Motoko Rich of the NY Times may have set out to write a pro-charter school puff piece, but what the Times wound up publishing is actually something far more interesting and, in a disturbing way, far more revealing. Indeed, her article might end up as some kind of classic in pro-corporate education reform propaganda passed off as journalism. I don’t think I’ve ever read an ostensibly serious news article that so perfectly matched the presumptuousness and oceanic arrogance of corporate education reform ideas with the actual breathing human beings possessed by an equal abundance of presumptuousness and arrogance necessary to bring such foolishness to life. And what this marriage of reckless ideas and willing executors are bringing to life is nothing short of the blue print for a corporate work model for the schools of the future.
It goes roughly like this: in that down time between graduating from college ( preferably an Ivy League college ) and beginning your real career (in finance, law or high level management ) you altruistically devote two or three years of your life preaching (and living) the gospel of high expectations and no excuses to young brown and black kids in publicly funded charter schools and then — poof! – you’re off to something “ bigger and better.” Sometimes those bigger and better things are even within education; perhaps you’ll employ the vast knowledge you’ve accumulated in your two years of teaching and become a principal. Better yet, if you wish to have a career making educational policy, you can rest assured TFA is there to help. Indeed, it has established itself as a virtual fast track for pseudo-educator educational strivers. Former TFA teachers are now serving as superintendents and policy makers all over the country. Michelle Rhee, TFA’s most infamous pseudo-educator, has distinguished herself as a failed and fired chancellor of the D.C. school system as well as a highly paid professional corporate reform propaganda artist. At any rate, one thing is for sure: your time in the classroom actually teaching will almost certainly be extremely limited.
This model serves the increasingly corporate society in several crucial ways, particularly in public sector industries, the last strong hold of unionized workers in America. First, it relieves the industry and hence the taxpayers of the burdensome pensions and health care of “lifers,” and diverts their taxes to higher salaries for charter CEO’s, contracts with testing companies and the new exploding field of education technology, the latter designed to decrease the workforce that much the more. More importantly, on a more subconscious level, the model serves the essential role of inculcating American youth the with the corporate business model and its inherent values long before the students can begin to know what is happening to them. Indeed, it teaches them to make sense of the world through a corporate business model. From a purely business perspective and the long term lens of corporate colonization, what, pray tell, could be better?
Of course, the words” corporate” and “business model” never appear in the article. “Stability” and “student” and “community” are each used once.
What Rich describes is the ethos of the increasingly powerful and utterly insidious Teach For America. And all this is rendered between the lines by Rich so casually and with such enthusiasm you might think she was reporting a pep rally or that she picked up a bit of the TFA “can do spirit “ by osmosis!
Consider this sentence: “ As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable. “
Forgive my naïve questions, but how is a public institution, particularly a school, mounting a “youth cult” a good thing? Exactly how is it “acceptable and, at times, even desirable? “ Are not cults, by definition prejudicial, based on blind obedience, and not something we would ever desire in a public institution, especially a school? Would Rich feel the same about a fundamentalist Christian cult or a cult of Hari Krishna, or perhaps about a geriatric cult? Would these too be “acceptable, and at times, even desirable?”
I think not.
And what is it that motivates the “youth cult? ” Is it the endlessly repeated mantra of “putting students first” and the like?
“We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?’ ” said Jennifer Hines, senior vice president of people and programs at YES Prep. “There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.”
Again, from a corporate perspective one can easily understand how such passerby teachers provide great comfort.
But we must also understand what else is being taught here. Tacitly. Implicitly. Very, very subtly and by example. Apart from any academics, every day such schools impart valuable lessons in corporate consciousness to impressionable souls merely by the way they operate and by the very values they extol. Few, if any of these values are traditionally associated with education. None would be found in the private schools attended by the fortunate children of all corporate education reformers. Just as Obama’s Race to the Top is a brilliant if reprehensible method to employ the public education system itself as a tool to institutionalize competition as the highest and noblest human impulse, so too do the Yes Academies and KIPP schools of the world tacitly impart similar corporate values to their students on an hourly basis.
None of them, of course, are spelled out.
In the same manner that my friend and colleague Michael Fiorillo has written that the test is itself the curriculum, without a word being spoken the students learn that since everything is transient, community is meaningless. Indeed, there is no such thing as community. There are only brands like Yes Academy or Success Academy or American Apparel or Coca Cola. There are no lasting relationships.
Students learn that, as opposed to the past where schools were often a bedrock of social cohesion or at the very least a stabilizing institution offering continuity in a world of chaos today’s schools with their ever shifting staff have no more stabilizing importance than say, a 7/ 11 or a Dunkin Donuts.
From those “pushing to redefine the arc of the teaching career “ to a couple of years, the “youth cult “ teaches students that teaching is not really a serious career but something you do until you figure out what you want to do.
Or they may learn that teaching is so easy to master that one can become a principal at age 28.
By the time students graduate from the Yes Academies and Success Academies and KIPP schools of the world, wholly aside from the corporate advertising that was designed to assault them from the moment of consciousness, their psyches are likely to have been completely colonized by Corporate Think.
What is striking about the article is that neither Rich nor her subjects seem even remotely concerned about anything but themselves and the institutions they work for.
Rich appears to be so gaga over the young popinjays that she does not seem the slightest bit interested in musing over what happens to children in communities when schools, perhaps the only force of institutionalized stability in their neighborhoods, become brief stops on the journey of resume builders.
Neither, despite all the rhetoric about putting kids first, does Wendy Kopp.
“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”
Forget for a moment, Kopp’s silly language and preposterous claims of how her somehow “tremendously developed” teachers are “great” almost out of the egg. Put aside for the moment, that Kopp has taken to using language not as something to use to approximate a striving for truth but rather, as in advertising, to manipulate the listener in order to sell a product: herself and TFA.
Where is Kopp’s recognition of school as a social and communal base?? Where is her understanding of school as an intrinsic element of a community in a world that, for numerous reasons, seems more fragmented by the hour?
Tyler Dowdy, one of Kopp’s newly minted “great teachers”, provides the answer to the question Kopp doesn’t ask: “ I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing, “he said, “ and always moving onto something bigger and better.”
Such language is not the language of an educator but rather of advertising. I would not want anyone who parrots such nonsense near my child.
The more I look at it the more I believe that the corporate education reform campaign (I refuse to see this as a “movement”) is the first wave of an assault to utterly reconfigure, not merely labor relations, but the idea of the social contract itself.
Articles like this in publications as prestigious and influential as the New York Times are shameless but hardly harmless. Wittingly or not, both by tone and omission, they set the parameters as to what is and what is not acceptable. In this way they are essential components in the dark arts of perception management, the only field in which the corporate education reformers have displayed unambiguous brilliance, spending millions in every conceivable form of media to convince exhausted and frightened Americans of the righteousness of their cause. Think “Waiting for Superman.” Think NBC’s “Education Nation.” Think “Won’t Back Down.” Think dozens of billionaire backed front groups such as the repulsive Educators 4 Excellence or Parent Revolution created to to nothing less than deceive the most vulnerable among us.
Think for a moment of our barbaric invasion of Iraq based on nothing but lies and greed. Think for a moment how, in a matter of a few short years, the corporate education reformers have been able to deflect all of the cruel realities of contemporary American life, from the criminals of Wall Street and Washington and their economic policy from hell, away from themselves. Think for a moment how they have been able to convince an increasingly frightened, desperate fragmented and impoverished population of a fantasy
“Education crisis” and one caused solely by bad teachers protected by evil unions.
This should be risible. But many have swallowed it whole.
This is a remarkable if horrific achievement and one that comes with an enormous amount of conscious effort.
Intentionally or not, articles like Rich’s serve as the first volley in such efforts. The idea is to make what is unimaginable one year seem, not merely inevitable, but a vast improvement a few years later. Allow an example: if someone was to tell me ten years ago that standardized tests would become the central nervous system of the entire American public school system and that the fate of all who labor in it would now be dependent upon such a limited and unreliable measure, I’d have dismissed them as mad.
Today, I watch my colleagues and our students being driven mad by this very reckless, imbecilic and once unthinkable policy.
The education reformers are like nothing before in American history and they will stop and nothing to get their way. And they know exactly what they are doing and how to do it.
We must be as vigilant.