Saturday, June 14, 2014

On Social and Educational Pathologies

This was a comment I made in response to a perceptive article by Robert Reich (a former U.S. Secretary of Labor). That article can be found via the link at the end of this post. I have lightly edited my original comment and added the title.

On Social and Educational Pathologies
Thanks for making these points, Robert Reich. A word about the schools in poorer (or even not-so-poor) areas: as part of the war against workers in general, and public workers and public institutions in particular, the public schools and those who teach in them have been targeted.

The scapegoating of teachers is so widespread that the real problems in the schools, with causes both social and structural, are unaddressed and even unacknowledged.

Those who suffer from this are primarily the sincere students -- and, along with them, the sincere teachers. Fortunately, there are still many in these two categories -- but they are both endangered species.  The recent punitive "reforms" might finally make them extinct.

The schools have little control over the social pathologies that enter into the schools and doom them. This has to be addressed by the communities -- and that entails sustained, collective effort to stem and reverse the alienating social tides that have been generated, largely, by commercial forces over generations and whose destructive effects have been similar to that of hurricanes. This effort needs to be sincere, and yet humble, open-minded and open-hearted -- a genuine grassroots movement of recognition, healing and empowerment, rather than a "cure" imposed from "above".

This is not an easy task -- but one sees little talk about this beyond the occasional sermons in the local churches, and there appears to be no regional or national organized effort to speak of.

The schools do have some control over the structural problems afflicting K-12 education. These include, in the high schools, a long neglect of commonsense concerns about traditional things such as:

-- respect, civility and integrity;
-- warmth, nurturing and collegiality;
-- purpose and choice;
-- sequence;
-- focus;
-- time and pacing;
-- familiarization and  habituation;
-- feedback and correction;
-- diligence and perseverance;
-- success and the building of confidence;
-- reflection, questioning, exploration and application.

Unfortunately, the administrative layers in the school systems have been more preoccupied with toeing the line to keep their jobs and clamber up the ladders, focusing on surface appearance rather than on content and humanity. 

More and more time has been directed at mostly unnecessary supervision of teachers, dictating "methods" of teaching and at the same time demanding improved passing percentages and test results. From all of this, fraud, superficiality and outright cruelty -- to both students and teachers -- are becoming the norm.

This is not an atmosphere in which teaching and learning, both of which involve relaxed yet sustained attention -- and also, at times, playful creativity -- can survive, let alone flourish.  Basic honesty, empathy, responsiveness and independent thinking are becoming increasingly scarce.

Two clearly observable (and linked) symptoms of the educational pathologies that have been generated by all of this are:

(a) the obsession with testing;
(b) the micromanagement and punitive evaluation of teachers.

The well-financed attempts to privatize the public school systems and to attack teacher tenure are part of what threatens to further demolish whatever remains of value and integrity in K-12 education in this country.
The schools, already afflicted with multiple problems that are almost impossible to handle without collective recognition and effort, are being made into even more hellish places, with all that has heart, tradition and value forcibly extinguished.


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