Sunday, August 1, 2010

Order of the Teaching Phoenix?

This John Spencer post using Harry Potter metaphors reminds me of one of my own Potter musings.

Spencer begins by comparing Diane Ravitch to Severus Snape.
In education reform, [Diane Ravitch] plays the role of Snape.  We need her.  We need the perspective of someone who converted from a Death Eater to the Order of Phoenix and we need to believe in the concept of Phoenix.  Out of the ashes of a broken system new life can grow.  Perhaps even Arne can get out of the dark arts of testing-based reform. Yes, I know about her past.  Yes, I realize that power is a corrupting force, but she is a reminder that even powerful people can find redemption.  [Spencer, Snape: A Perspective . . , 8/1/2010]
Spencer concludes,
Despite my penchant for using Harry Potter metaphors, the truth is that we don't need more magical wizards to tell us how to fix our system.  We need humble muggles who realize that the real magic is often seen on a very local level, within the mind of a student.  Everything else is an illusion. [Spencer, Snape: A Perspective . . , 8/1/2010]
I agree totally, but I think that one of the reasons teachers are turning to Ravitch as some sort of superstar leader is the fact that few elementary and secondary teachers seem to be respected for their intellect.  From that earlier post,
There is one stereotype that I wish Harry Potter would foster: the secondary school teacher as public intellectual. In Potterworld, Dumbledore is a leading public intellectual. He's taken seriously by a government ministry and has been asked to head a key department. I can't think of any teacher who would be treated like Dumbledore.
One problem may be that many fictional teachers are romanticized versions of real teachers:  no one can live up to Matilda's Miss Honey or The Dead Poet's Society Mr. Keating.  That romanticism probably doesn't play well in the so-called real world.  I have a hunch that those who make policy would listen to House before they listen to Saved by the Bell's Mr. Belding.

I'm not going to blame Hollywood, however; the fault is ours.  Spencer has it right; "real magic is at the local level."  As Larry Cuban points out, most people accept as absolute fact the assertion that all K-12 schools fail.
Beginning in the late 1970s, followed by the Nation at Risk report and culminating in the No Child Left Behind law, the message that all U.S. schools are failing has become accepted truth among smart, well-intentioned policy elites including foundation officials. Even though it is clear that there are many schools in the U.S. that parents clamor to have their children attend, even though foreign students come in droves to U.S. universities often considered to be the best in the world where they attend undergraduate and graduate courses with U.S. students from supposedly failing high schools, the dominant belief remains that the entire K-12 system of schooling is broken. That belief is as commonplace as “smart” phones, television, and public utilities. It is a “truth” that goes largely unquestioned. [Cuban, Billionaires' Love Affair with School Refom, 7/28/2010]
Cuban goes on to illustrate that the truth is far more complicated.
Ignored is the fact that there is a three-tiered system of schooling in the U.S. (see June 20, 2010 post). The top two tiers (which over half of U.S. students attend) are considered by most parents to be either good or good enough for their children. In the third tier, however, big city and rural schools enrolling mostly poor and minority students have largely failed to educate children and youth. Surely, the three tiered system is obvious for anyone with 20/20 vision living in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and other metropolitan areas, particularly to parents who shop around for schools to send their children.
What is also plain to see but is seldom mentioned by policy elites and 24/7 media is the constant conflating of urban and rural failing schools with all U.S. schools. Such a mindless mistake propagates misinformation and sustains a “crisis” mentality that continually bashes teachers and undermines trust in public schools. [Cuban, Billionaires' Love Affair with School Refom, 7/28/2010]
Had all teachers, and I am chief among the sinners in this regard, worked more magic at the local level, NCLB might not have been possible.  To take Spencer a step further, teachers need to start local Orders of the Phoenix that don't rely on Ravitch or others to lead.  To do that, we will need to lead with our reason as well as the magic of romanticism.

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