Make It Better By Destroying It

From Fred Klonsky's blog about Illinois, but it might as well be about the whole country:
“We’ve work to do in the Shire now.”

While the sorry state of educational funding in Illinois has been getting most of the recent attention from the press, the corrosive policies of school district reform initiatives fly under the public’s radar. Editors and Superintendents have provided the dragons – test scores, failing students, bad teachers. As a result, legislators, with the passage of public act 96-0861, have armed district administrators with enhanced powers to destroy the dragons. And teachers find themselves in the dual role of both knights and dragons: in order to slay the dragons, they must attack themselves.

It is the Grand Collusion.

Too often editors are businessmen, while superintendents are politicians. Editors want to sell papers. Superintendents want to sell themselves. Their nexus is the public upon whose approval both depend. Both thrive on easy targets. Nothing sells papers like fear. High taxes, futureless children, and lazy teachers make nice dragons. Nothing sells a superintendent’s job like a response to these fears. Budget cuts, raised tests scores, and teacher-bashing make nice solutions.

Fear shapes the forum. Selling determines strategies.

I can almost forgive the legislators at this point. They’re politicians, but at least we know what kind of creatures they are. They’ll do the expedient thing like this recent reform that will tie student performance to teacher evaluations. Sounds like a plan. But, leaving the details to the devil, as this vague law has done, promises not a Race to the Top (whatever that is) as much as it guarantees a retreat to primitive ground. Much of what we’ve learned about the development of sentient beings will be jettisoned in favor of data-friendly practices (like test scores). This won’t help the millions of children who are being left behind. This won’t improve our public schools as engines of democracy. And it most certainly won’t deliver a compassionate and literate society. But, it will be measurable, with learning geared to the instruments of evaluation.

Coercion will corrupt the curriculum. And it will do so under the banner of reform.

An awful lot of educators and administrators are in a dragon slaying frenzy. I watch in frustration as millions of teacher hours and billions of taxpayer dollars are squandered on initiatives based upon unexamined or debunked assumptions about learning, all in the name of what is measurable. The fact that we are, in effect, assaulting public school education in the name of improving it is not lost on me. Which leads me to the title of this piece. It comes from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and it is a line that haunts me at most institute days. At the end of the book, the hobbits, having saved all of Middle Earth, return to their beloved home, the Shire, only to discover that it is being ruined, and that some hobbits are actually feeling progressive in turning a pastoral setting into a polluted wasteland. Their zeal and their goals have been harnessed by a malevolent power intent on destroying the Shire, but they are under the illusion that they are making a better world, even while they are destroying their homes. They even scorn and deride those who do not cooperate.

Collusion creates illusion.

There’s a lot of this in our own ranks now. Until we clear up this confusion in our own ranks, until we say these policies are no good for our children, for our futures, and for our communities, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top will continue unchallenged by the public, measured not by the scales of justice, but by the scales of dragons.

We’ve work to do now.

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