aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

School Daze

In 1986, I was admitted to the doctoral program in Secondary Education: Curriculum and Instruction at ISU. My admission would have been unthinkable in previous years, since I didn't have the assumed academic and professional background (no Education degree, no classroom teaching experience). But this was the 1980s, and a wave of reform was breaking over the education establishment. Through publications like A Nation at Risk (1983), published by the US Department of Education under Bill Bennett, and Mortimer Adler's The Paideia Proposal (1982), critics of public schools were articulating both a need for changing the way we do school and a vision of what schools should be.

By the time I graduated with my Ph.D. in 1991, the School of Education at ISU had gone through a curriculum review as part of their accreditation process which virtually guaranteed that nobody like me (or the few other oddballs in our programs) could ever be admitted again. At the same time, the Usual Suspects in the area of Education -- the gurus who had once headlined every Edjumacation conference and written all the books that insiders read, and who had been discredited and sidelined by the school reform movement -- had now successfully captured the mantle of "reform" and were now peddling the same old nostrums under the reform banner! The flying wedge of reform had hit the center of the Education establishment's front line, penetrated it deeply, and then simply been absorbed and eliminated. The effect was almost as if the reform movement had never been.

My point is that those who set out to reform public schooling face a daunting task. Hit it as hard as you like, the Way Things Are will simply absorb your blow. Alternatively, seeking to rise to power within the establishment with a view to reforming it is like joining the Borg: you will be assimilated. And any efforts that actually impact the system will not simply be futile; you will be opposed, vigorously. Kicking a hornets' nest doesn't compare to the angry swarms you will stir up in the form of teachers and their allies, who will depict you as heartless child-haters, greedy corporatists, and Visigoths plundering the treasures of civilization. If the reformer is suprised at the vigor of the response one meets, one shouldn't be. As John Jay Chapman wrote in Practical Agitation (1900), "People who love soft methods and hate iniquity forget this, —that reform consists in taking a bone from a dog."

All of which brings us down to the present controversies over public schools in Indiana and the unseemly brawl between Gov. Mike Pence and State Supt. of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. The origins of this brouhaha really lie in the previous administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels and State Supt. Tony Bennett. There, an attempt at serious change was made (whether it constituted a "reform" or not, I reserve judgment). It provoked a vigorous response, as it surely should have been expected to. But Supt. Bennett had fudged a number of things and was caught in some shady favor granting, and this meant that he couldn't retain sufficient support to fend off the flying monkeys of Glenda Ritz who upset him in the 2012 election. Ritz, flushed with victory, set out to roll back the barbarians. Which was only to be expected, except that Mitch Daniels had been succeeded by Mike Pence, who had the same general reform agenda and was moreover willing to play hardball. It's been one ugly episode after another ever since here in Hoosier-land.

My inbox is full of articles and impassioned screeds, often by-lined "Republicans for Ritz" or "Democrats for Pence" as each attempts to represent themselves as the adults in the room over against the petulant children on the other side. Who's right? Neither, in my opinion. But that's just me.

Let us grant that the way we do school is just plain awful. This is not a criticism of the many fine teachers I know, but the system as a whole is in drastic need of reform. But reforming it is almost impossible (see above). So, what do you do? Just scrap the whole thing and start over? Yeah, try getting that through the General Assembly. So the Governor and his minions are trying whatever they can think of to crack the system open and get it to respond appropriately. I think much of what they want to do is misguided, but I understand the impulse to do something. Meanwhile, Glenda the Good Witch defending her tower of the Way Things Have Always Been is not a sufficient response to their attempts at reform. But I predict that when the dust settles, things will be pretty much the way they always were, but with more paperwork. *sigh*

"They make a desert, and call it peace." -- Tacitus

"Mountains will labor, only to give birth to a silly mouse." -- Horace

"Of course we're lost! But we're making such good time, let's keep on going!" -- Brother Juniper


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