Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Musings On Corporate Education Reform: In the Absence of Trust Grows Sickness

May 19, 2013

A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
William Blake
The Auguries of Innocence.


Insofar as an absence is as dynamic as a presence, a sane society that wishes to remain more or less healthy need be exceedingly careful of the things we remove, that much the more if those things are vital human needs removed from vital human institutions. The absence of beauty from a building, for example, does not create building minus beauty. It creates something radically different and profoundly diminished. Such changes can be said to be environmental and they are thus as subtle, unpredictable and dangerous as the removal of a species of insect from the rain forest. We now know that such a removal will create chaos even if we do not know when or where as the removal creates a chain of events outside of the logic of cause and effect. Such a removal, that is, may manifest itself in the Tundra ten, twenty, thirty years after the change.
If this is true with the removal of an insect, how much truer must it be with the removal of as primal and vital a human need as trust in an institution of learning ?

The most degrading and increasingly explicit message from the corporate reform campaign to American public school teachers can be boiled down to the following four words: We don’t trust you. We don’t trust you to teach your students. We don’t trust you to test your students. We don’t trust you to mark the standardized tests that we manufacture for your students. We don’t trust you to know your subject. We don’t trust you to have standards so we have provided standards for you that you will be punished for not following.
If fact, we don’t really trust you to do much of anything at all except the things that we tell you to do and even these we don’t trust you to do. And this is why we reserve the right to micro manage every aspect of your professional life

Of course, this is not the language that is employed to get their message through. The corporate reformers speak, incessantly, of accountability and more accountability – all of which is conveniently quantified on standardized tests and reduced to sacred and all revealing data.

Why do you need trust when you have accountability ?

Of course, only a vulgar mind would confuse trust with accountability. Accountability is the thing you need when you have already banished or you are incapable of trust.
And this is to say nothing of Bill Gate’s moronic totalitarian notions concerning students wearing galvanic bracelets to measure involvement in the lesson or placing teachers under video surveillance under the pretense of sharing the practices of master teachers.

In whatever form it takes, the message is the same: You, Mr. or Ms. Teacher are a person wholly unworthy of trust.

And don’t think for a moment that the students don’t also understand this.

For an additional kick in the head, the very same “reformers” who have institutionalized distrust of teachers demand themselves to be trusted unconditionally (or at the very least, unconditionally obeyed) even as they perform untested experiment after untested experiment on America’s unknowing children.

Consider the fact that Bill Gate’s Common Core Standards which are now remaking American public schools from coast to coast have never even been field tested.
Consider the fact that Valve Added Metric (VAM ) evaluation schemes which will determine the livelihoods of millions of teachers are wholly unscientific and akin to a roll of the dice.
Consider the obsession with merit pay despite a century of failed attempts to prove it somehow improves teacher quality.
Consider the fact that there is no evidence that any of the corporate reform schemes improves anything other than the bank accounts of their proponents.
And on it goes.

It is difficult at times, I will admit, in the face of all this not to fall into despair. Battling systemic degradation on a daily basis wears one down. I see it in the faces of my colleagues more and more and I do not know where or how it will end. Individuals so predatory that they have amassed the wealth of entire nations, at the same time that they have essentially harnessed the political machinery of the state, are neither easily defeated nor likely to admit they are wrong. Ever. No matter what. Observer Michael Bloomberg. Or Bill Gates. Or Eli Broad. Or their political operatives, Rahm Emmanuel or Andrew Cuomo or Chris Christie or Cory Booker, or the biggest catch of them all, Barack Obama.
I do not know where this will go. I do know this though, and I know it in the marrow of my bones: any society that systemically institutionalizes distrust of a profession as vital as teachers has entered a state of moral, intellectual and spiritual decay of a terrifying order. It is an order that true visionaries like Blake prophesied and knew would not long survive.
Nor should it.


Sickening: May Day in Corporate American Education

May 1, 2013

Today is May Day, the international celebration of worker’s rights, and I spent much of my working day fighting off a sickening feeling deep in the pit of my stomach caused not by anything I ingested, but rather by insult to my dignity and character, a sensation increasingly familiar to members of my profession from sea to shining sea.
I am a teacher.
I am a teacher fated to practice my craft in the midst of the most cynical, relentless and well-financed public relations campaign against any profession in American history. According to the campaign, I am of an occupation whose members have proved so inept and incompetent that, according to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, American education is in such a wretched state it now poses a threat to our national security. The campaign is one of two essential components in the corporate takeover of the American public school system. The other is high stakes testing,” the mechanism by which the takeover is occurring and occurring at alarming speed. It was in relation to such testing (bear in mind that everything in American education is now in relation to tests which are in themselves insults to the students) that the aforementioned insult was given.

One week after most of my students were forced to endure up to 18 hours of standardized tests, I am obliged to make sure my nearly 40 students complete another battery of standardized tests, an exercise I have engaged in annually for years now. But this year will be different. And so will all the years that follow.

The insult I speak of is this: my employer, the New York State Department of Education, no longer finds me a person worthy of trust. Let me rephrase that: the DOE flat out does not trust me. It’s nothing personal, you understand. Such distrust is extended, officially if insidiously, to all of my colleagues across the entire state. Like them, I have never given the DOE reason not to trust me; they have simply assumed that I, like all teachers, am too morally degenerate to do the right thing. Of course, they don’t use that kind of language to explain their reasoning. Indeed, they do not bother to explain it at all, implying that the truth of our degeneracy is as self evident as the credo that all people are created equal. They simply informed me in writing that from now on I am forbidden to score the grades of my student’s tests. They fear, I suppose, I might inflate their scores and thus my own teaching ability as more and more teachers are more and more perceived and judged as mere aggregates of their students’ standardized test scores.

All of this, of course, is done to insure and concretize the absolute centrality of the high stakes standardized test in American public schools, to establish once and for all a system that will, in words of that great educational leader, Mike Bloomberg, “hold teacher’s feet to the fire”. And it will hold them even as it reduces our children to bubble test taking pawns in a vast, cynical multi billion dollar corporate hijacking of the last and most vital public institution in America. It is now clear that, for the sake of the tests, any price is to be paid, any sacrifice to be made including, above all, human decency and dignity. After all, can dignity be measured ?

The sickening feeling reminded me once again of how degraded teachers’ working conditions have become, how soft and complicit our unions have been in our own degradation, how thoroughly we have been stripped of our professionalism under a corporatism that is all but totally internalized. And most of all how hard we will have to fight to win back that which has been stolen.
Yes, yes, I am aware of the cheating scandals in Atlanta and the yet to be affirmed scandal bubbling still beneath the miraculous gains and the stupendous amount of erasures in DC schools under the holy reign of Michelle Rhee. But the prohibition against teachers grading their own students’ tests was announced earlier in the year, long before those stories broke.
There is something else at work here. Some other message being given. Some other message meant to be received. And as for the alleged cheating in Atlanta and elsewhere, threaten a person’s livelihood with experimental policies that have never worked on the face of the earth, for the sole reason that no other nation on the face of the earth has ever been reckless or stupid enough to implement them, and you are bound to produce crazy, even criminal results. This is not a mystery. People with guns to their heads will do desperate things. The question is not why did they do the desperate things but who put the guns to their heads in the first place and why? Cui bono? Who benefits? The kids? As in “putting kids first?” I think not.

There is a lesson here and it is a lesson that is sure to be learned on one level or another by all of my students. They are intelligent and can put 2 and 2 together. The lesson is this: Teachers are not to be trusted. This is a sick lesson for my students to learn. Sick and damaging in a way, that like dignity and decency, cannot be statistically measured
Today is May Day, the international celebration of worker’s rights, and I spent much of my working day fighting off a sickening feeling deep in the pit of my stomach caused not by anything I ingested but rather by insult to my dignity and character, a sensation increasingly familiar to members of my profession from sea to shining sea.
I am a teacher.
I did not become a teacher to be insulted and treated with abject contempt.
And neither I nor my colleagues will be treated this way.