Written to colleagues and administrators and others I know involved in education.
There may be grammatical and syntactical errors in the attached note but I do hope that those reading it will consider what is said and what it may mean in regard to the present situation in this United States of America. While many of you have no real association with the College of Education, my hope is that you might think about the role it plays, the role it can play, and the role it should play in a society such as ours. I do know that good numbers of people think that colleges of education, if they think about them at all, are irrelevant and, as the note argues, thought they have made themselves irrelevant, because the teach teachers how to teach, the consequences of what they do are relevant to almost every facet of life in a society, consequential especially in a nation in which it is the people who should be deciding for themselves how the nation is to behave and how it is to treat its citizens. I speak at length about NCLB and I behoove people to study that episode in educational history in light of the present and what this present will mean for the future. Those asking how it is that the American public elected the present president-elect ask a very important question. I guarantee that the answer has much to do with what people understand and do not understand and how they think that leads to what they think and do not think. I also believe that education is a big part of what should be the goal of any democratic society, helping people become adequately and properly informed and exceptionally good at making good sense of what they come to know so that they are able to participate effectively in the democratic decision making process. Democracy cannot exist if individuals allow for their minds to be controlled by others and, sadly, little happens in schools that inform them as to how to resist those who wish to control. Schools, most in fact, do much to encourage obedience to authority above critical thinking and the individual pursuit of truth. Someone possesses the right answer and the student’s work is to listen to that someone and remember what he or she has said. Consider for a moment the current cable news format, little reporting, nothing much in depth, no references for further exploration into events or their meaning, but plenty of commentary by those who know, those with the expertise the rest of us do not have to properly interpret what is going on and what we should do about it.
So, that said, I invite you to read my screed with the hope that you might send your cards and letters to those in charge of education to ask them to do the proper analysis for which I call and to, on a regular basis, present their findings to the broader public so that those affected by their actions (or inaction) my participate in making sure that what teachers are being taught is what they need to be taught if they are going to do right by citizens of a society that, by its charter, should be a democratic one.
This is an open letter so share if you will.
Perhaps it is none of my business, but somehow I think it is, enough so that I write this note. I am curious to know how the College and those who work in the College will respond to the demands of the new administration, its Department of Education. Certainly the best term to describe what happened when the Bush administration imposed its No Child Left Behind edicts on the educational system, is capitulation. Little was done to assess the consequences of that horrendous act and a lot was done to find ways to adjust programs to fit the bill. As far as I could tell, there was little discussion in College of Education classrooms about what was wrong with the kind of instruction NCLB demanded and even less about the political motives for NCLB impositions. One of our faculty who was granted significant funds for implementing NCLB reading programs in the State was praised for her deeds and, when news came to verify the obvious, that Read First was a fraud, the positive results meaningless in light of what constitutes meaningful growth in literacy, the College remained silent, no mention of the deception or the negative consequences at College meetings and certainly no public response to the ugly reality being reported in the nation’s major newspapers. The faculty member who brought Read First to Nevada was never asked to explain how it was that she could so vociferously go about exposing Nevada children to this brain numbing program. Instead of being questioned and chastised for the work, she was made the head of a College unit.
There should have been deep analysis of the College’s response to NCLB but none occurred. There should have been outreach to the community to explain how it was that NCLB was allowed to affect curriculum and instruction in the state and why it was that the educational experts had done nothing to help the public understand the implications and the educational consequences for students and their teachers. Nothing was done to correct years of bad teaching in the College and in the schools by College educated teachers. The COE went about its business and treated the debacle that was NCLB as though it were none of its business.
In my thinking, always to be ignored and despised, the College and its faculty was negligent in its handling of NCLB, in its immediate response and in the aftermath. Instead of taking the opportunity to do some meaningful soul searching, once NCLB rules were eased and then abandoned, the College went on with its work as if nothing had happened, this when something truly monumental had happened. If ten thousand people had died from a drug administered by physicians, medical schools would be busy working with medical researchers to understand the problem so they could do what was necessary to inform their students of the situation and how to go about dealing with it in the field. With NCLB, millions of human beings were affected and the College did nothing to try to understand what had happened so that it could teach its students how not only to think about what had happened as a result of NCLB but also to understand how it could be that such a toxic program could come to dominate educational practice in the United States.
I pleaded for a proper conversation, posted notes on the chat line until it was shut down to shut me up and then on the walls of the College building. I tried to bring up the subject of NCLB at meetings and was told that I was disrupting, preventing meaningful and necessary business from getting done. I was told in so many ways that what was a constant concern of mine was irrelevant to the work of the College and, when I tried to teach my students what I knew, through my research to be true, they rebelled and administrators in the College continued to evaluate my classroom work without trying to understand what it might be that was causing students to respond to my courses as they were.
What I have said so far is about the past. My motive for spending my time writing this note is a vague hope that the College not accede to the demands of a DOE run by the likes of Betsy Devos, that the faculty use its expertise to critique, to assess the value and consequences of what they are told to teach teachers if the teachers are to be able to comply with the mandates. This would not mean telling students what to think about what is being mandated, but how to think about any mandate in regard to how following it will affect the growth and development of students. My hope against hope is that the College will be for State and country an arbiter of truth, an organization that can be trusted to do what is necessary to satisfy the needs of students, of a citizenry, before it gives into the demands of higher authority. It is my hope that the College will risk whatever must be put at risk to do the research that leads to a clear understanding of the real value of programs and instructional mandates and that it finds ways to make those findings very public so that the decision making processes and the decision making bodies do what is right by students and democratic society.
I am suggesting, because I care and am truly worried about the present and how what is done now will affect the future, that the College be aggressive in its research and aggressive in putting forth the truths the work reveals before the public and before those with the authority to create educational policy. I am suggesting that the College become effectively confrontational, confronting all in authority with its expertise, with the conclusions reached regarding good instructional practice, that it define good educational practice in terms of the kind of growth and development it produces and the righteousness of that kind of growth and development in regard to what it means to be a properly educated human being, in the United States of America, a person able to think for him or herself and share the results of that thinking in the public forum so that the decisions that are made in regard to the future are by and for and of the people.
I beg for deep reading of the meaning of decisions related to the education of human beings who live in a democratic society. I beseech members of the faculty and administrators to consider the proper mission of a college of university, especially those that reside in public universities, that run on tax dollars, their obligation to the people to figure out what it is that constitutes a good and proper education, how to help teachers understand how to determine what is good and proper, and then find the best methods of delivering that good and proper education.
To do the things I ask, the people involved need to be ready for push back and worse. The possibility of funding being threatened is real and, if university administrators happen to be on the wrong side of things, repercussions for faculty and college administrators. The College will have to deal with the public schools and resistance to the teachings that come with proper analysis of student needs and means for serving those needs. The College and its faculty might find itself at odds with school districts’ policies and what is taught in College courses will have to be decided either in regard to what is or what is right, answer the question of for what students should be prepared, to fit in, fit the specifications of districts even if those specifications are wrong for good and proper education of student, or to be reflective and effective educators who constantly assess the value of practice against the criterion of good and proper education. If indoctrination and propagandizing is practice in place, the College must resist giving credence to such practice. That would be the ethical thing to do, the right thing to do if the institution is to adhere to the tenants of democratic principle. It just might be the wrong thing to do if the College wishes to please rather than inform policy and practice.
I cannot help but think that the new administration will ask of education much that should be considered contradictory to good and proper education of citizens of democracy. Past administrations, even the more liberal leaning administrations, have imposed on educators rules and regulations that have pushed educators to teach in ways that thoughtful people, brave enough to assert their expertise, have tried to teach. Such teachers have found little support from those who might help them, a reasonable source for such support, the colleges of education. So, again, I ask, I hope against hope, that you, College of Education faculty and administration, will decided to fight whatever fight might come along that has to do with making sure that students get the education they need and deserve no matter who is in charge. It is the students, because they are citizens of a democracy, who are charged with deciding who is in charge and what those placed in positions of authority do with that authority.
The good graduate of a good school should know of the power he or she holds and how to use it. That does not come of memorizing what others think or have thought but of thinking for oneself to develop one’s own meanings for what is experienced and what is heard.
Please, please, please, what every your plans for the future of the College, consider that last paragraph and how it can and should apply to what happens in the College and what the College does to affect the world.