“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.