Reducing Students to a Commodity
This is the third of a series of guest posts by Dr Danny Weil from an article (World Class Standards: Whose World, Which Economic Classes and What Standards?) he originally published in Daily Censored.
In this third section, Dr Weil traces identifies the conservative ideologues and corporate leaders who were the chief architects of the “standards” movement and Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation. He underscores their emphasis on “no frills’ education and “quality control,” treating students as products, rather than human beings.
(I have bolded points that deserve special attention.)
Linking the Discussion of Standards to Education Purpose (continued)
By Dr Danny Weil
Economic conservatives and neo-liberals, however, go even one step further, arguing that there is now a need to eliminate what they term “frills” in education, to narrow the offerings in curriculum, to increase the number of required subjects, to standardize schools across the board so that they are barely distinguishable from community to community, and to support and promote a culture of private accumulation of wealth and individualistic choice. Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Ron Unz recently made this point:
“The problem isn’t what schools lack but what they possess in abundance, namely half-baked educational fads produced by elite educational theorists. The list is quite long: whole language, bilingual education, inventive spelling, fuzzy math, constructivist science, endless self-esteem programs and other wrong headed pedagogical experiments. According to numerous studies, this educational machinery produces students with the highest self-esteem but the lowest academic test scores of any of their global peers. (“Voucher Veto,”The Nation Magazine, p 67).”
Unz goes on to propose that the problem be corrected not by adding to the curriculum, but by subtracting from it. He continues:
“Instead of more money, more teachers, more programs or more days of schooling, we should be reducing as much of the burdensome nonsense in public schools as possible. If a straightforward academic curriculum seems to work reasonably well in nearly every other major nation, the burden of proof is on those who say that it can’t possibly be tried in America’s unique society (ibid p7).:
Some of this “nonsense” can be found in such “frivolous pursuits” as recess in elementary schools. For many elementary school students, recess and student play has been eliminated in favor of rigid, authoritarian and regimented learning. Joy, relationships with others in the world and about the world become educational add-ons that threaten the authoritarian structure of education. Even kid pleasures seem to be under attack as “cheap frills” (Aronowitz, Pedagogy of Freedom, 1998, p6). And of course the main culprit, as defined by these elite voices of industry, rests with public schools and public education.
From the economic conservative and neo-liberal perspective, educational assessment and world class standards must be linked to what it means to be successful in the new global economy. Through their efforts, they have created standard and assessment think-tanks, such as Achieve Incorporated, a non-profit creation by a group of CEO’s and the National Governors Association that is currently co-chaired by IBM’s Chief Executive Officer, Louis Gerstner Jr. and Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, as well as the National Education Goals Report, launched in 1989 as a result of the controversy over the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk. The Goals Report announces its mission as:
“By the year 2000, American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern society (National Education Goals Report, 1991).”
By adopting what they like to call “world class standards”, these corporate and business leaders are working to identify what post-Fordist skills will be necessary for the workplace of the future (Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory,1997). The clamor to define world class standards and skills has been linked to America’s presumed continued dominance in the world economy and both economic conservatives and neo-liberal policy makers have tied the development of these standards to American market competitiveness.
Diane Ravitch, recognized as one of the darlings and chief architects of the modern standards movement, has stated the economic conservative and neo-liberal rationale for standards:
“Americans expect strict standards to govern the construction of buildings, bridges, highways, and tunnels; shoddy work would put lives at risk. They expect stringent standards to protect their drinking water, the food they eat, and the air they breathe…Standards are created because they improve the activity of life (Ravitch, National Standard in American Education, 1996, p8-9).
For conservative standards advocates like Ravitch, it seems that human educational standards can be equated with “quality control” in industry, assuring that the product conforms to industry standards.
(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.