Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Battle for Education Reform is Heating Up: But what is the purpose of education?

Betsy DeVos and the battle for education reform, Round 1 - Washington Times

"Obvious Michigan and political party biases aside, Mr. Engler’s points of view should nonetheless be given great weight. He is, after all, president of a D.C.-based association Business Roundtable, which represents leading U.S. corporations — businesses that know what type of workforce they need to survive in a free market." ~ former Michigan Governor John Engler
Nobody would suspect the Washington Times would advocate for kids before business, but this statement by itself should send shivers through every American who cares enough about the real and historic purposes of public education: EQUITY. If you count the fact that Engler intentionally lit the fuse that has principally led to the destruction of a number of neighborhood schools in Michigan's urban areas, displacing thousands of kids and subjecting them to any one of several fly-by-night, corporate run charters, his and the efforts of many policy- versus practice-based education reformers are bent on destroying the primary purpose for which even the founding fathers saw in universal public education.

Perhaps it was best said by our second president, John Adams when he wrote:
"...wherever a general knowledge and sensibility have prevailed among the people arbitrary government and every kind of oppression have lessened and disappeared in proportion..." [emphasis added]
Adams went on to describe the public responsibility for ensuring the education of everyone at public expense:
"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a distance of one mile square without a school in it. Not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." [emphasis added]
Nothing in Adams' admonition for ensuring an education of the whole people inferred it was intended to be training for private or business purposes. Instead, universal public education was to be a civic responsibility available to all (within one mile square) so as to ensure we could defend ourselves against the tyranny of power, the very same tyranny we now see bent on the destruction of our public school system.

The late David Tyack, professor emeritus and educational historian at Stanford, once wrote:

"By many accounts public schools are in trouble today. Grim stories appear daily in the media about violence, high dropout rates, and low test scores. Beyond such immediate concerns lies an uneasiness about purpose, a sense that we have lost our way. As the larger purposes that once gave resonance to public education have been muted, constituencies that at one time supported public education have become splintered and confused about what to do." [emphasis added]
The larger purposes are to prepare all children to contribute to society by not only having the ability to be productive but in a larger sense, to be able to question and challenge those forces that are hell-bent on suppressing thought and keeping the lower classes in check. Education is not simply to prepare a working class to feed corporate appetites -- both as workers and consumers. The latter is how billionaire reformers such as Betsy DeVos, supported by their legions of political and media supporters, see it. Unfortunately, some of this has leaked into the upper classes which more than ever are forcing their children to be competitive at school so they can win what those parents see as the greatest prizes -- money, power, fame. Today's reformers want children to be good at doing school and to demonstrate compliance with the ability to consume vast quantities of content knowledge, even though most of what they'll learn will long be forgotten in a short period of time; but they'll have the credentials that say they once knew all of this stuff and are entitled to the bounty that comes with it. But that's a whole other argument given the rates of un- or under-employment of college graduates with huge student loan burdens.

In contrast to Adams and some of the most enlightened education theorists of the 19th and 20th centuries, Ellwood Cubberly felt that schools should be about efficient sorting of children into basic social roles. His views in many ways are closely related to today's reformers who advocate for no-nonsense charters and regimented learning environments:
We should give up the exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal and that our society is devoid of classes. The employee tends to remain an employee; the wage earner tends to remain a wage earner ... one bright child may easily be more to the National Life than thousands of low mentality.
In other words, it's perfectly okay to have selective charter and private schools operating at public expense, available only to those students whose parents have the means and capability of placing their child in a limited number of classrooms.  After all, our traditional neighborhood schools that are left can simply serve the remaining masses who, in the world of Cubberly and other modern advocates of reform, don't stand a chance anyway.

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Sources: Besides the Washington Times, all are cited in Shyman, Eric. Vicious Circles in Education Reform: Assimilation, Americanization, and Fulfilling the Middle Class Ethic. Rowman & Littlefield. 2016

Adams, p. 9

Tyack, p. ix

Cubberly, p. 17