by Jared Roebuck, Sun Jul 08, 2007 at 07:14:09 AM EDT
It's been a while since I've posted here (and blogged in general) as I've been tied up with some other project related to education reform.
With No Child Left Behind coming up for renewal, I want to look at an aspect of it that has some rather important implications on the future of American politics, and in particular our efforts to build a progressive majority.
Aside from the usual "they left the money behind for NCLB" criticism, there is another area where NCLB and our education system in general, are failing. While legislation like NCLB and the typical policy prescriptions to fix our education system place emphasis on standardized testing and assessment, there are areas of the student and our educational goals that are often left unaddressed. To be explicit, aside from the hard skills that students must be equipped with to compete in the global economy, how are we preparing them to make our democracy healthier?. While we remain committed to creating fitter, happier, more productive workers, what kind of citizens are leaving our public schools?
These questions are of particular importance to progressives and Democrats, because it is our constituencies (the poor, minorities, etc) that are most affected by the pedagogies that arise out of NCLB-esque thinking. It's what Martin Haberman calls the pedagogy of poverty. That is, the way students in inner city schools and increasingly throughout the country are taught isn't at all about accomplishing the goal of creating a healthy, critical, and engaged citizenry. Instead it's a system designed around achievement tests, that force teachers to do less good teaching-- social, emotional, civic, and physical development--and restricts them to crude directives like "I am a math teacher", "I'm a social studies teacher". Instead of being about inquiry, teaching becomes about controlling students and "making them learn", when, in truth, education is about so much more than the mastery of the limited skills needed to succeed on a standardized test. It's overlooked that education is about building a whole person, someone who has the skills to contribute to the economy, but also someone who knows how to among other things, take care of their body, and contribute to their community.
Getting back to how this affects the creation of a progressive majority in this country, it's important to understand that there can be no progressive majority without a healthy citizenry . That is, Americans that aren't taught at an early age how to think critically, don't understand how to cause change in their communities, and feel no sense of civic responsibility, will be apathetic towards politics and will not be change agents --the antithesis of what a progressive America will need. Moreover, citizens like that are most often the victims of the politics of fear and disinformation.
Looking at Chris Dodd's national service plan, I like where he's going. But any plan to address the decline in civic engagement has to be addressed often and early through our education system and in our homes. Part of that starts with a rethinking of what the purpose of education is and what our educational goals are beyond achievement tests. Our current thinking yields a system that not only fails to reach its stated goals and benchmarks, but is also in many ways harmful to the students it seeks to help. Yet, the response is to offer more of the same. More standards, more tests. If you're a Democrat, you perhaps offer more money for schools and better teacher pay, which is good. However, without recognizing how our approach has affected teaching or reassessing the goals of education, more money is exceedingly silly . As progressives, our aims in education should be guided by and centered on efforts to build the citizenry that will make up a progressive majority. American democracy is dependant on the creation of a freethinking, civically engaged, and economically competitive people.