Education Nation Thinking: School is a Social Network

27 09 2010

UPDATE: “Governing requires a humanism that we find largely absent in the business world of today. It calls for skills that the business world often overlooks or shuns. Governing requires the ability not to follow spreadsheets and marketing advice but to weigh all of the relevant information and decide what is best for all . . .”
School is a social network but that’s not on the menu for this week’s Education Nation. I didn’t hear the phrase “liberal education” this morning either — but could that ideal be what we lost first, that led to America losing everything else?

What if, after a couple of generations of not really educating in the public schools, too busy exploiting them as captive consumers for our competing political causes and business opportunities instead, there’s no longer a critical mass of leaders and citizenry well-enough educated themselves to think productively about how to educate the next generation any better?

We’ve all heard the phrase “liberal education” and those of us of a certain (ahem) age, probably got a passably broad one somewhere along the way to this dystopic ruin of the House Our Liberally Educated Founders Built for us.

Folks with a liberal education, for example, are supposed to understand that “liberal” in this sense isn’t necessarily the opposite of conservative but it is the opposite of narrow, literal, training-and-conditioning-focused schooling, education drilled in to spec at the local mass-production public factory. Certainly liberal education is the opposite of for-profit Big Business and the cutthroat corporate mindset. Liberal education fosters intelligent, higher-order problem-solving and complex moral thought, humanist politics. And it’s not merely technical, not even at the MIT and NASA level. Math and science alone can’t put the liberal in a liberal education.

Devoutly Catholic William F. Buckley for example, had an extraordinarily liberal education as the debate-dominating wind in his arch-conservative sails. OTOH the Governor of Texas and his education makes one weep for education: Texas Governor Treats Colleges Like Businesses [as]
Regents promote his agenda, to faculty members’ chagrin

But Americans now get little education of any kind, much less a true liberal education. It’s all schooling and all to factory specs: tough, increasingly nationalized standards, radically mind-numbing regulations, authoritarian rewards and punishments for knowledge workers (both teachers and students) meted out by principal overseers in all school systems? More of that is hardly a new education idea nor a liberal one.

Anthony Seldon, Wellington College:

“good education should be the opportunity for each child to discover who they are, how they should relate to others, and what they love about life.”

Engaged liberal education vs. “Mass-Production Factories
of the Mind”

I’ve been anxiously following the news about the new National Governors Association initiative, Complete to Compete,  and the recent announcements about states competing for Race to the Top funding, and I continue to worry about reductionist models of education driving our reform agendas.  I think that many of our policy makers and government officials at both the state and federal levels actually do believe in the full promise of liberal education, but somehow forget what that really means in educational practice when they get down to developing actual policy proposals.

Here are my notes typed in as I watched all Monday morning. They’re in Maimi-Dade with Arne Duncan and student questions this afternoon. I’ll keep listening and thinking and be pulling from these notes for blogging later:

NBC Universal

Morning Joe and Today Show

Public survey on who’s to blame for what’s failing in schools, top two get more than half the public blaming them:
elected officials

Then the very bottom group, teachers, gets only one-third of the public blaming them:
teacher unions

LA Unified Sch District has about one-third of all kids suffering from PTSD, biggest identified problem is violence

NJ Republican Gov Christie says it’s all about breaking the unions, forcing them to admit they’ve created the problem by making everything about their money and not caring about kids. Reward and punishment is his only answer, very authoritarian GOP “I am in control” attitude — must have high pay for hard work and excellent test scores, firing for slackers. Scarborough agrees and says he likes union head Randy Weingarten who was recently on his show but yes, she’s obstructing by refusing to give on pay and working conditions. The Dems (from Arne Duncan above him to Newark mayor below him) won’t contradict Christie or Joe, and smile and then emphasize that what he’s really saying is let’s make it about the kids, not the adults.

Christie pushes back, not ALL adults, only the union adults are the problem.

Everyone is very big on local involvement, parents and taxpayer citizens taking back their own schools — juxtaposed with the odd insistence that this is the top national security issue for global economic competition. (So which is it, mainly?–taking back local community standards with local control, or a federal mandate to command and commandeer, for our national defense?)

Matt Lauer interviewing the President: What about mediocre teachers being protected by unions? Obama wants to “lift up the teaching profession” — his sister is a teacher and like so many, works very hard, gives China as example where teachers are esteemed and paid on level of engineers

Asked about teacher unions — he says resistance does build up over time but to their credit, many unions and states have been able to work together to overcome in Race to the Top. “We want to work with you, not interested in imposing changes ON you” but you can’t defend the dropout factory status quo; radical change is needed and is in interest of vast majority of teachers as well as kids. There are structures that don’t work. (But then he repeats the mantra: reward good teachers and find those not doing good job and not able to improve, and “they’ve gotta go.”)

Some charters have figured out how to boost math and reading scores. We shouldn’t say just because a school is a charter, it’s a laboratory of excellence because there are poor performers too.

CHOICE – Matt asks about the Waiting for Superman lottery (Lauer: “disgrace” and Obama: “heart-breaking”) – President, says it reminds us how regardless of income, parents want the best education for their kids, and we have to make all schools so good it won’t matter where kids can get in

First parent question is about DC public schools versus his daughters’ elite private school — PResident “very honestly” says they aren’t comparable which is wrong, although there are some few publics there you can “find a way to maneuver into” — what radical reform needs to fix

Obama tied America’s general economic health to public education health, by saying bright young people who try teaching a few years need to be able to afford to stay as they begin raising families, buying homes, etc, esp. in urban areas. (Makes more sense than fighting to pay teachers more, which is all unions have power over — the feds can improve teacher quality in every community by focusing on that!) Relates to the middle-class tax cuts too, which will go for — ta-da! — teachers!

Lawrence O’Donnell joins panel after Lauer/Obama and says the reality tv Snooki crowd had fine teachers and schools, so he dares anyone to say they could have been improved as students and citizens by any better schooling (it’s their own fault, basically) — then he calls Scarborough out as a union basher and Joe “hopes he is joking” (wow, go Larry!) but O’Donnell won’t back down, says “the unions aren’t controlling the outcomes here” and what we have is a resource distribution problem, as during segregation. “If we shift those resources to charters, what happens in this school back here?” Then Joe quotes Stanford study that charters do a much better job for 70 cents on the dollar. O’Donnell answers that it’s parents driving the success of charters because they are so motivated and involved.

O’Donnell says on our national ranking fall, what’s really going on is that in India and China, the best minds finally are getting opportunities to compete for Harvard level excellence — it’s not that we got so much worse, but they are getting better?

Teach for America CEO Wendy Kopp says: don’t blame anyone from charters to parents or teachers, sums up her recs for excellent schools as remove restrictions and stay positive. Sheesh.


JJ ideas about all this while listening:

If our immoral, illiberal economy has ruined liberal education and the solution to all our problems is to get back to real liberal education in our public schools so that students will learn to do better than this, then why on earth are the unethical, illiberal economic dominators who’ve destroyed every part of American life for their own gain, being asked to take over the schools directly now? Why aren’t THEY the ones we need to rein in and regulate or else fire if they don’t reform??

Why are tough regulations, standards and top-down hierarchy being demanded for education but not business — Wall Street, oil and energy, health care, banks, other CEO billionaires. What about demanding that only the great financiers and magnates get our wealth and the power to impact our communities so profoundly, while mediocre and bad, even dangerous ones are held to tough federal standards and made to improve or else cut off from all funding and money-making certifications including contracts, tax breaks, licenses and approvals, in effect fired and dismantled? How backward is it to have the immoral, unaccountable business leaders who didn’t learn these important American values in their schooling, demanding regulation, setting standards and controlling funding of schools when it’s their anti-tax, anti-choice, anti-public interest anti-historical politics that is killing public education in the first place?

Math/science standards as school accountability have been in forefront my whole life, since Sputnik. For the economy and American competitiveness and defense. Yet we gave short shrift to the very ethics and morality and creative systems thinking needed to cope. Plus Kelly Lovejoy quoted Bertrand Russell today on learning math:

“In universities, mathematics is taught mainly to men who are going to teach mathematics to men who are going to teach mathematics to … Sometimes, it is true, there is an escape from this treadmill. Archimedes used mathematics to kill Romans, Galileo to improve the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s artillery, modern physicists (grown more ambitious) to exterminate the human race. It is usually on this account that the study of mathematics is commended to the general public as worthy of State support.”

PARENTS are the issue, over and over — being blamed, being credited, being the target and focus and most local of all local influences (remember parent/neighborhood income studies too) Why should parents be blamed by the public more than teachers, when parents are paying in, not getting paid, for whatever it is they’re perceived to be responsbile for? Is the true failure of public education that we’ve so poorly educated the public, to the point they make no productive sense when trying to provide public schooling?



2 responses

10 12 2010

Dec 10 cable coverage of university students in the streets of London protesting a TRIPLING of public tuition under the new “conservative” goverment — overheard phrase just now, from a young male protestor:

“The banks caused this and now we’ve having to pay!”

19 07 2011
Florida Gets New Ed Head But As Conservative Con Jobs Go, Not So New « Cocking A Snook!

[…] More if you can stand snooking at this train wreck any longer than it took you to read this far: Education Nation: Thinking school is a social network […]

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