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Education Standards as Big Business

Posted By on February 24, 2013


KIPP is one of the largest charter school chains

This is the eighth 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 the eighth section, Dr Weil describes how already in 1999 corporations were getting rich of the imposition of federal and state standards. He also describes of the dangerous and narrow way educational standards are used to define intelligence in an increasingly culturally diverse society.


Standards as Big Business

By Dr Danny Weil

Standards are also big business.  The math and reading lists, now linked to many state standards have a huge impact on what states can buy with citizens tax money.  The state of California, for example, which recently approved new state standards in reading and math, will spend more than one billion dollars of public monies over the next four years on textbooks for classrooms; purchasing texts from such from corporations such as Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt Brace, and McDougal Little.   Yet of this amount, the $250 million spent each year can only be spent on textbooks that the state has aligned with the new standards.  And districts in California may only spend 30% of their grants monies on texts not on the state-approved list.  And these textbook adoptions are done by a select few, not as a result of a lively community debate or critical examination by the teachers who are forced to use these texts.  According to Judy Anderson, the President of the California Math Council, a group that represents 10,000 math educators in California:

If we define mathematics as simply following the rules, that’s what this textbook adoption brings about.  There’s not any thinking going on here. (“California approves math, English textbooks tied to standards”, Education Week, June 23, 1999, p10).

Corporations love the new standards as well as the nanny state and federal governments that promise to assure that the costs associated with text book adoption are socialized, while corporations and their stockholders privatize the enormous profits.

Standards and the Definition of Intelligence

Critical inquiry, critical perception, and critical consciousness assists human beings to engage the world, to see the world as an object independent of themselves that is capable of being known, changed, and understood in relationship to themselves.  Education has as its responsibility the development of this critical consciousness and engagement, not the rote memorization and indoctrination of universally declared facts and behavioral norms.

As previously discussed, standardized tests, as presently constructed, are based on assessing whether students have digested a set of universally designated facts.  And facts are important to conservatives, for as Walter Feinberg noted:

Facts—uninterpreted naked facts—are a sign that the national identity is intact and that local cultural meanings and aspirations are under control.  When facts are challenged, when every ethnic and racial group wants its own facts taught in schools, when there are feminist facts, Afro-American facts, and gay facts—then conservatives worry that the school can no longer be counted on to transmit a unified national identity (Feinberg, Japan and the Pursuit of an American Identity, 1983, p86-87).

Universal standards equates the intelligent person with a jeopardy contestant; a person who is a repository of facts and information.  Intelligence becomes commensurate with having information and basic skills, not using information and skills to gain knowledge and then enabling oneself through its use.  For conservatives, any counter interpretation of facts, any critical inquiry, questioning or interrogation of these facts threatens the single conservative national unity; i.e., it threatens those in power by stripping naked their moral and mythological political claims as to what ideology is, its implications, and how it operates to preserve inequality and the status quo.

And of course, universal standards serve another more insidious role: they help to define and reinforce an undemocratic notion of intelligence based on solely Cartesian scientific, rationalistic claims to achievement.  Multiple intelligences, as developed by Howard Gardner, indigenous knowledge’s, women’s consciousness and cognitive processes, emotional intelligence, and multiple ways of knowing are discarded in favor of a logical-mathematical, cognitive intelligence.   Any deviation from the universal standard becomes a deviation from the norm; and the rationalistic, Cartesian norm becomes defined as what it means to be human, to be intelligent.

(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.



photo credit: Florida Community Loan Fund via photopin cc


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