is that, by and large, parents -- and students themselves -- do not see academic knowledge and intellectual skills to be school goals anywhere near as important as those aiming at the students’ emotional and physical well-being.

This was shown years ago in an intensive study reported in John Goodlad’s 1984 book, A Place Called School. In general, he found that intellectual goals in schools far exceed parental preferences; whereas, social goals do not meet levels preferred by students and parents. (Goodlad, pp. 62-69)

Little has changed, except for the increasingly strident hyperbole about “common standards,” and the attempts by governmental and professional educational organizations to impose their own conceptions of educational success on parents too poor or unknowledgeable to escape or resist.

For references and to examine these issues further, see School Image: Expectations & Controversies

--- EGR