Taking Back Our Schools – Part I
This is the first of a series of guest posts by Dr Danny Weil, a public interest attorney, prolific writer and staunch advocate for public education. He has given me permission to reprint an article (World Class Standards: Whose World, Which Economic Classes and What Standards?) he originally posted at Daily Censored. He has republished this article he first wrote fourteen years ago to warn people of the disastrous educational and political consequences of the federal mandate (supported by both Bush and Obama) which has forced a regime of educational “standards” and standardized tests on all American public schools.
In his introduction, Dr Weil makes the following critical points:
- Teachers, parents and communities have lost control of US public schools.
- The current debate over testing standards is a political discussion that has nothing to do with education.
- At present the main purpose of American schools isn’t to enhance either learning or democratic participation but to facilitate the corporate elite’s domination and control over the American public.
- Before teachers, parents and communities can take back control of public schools, they must first ask themselves what it means to learn and to educate and why society even bothers to educate its citizens.
(I have bolded specific points which deserve special attention)
World Class Standards: Whose World, Which Economic Classes and What Standards?
by Dr Danny Weil
“If educational goals and core values are developed by a few educators in isolation from their communities, no matter how well thought out they may be they will not create the conditions needed for change.” — Tony Wagner
How Schools Change
Several years ago, while at an inservice day with elementary and middle school teachers in the state of Washington, I heard many teachers comment that if we are going to teach for thinking we had better develop new, authentic methodologies, theories, standards and instruments for assessment. As the teachers began to discuss, question and attempt through dialogue to develop a clear vision of critical thinking and what it means to be an educated person in today’s society, it became apparent to them that the standardized tests predominant in education today are simply not able to meet the challenge of quality assessment of student performance and what it means to be a human being. In fact, almost all of these primary and middle school teachers agreed that the standards debate in this country was little more than a hindrance to real educational reform as teachers consistently complain that they must prepare their students for assessment instruments that test for simply basic skills and rote memorization. These teachers remarked that standards, or assessment in American education, continues to be linked to a form of anorexic bulimic learning whereby students starve themselves until test time only to stuff themselves with skills, facts, and details to be regurgitated without the benefit of intellectual digestion. Laced to this, they argued, was the teaching and assessment of basic skills divorced from meaningful tasks and critical inquiry.
As we sat and discussed the necessity for authentic assessment, as opposed to the inauthenticity of standardized tests, almost all teachers, especially in elementary school, commented that their students never asked them how they performed on the standardized state tests once they were completed; nor did their parents seem to use the information the scores provided to develop a clear idea of what their children were able to do as a result of the time they spend in schools or what it really means to be educated. For other than political pundits, real estate agents, and bureaucrats, the test scores were of limited use and represented little more than a collection of anonymous numerics linked to issues of bureaucratic control and power, as opposed to wedded to critical sensibility, self-assessment, and achievements in performance.
While listening and participating in the dialogue with these teachers, it became clear to me that these teachers were becoming aware of the ideological nature of the current testing debate and what it implies for teaching and learning; they were beginning to see that the controversy over standards and assessment, in fact the question as to the purpose for the entire enterprise of education itself, was a political discussion. Realizing that the debate over education was in fact a political debate that included issues of class, race, culture and gender, afforded these teachers the capability to begin to move towards an understanding of what Paulo Freire so aptly characterized as “education as an act of freedom as opposed to education as the practice of domination” (Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed p75). It also afforded them the ability to connect education and its purposes to larger issues in society itself and begin to formulate their own perspectives as to the role of education, intelligence and what it means to be an educated person.
Many, if not all of these teachers, had never been afforded an opportunity to discuss the role of education and what it means to be intelligent. Their work was defined as a “divorce from conception” as they executed methodological techniques and practices most of which they had never even been asked to think about. As teachers, they had been told in “training” programs that learning and knowing were neutral acts separated and divorced from ideology and socio-historical, economic, cultural and political dimensions of life. The schools of education that “train” teachers as opposed to “educating them” (Dewey, 1997) produce teacher-technicians who have never been asked to think about the philosophical act of teaching, why they teach, for whom and what purposes knowledge and education serve, or how educational practices relate to dominant and privileged theories of learning.
As we continued our discussions and questioning over time, pondering about our work and critically problematizing and examining the theories that guided our practice, we became aware that it was important to first broach the fundamental question rarely discussed: what is the purpose of education and why should we educate human beings? Of course, depending on ones’ point of view, the answer to this question can vary considerably. Yet we all concluded that before we could even think about what it means to learn or what it means to educate, let alone delve into the role of standards and assessment, the fundamental question of what we are trying to assess and why must be tied to the deeper question of why society even bothers to educate its citizens.
(To be continued.)
Dr. Danny Weil is a public interest attorney who has practiced for more than twenty years and has been published in a case of first impression in California. He is no longer active as a lawyer but has written seven books on education, has taught second grade in South Central LA, PS 122, taught K-1 migrant children in Santa Maria, California and Guadalupe, California, taught in the California Youth Authority to first and second degree murderers and taught for seventeen years at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, CA. in the philosophy department. Dr. Weil holds a BA in Political Economics and Philosophy, a multi-subject bilingual credential in education (he is fluent in Spanish) and has a PhD in Critical Thinking. He is a writer for the Truthout Intellectual Project.