Thursday, May 13, 2010

Education: An American Tragedy

The New York Review of Books posts this E.D Hirsch review of Diane Ravitch's  The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.  As a teacher, I began to channel Cassius from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar when I read the following paragraphs.
Yet I do not agree with Ravitch that we should chiefly rely on experienced educators. We certainly should consult them and win them over, but we have been relying on them, and they have failed us—not least in their response to the No Child Left Behind law. Ravitch strongly criticizes NCLB for its narrow emphasis on reading and math and its reduction of schooling to preparation for tests. Her analysis is factually accurate. But to understand why the law failed we need to imagine what might have happened had our experienced educators responded differently to it.
The law would have had a much more beneficial effect if educators had reacted with more insight to its provisions. NCLB was quite right to place a dominant emphasis on the development of language ability and reading skill. Verbal skill is known to be a chief constituent of adult success and effectiveness. But verbal ability is not, as the schools wrongly assumed, simply a how-to skill. It is largely a knowledge-based skill. NCLB did not, after all, mandate that the schools must practice reading strategies at the expense of a strong curriculum in literature, history, science, and the arts—the very kind of schooling that, according to the findings of cognitive science, would raise reading abilities by systematically building background knowledge. The decision to teach strategies instead was made by experienced educators who had been indoctrinated by education schools into an anticurricular point of view, emphasizing “how to” read, and giving quite inadequate attention to what should be learned to build up needed knowledge (Hirsch, How to Save the Schools, 13/5/2010). [Bold Mine]
Some of the blame goes to those who love what Emerson in "Self-Reliance"calls the "foolish consistency [that] is the hobgoblin of little minds.  This consistency is "adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines"  I'm pretty sure that and school principals, district superintendents, and secretaries of education at all levels also have a love affair, metaphorically, of course, with that same foolish consistency.

As comforting as passing the blame is, however, it strikes me that Cassius in Shakespeare Julius Caesar has it right, "The fault . . .is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, . . ."  I just hope we get a chance to fix the mess we created.

No comments: