The Power of Truth (from a Concerned Parent in Windham)

“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell 1984

This blog, like others that have been sent in from parents, shines the light of truth on the corporate education reform industry.

Read it and know that the time has come to either fight back or give up.  Silence is not an option.

From a Concerned Parent in Windham, Connecticut:

 “When I use a word,” said Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.” Humpty Dumpty must have been the Senior Marketing Consultant to those who are tasked with selling corporate education reform to the American public. Their taskmasters are undemocratic plutocrats like Bill gates and Eli Broad. The plutocrats are using their vast wealth to transform the public school system in accordance with their own political values and ideological vision. Marketing and public relations are so often about deliberate deception; and the marketing of “education reform” is no exception to this general rule. As used by the corporate propagandists, words like “reform,” “education,” and “opportunity” have taken on new, sinister meanings. “Reform” was once a concept that meant to amend, to change to better from worse–it was typically associated with progressive or liberal politics. The two great educational reforms of American history were the establishment of common schooling and the efforts to undo racial segregation of schoolchildren. Today, reform in education is almost exclusively a matter of privatizing schools and educational services. The root meaning of the word “education” is to lead out potential, to nurture native abilities. This once meant a focus on “child-based” pedagogy. Today, education means standardized testing, drilling and data collection and analysis. These are managerial, rather than student, concerns. “Opportunity” was once about social justice and racial equality; today it means “individual choice” in an “educational marketplace” based squarely in competition. When Humpty Dumpty, and his cohort in educational reform, get to redefine the meaning of words this is no simple linguistic matter; controlling words is an exercise in power, and when the powerful control the meanings, they tend to get control of other areas of social life–such as political power and economic resources.

When Alice goes down the rabbit hole with no inkling of “how in the world she was to get out again,” we are made to understand that she has entered a realm where the normal rules of language, reason and meaning no longer apply. As Alice says to herself: “what nonsense I am talking.” Nonsense–the absurd, the ludicrous, and the ridiculous–is the native language of Wonderland, and Alice gets caught up in it, despite her efforts to hold onto common sense. In the current universe of corporate education reform, where absurdity is passed off as a sound logic, many teachers, students and parents must feel like Alice: they see that nonsense has become normative, and that in order to get around in the new educational system, you have to speak a jargon devoid of rational meaning. In the Wonderland of privatized schools and data driven educational assessments, up is down and black is white.

Consider the Path Academy, a so-called “recuperative high school” that is due to open in Windham in August 2014. Path Academy is a charter school managed by Our Piece of the Pie (OPP), a youth development agency, “with the mission of helping urban youth become economically independent adults.” Path will primarily serve over-age, under-credited students. The curriculum at Path is designed to foster in students “the critical skills necessary for success in college, career, and community.” I am quoting from a promotional brochure for the Academy. The brochure says that many students “become disengaged [from high school] due to lack of understanding.” Path Academy promises to “re-engage” students through understanding, care and “active learning.”

Path Academy will provide “postsecondary preparation” and “workforce readiness.” It all sounds so great: a school with a focus on the socially disadvantaged; a school with an exciting curriculum and with caring knowledgeable staff. But the devil is in the details. When you take a close look Path’s pedagogical model that’s when you realize that you are being sold a bridge in Brooklyn, and that much in the promotional brochure is really nonsense.

Path will offer the “innovative education strategy” of “blended learning.” Whenever you hear the word “innovative” in corporate education reform be on your guard. In this instance, innovative pedagogy means “computer-based & teacher-led instructions” at “personal computer stations.” Translation: students will mostly be “taught” by electronic educational products; and students will complete their learning at private carrels, in virtual isolation from each other. The traditional classroom at Path will be a rarity. That is to say, a teacher in front of a group will probably be the exception rather than the rule. But education at Path is not really education in the sense most of us are familiar with. This is made explicit in a Norwich Bulletin article on the new school. The article quotes Path Principal Brooke Lafreniere on the hidden significance of the individual carrel: the carrel is not about a monastic space where the student can concentrate on reading Shakespeare; instead it will help prepare students for the office world, where employees are often placed in cubicles. Students will eat at their carrels, because, as Lafreniere notes, “when you have a job, there are days when you have to eat at your desk.” The use of space to drive home life lessons is also evident in the design of the classrooms. We are told that lower level classrooms will have small windows and low ceilings, whereas higher level classrooms will have larger windows, and higher ceilings. The point of the distinction is to force home the point that “hard work pays off.” I take it this means that students in lower level classrooms will find it so unpleasant there, that they will work their butts off in order to get into a better “learning environment.”  As LaFreniere says, “everybody wants to work toward the corner office.”

So when you strip away the rhetoric and confront reality, this is what Path Academy is offering:  online learning in controlled, off-putting settings. The real education at Path is not in academic matters, but in the social and cultural values that make one a “good employee.” John Dewey famously distinguished between a pedagogy that focused on “disciplinary training” and a pedagogy that nurtured “personal development.” Dewey thought that “disciplinary training” was not really education as its true purpose was social control. He argued that “personal development” was always something more than job training. And that it was the goal of personal development that made education properly humanistic. The language of Path Academy is a species of nonsense because it pretends that a corporate managerial model of the school as a learning factory can bring to fruition the ideals of humanistic education. Indeed, the very word “academy,” as used by the reformers, has almost no real meaning.

Path Academy is a privately managed charter school, but it would never survive without public funding. Like so much of corporate education reform, its real purpose is not to help the needy, but to steer the educational debate in the preferred direction of more privatization of public schools. The school described in the OPP promotional brochure is a veritable wonderland. It is wise to be skeptical of people who claim too much, and who are ready to sing their own praises. For the sake of the students who enroll there, I hope Path Academy turns out to be a success. But given the sorry and duplicitous “performances” of so many charter schools, I am definitely not counting on Path’s success.

 

  • guest

    I am so sad for kids today. Constantly being pushed to perform, treated like life is simply an end game of employment or, if you work your butt off, the corner office. Education used to be about so much more. Drilling, devices, testing. Unvetted Charter Schools like Path are scary. Welcome to the machine.

  • Linda174

    Our piece of the pie has new meaning, thanks Windham parent.

    Love that pie, eh Danny and Stefan?

    • Martin Walsh

      They’ve definitely got crust!

  • Martin Walsh

    Social engineering is back with a vengeance!

  • brutus2011

    This is, unfortunately, much more than just about education.

    This is about the subversion of our republic or to put it another way, this is about a small group of very wealthy individuals who have taken control of our legislative branch, our executive branch, and I am hoping have not yet gotten control of our judiciary.

    We must use our voting power, if it still matters.

    Protest, even but no one seems to want to be bothered……

  • Linda174

    Imagine dark grey, light grey, three sides, headphones, no talking, keep clicking, guess again and again, and one overseer with a clipboard.

    Teaching: there’s an app for that.

    Brought to you by Malloy & Pryor.

    • Linda174

      Will this work?

  • cindy

    And sadly, children will never even understand the Orwellian references, or the “rabbit hole” they have fallen into because not only will they probably not read those books, if they did, the new “close reading” will only allow excerpts and guided meaning. The nuances derived from context or backround knowledge will be lost on them.

    • guest

      what is “close reading” ? better yet why does the word reading need an adjective in front of it?

      • cindy

        Oh, that is David Coleman’s preferred methodology for Common Core. Students should determine meaning solely from the text and evidence presented, devoid of contextual or background knowledge. A way to read and stay ignorant and flat at the same time. Not nearly enough reporting on this aspect of Common Core, but it will be like taking all flavor out of reading.

        • Linda174

          As if we forced kids to engage in distant reading before. Coleman knows jack

  • Martin Walsh

    Public school teachers and administrators must be fingerprinted and certified. Under the SEED program they must document and track their performance based on mountains of data that they must collect and analyze. All of that must be forwarded to the state.
    But any “Jumoke” with a phony doctorate and a few forgery and fraud convictions can open a chain of charter schools and instantly receive praise and buckets of public money from our illustrious governor.

  • Mary Gallucci

    Here’s a new course for you, boys and girls: School Reform 101. Lesson 1–peg everything in education to a standardized test score (student achievement, teacher effectiveness, school ratings) and then manipulate the “cut scores” as needed; 2–drill, baby, drill! Not just the students, but the teachers must be drilled, too–that’s the new professional development; 3–Use the data from drilling to label schools failures; put legislation in place that will allow the state to takeover (reconstitute or unseat elected school boards; appoint Special Masters) “failing schools” and “turn them around.” Turnaround is just another name for handing schools, or parts of schools, to private entities–thereby creating a marketplace; 4–Strip away programs and divert precious and scarce resources in newly-labeled “failing schools” to test prep; consultants; etc., and close well-established intervention systems (such as those that help students who are behind, or who have behavioral issues) and slash pre-school, only to turn around and hand these services off to a “lead partner” like–Our Piece of the Pie; or “Jumoke”; 5–Let anyone offer a plan to “rescue” a school, no matter how ill-conceived (place all students in cubbies with a laptop and tell them to stay there all day if need be, even eating their lunch there). Viola! Ed Reform 101. Bonus, extra credit project: design a credit-recovery program that can be completed on the street or in a tent city.

  • guest

    Homeschooling is looking better and better. Maybe those folks have the right idea after all.

    • Mary Gallucci

      Well, I don’t agree. The richness and variety offered by a traditional, comprehensive school cannot be matched by a parent or parents. Many parents work and cannot homeschool. And then there is the idea of children learning to be in a community, to work with others, to learn to define his or her beliefs vis-a-vis other students and adults…

  • Mary Gallucci

    Windham had an alternative High School program a few years ago that fell victim to the budget ax–so, cutting a viable program and then letting people who have never run their own, complete school (and who, by the way, has???) is to sell children to the lowest bidder. That is the message of a lot of punitive budget voting and of the State of Connecticut’s terrible system of having education funded by local property taxes.

  • Elizabeth Dunnack

    Although I agree w/ most of you. What other choices do parents in Windham have. Windham High School is a Disgrace. Truly a DISGRACE! Criminal Complaint was made to the Administration in April and it was not reported to DCF or the Police. The Headmaster was suspended and the school social worker, but other than that the plan was to keep it quiet. The BOE agreed to increase the new Superintendent salary by $30 grand to just get her on board, but then tells the community that they need to cut STAFF of programs the children need. The guidance counselor will be split from the high school to the middle school. The school psychologist is under utilized instead of working with children at the High school, he is only allowed to TEST them. Then we wonder WHY there are so many over aged/ under credited students to begin with? Obviously there is a need, maybe this is not the solution. Can we really blame entities for actually addressing the need? My concern has always been the KIDS – What is going to help the KIDS? Who is really trying to help the KIDS? Can we really blame ANYONE for TRYING? The old school was ALFARO – It was to get your GED. Why was it successful? The staff treated the kids with respect. The kids wanted to be there. There was no yelling. Less structure. Consistency. The expectations were clear. What does that tell you about the High School that 20 years later, we still have the same problem, with a higher need? Windham Public Schools has failed our children, it is not just the parents. It is and has been the administration.

    • Linda174

      Your special master was supposed to fix this. He was the “expert”. However, creating more of a disaster makes it ripe for takeover, so maybe that was the plan all along. And sitting in cubicles guessing on computers is an improvement?

      • Elizabeth

        I am so disgusted with our Administration and our Board of Ed, I have not and will not support the budget. I cannot even get a copy of “our budget”! We Parents have been sticking together on this, their Plan on renovating the High School is Horrifying. They want to move the preschool and administration from Kramer to the High School. Instead of having Plan A renovations and Plan B rebuilding the High School – they put forward Plan B as “needed renovations” or the school is at risk of being shut down. Read today’s Chronicle then you would understand why under no circumstances do I or anyone else should ever support bringing back the preschool to Windham High School! They knew the need was there before The Barrows school was built, and should have considered it then. Instead of trying to misconstrue information, lie to us and our children, then turn around and say the community does not support the school system. I just received a call from a parent whose child came home upset because their teacher told them the taxpayers in our town DON’T LIKE THEM. Why would a teacher tell any child, that they are not liked by anyone? It is not about the children, or some of the teachers, it is all about our ADMINISTRATION & our BOARD OF EDUCATION!

        • Mary Gallucci

          The federal and state categories of “Failing School” and “Low Achieving District” have been sending an insidious message to children for years now. They tell the children they are failing and failures–and given that it is only the tests that are used to make this determination, and the tests are in English and are administered to children who are not fluent in English, naturally a district like Windham is going to get a failing grade. It’s a set-up and the whole point is to privatize the schools and to make people lose faith in public education, thus allowing *anyone* to set up charter schools.
          There are lots of “a teacher said this,” “a student reported that,” in the Chronicle article, in comments on blogs, and even at meetings. Sometimes people back their stories up–but some of what you are referencing can’t be backed up until a full investigation is legally concluded. But I don’t find it helpful to report anonymous teacher comments. Just read letters to the editor of the Chronicle, editorials in the Chronicle, and attend town meetings, and people say all the time, “the kids are failures and I wouldn’t pay a cent for their schools”. You have heard it. Whether a teacher made that comment may show poor judgement, but the fact is when the budget goes down (and only the ed. budget), then that group of Tax Payers is sending a message, and it is often overtly unsupportive, anti-child, and contentious.

        • Elizabeth

          Mary, Again I have to agree with most of what your saying because it is true, but not towards the children, it most definitely is contentious but the only reason, in my opinion, is because OUR GOVERNMENT and the ADMINISTRATORS hired to run the school system seemed to have become UNSUPPORTIVE to our good teachers and children, to save there jobs and a**! Our children in Windham do not have books, computers are old and out of date, sports uniforms – old, band 1 x a week, art 1 x a week, 70 minute classes w/ out support for teachers, high student/teacher ratio. In addition to the low number vote turn out – The community is tired of the lip service and no changes! Again we want more for our children! We keep hoping that they will begin to understand that if they start supporting our children, then we will start supporting the budget! It appears that over the years the money approved in the Board of Education Budget dwindles down and what is actually left directly benefiting the children is just not cutting it. The Administration has gotten to top heavy, and we have had enough, we are gonna do something about it. It may seem that it is unsupportive to the children, but the truth is we are tired of supporting a budget that has always been ” unsupportive of our children” and this is the year, in combination of many other things, that I and many others, are going to do something about it! Sorry if we offend anyone while doing it. It is our intention, to get it across to the administration and the board that we do not want to loose staff for a new one, we do not want a new high school, we want administrative cuts and more for our children! We are not going to stop until we get it! We will vote, We will Protest, We will do what ever it takes – This is our community and we want it back!

    • R.L.

      Yes, your “Special Master” was supposed to make this better but he made this worse, much worse. Hartford, where I work, may never recover from the damage caused by “Dr.” Adamowski. Hold people accountable. Start with Governor Malloy and see what your representatives have to say for themselves. I recently wrote to Linda Orange (she also represents Windham). She sent me a nice flier describing all of the great things she’s done for us. I pointed out to her that her view on education policies were conspicuously absent from her flier and that if she wanted to have a chance of receiving my vote she had better clarify those views. I’m still waiting for her response. You may also want to vote your school board out. They should have supported their last superintendent over Adamowski rather than throw her under the bus for their political masters. Their vote in that matter shows that they support the political machine over the community they should be representing.