For a couple of days I involved myself with the blogsite run by Diane Ravitch. I engaged because she had posted an article and commentary on that article that I thought got to many important issues important to the current situation that is our educational system. That article, I thought, took to task both those I think to be bad players (the Bush administration, the DeVos department of education) and those who I think think they are on the side of good, maybe, but really are not, the current leaders of the democratic party, the neoliberal crowd that sees education to be little more than a training program for docile workers who will serve the entrepeuneur class so that it may become more wealthy while the workers get just maybe enough to get by and are appreciative of the crumbs, enough so that they will love the system that screws them.
So, I write long pieces to that blog site and get a reasonable number of responses, some supporting what I say, some arguing against what I say, some inviting further conversation, all of this good, a good discussion of important things. Then I write something that obviously was taken by Ms. Ravitch to be a criticism of Ms. Ravitch which definitely was a criticism of Ms. Ravitch because some of what she had done and supported in the past still haunts the world, namely her participation in the fashioning, implementation, and enforcement of the G. W. Bush educational policies that came to be known as No Child Left Behind.
Yes, though Ms. Ravitch managed to somehow convince the world that she had had an epiphany and was not longer in favor of brutily top down memorization oriented instruction, the historical record shows that she certainly did favor such and was an important player in the regime. One note I sent to her site that drew a particularly nasty response contained mention of my problem with the historical revisionism, maybe worse, that was allowing some, Hillary Clinton and Ms. Ravitch, to offer passionate praise for the Bush family matriarch who had recently died, Clinton going so far as to deem the Bush Family and “extraordinary one,” and not for the extraordinarily cruel and inhumane things it has sponsored–the Iraq war and the concomitant torture that accompanied it, the lying, the cheating–remember the outing of Ms. Plame?–the deception, the outright violation of basic principles of decent human conduct, and, of course the never-think-again mandates of NCLB.
I was pretty much told by Ms. Ravitch that I was being cruel and insensitive, that I was not being humane in my dealing with the death of a woman such as Barbara Bush. I responded that I could be sympathetic to loss but that such did not and should not cause me to be praiseful of an individual who, in the broad scope of things, deserved at least as much public scorn as praise for the things she enabled members of her family to do, the number of horrible things she supported by supporting her husband and her sons.
And yes, I had a personal and personally public grudge that I will never be able to settle, the absolutely horrific period of my life under the Bushes as a professor involved in the teaching of teachers, a 10 or 12 chunk of my career during which I was being force to teach as NCLB mandidated I teach so that the teachers I was teaching would do exactly what that fucked up policy said they had to do which was to acclimate students to a life in which they were to without reasoning do what those in authority were telling them to do.
That is what I threw back at Ms. Ravitch who I considered to be one of my tormentors, one of those imposing upon me, through my “superiors” a notion of education that was based on principles contrary to everything I understood to be the righteous goals of education and the proper methods for helping students to grow up to be conscientious, thoughtful, wise, informed decision makers who had the skills, knowledge, and dispositions essential to participating effectively in the decision making process of a democratic society.
For so many terrible years I resisted and took the punishment and took it from people I had known to be generous and humane who had become, in order to do what was right for themselves and their students, terribly wrong in what they were teaching and in what they advocated for in terms of college policy. They had given in to doing what the masters told them to do and were teaching their students–teachers and future teachers–to do the same and rewarded for doing so.
So, I was faced with a terrible choice. I could teach as I was being commanded to teach, absolutely, without a doubt wrongly and absolutely and without a doubt to the opposite of good ends or I could forgo the benefits of professorship, rising in the ranks by doing the kind of research I was being told I had to do for it to be considered worthy scholarship, by teaching in accordance with research I absolutely knew to stem from bogus premises that allowed for bogus methodologies to be found effective or I could resist and not receive grant money, be published, or be listened to at the conferences where educators of educators meet.
I chose the latter. Really, I did, and not at all heroically, but selfishly because I would not have been able to live with myself if I gave in, acceeded to the fucking mandate that was NCLB. And I could not live well with myself for resisting either because if my students thought what I was teaching, about instruction geared to promote critical thought, geared to bring students to understand why they were capable of thinking independently and in very, very meaningful ways, then they would go out to their job sites (a good term for schools as they operated at the time) and do what they had, through their own thinking and assessment of situation and meaningful goals, come to understand to be the right thing to do by their students and do what would cause them great grief and possibly hurt their students in that thinking for one’s self is not the right thing to do when taking tests of consequence that demanded the one right (whether right or not) answer the test makers had decided to be the right answer.
My students, knowing from the other courses they had taken in our had come rediculous teacher education program, in good numbers, rejected both my methods of teaching–methods that called on them to do considerable amounts of independent and critical thinking–thinking they could use to work on their own to truly meaningful and right answers–and the methods and the rationale for them that I tried to help them understand. They knew from those other classes and from their observations in the schools that even if, when they really thought about it, what I was advocating was good for students, it was not good to take into the schools or, for that matter, their other teacher education classes, because it was understood to be wrong in the context of the system in which they would find themselves.
Of course, this is my story from my perspective with my biases built in. But I can almost guarantee that if history is honestly told (and I am not very hopeful that it will) I had it right that NCLB was one of the worst things to ever happen to students, their teachers, the whole of the educational system, and to society and its future. I would go so far as to say that the current (2018) political, social, economic and intellectual mess we are in has much to do with policies Diane Ravitch supported, won praise for supporting from the Bushes and their allies (Chester Finn, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld–just some of the terrible and dishonest players of the era). These people, to say it simply, were rotten people and those who supported NCLB were particularly rotten because their goal was to make kids lives rotten so that they could continue to get away with the rotten things they were doing.
I quit the Ravitch conversation because it was being moderated by the site owner. The owner of this site believe that all voices should be heard. Here they will be, without moderation because bad ideas giving proper airing are easily recognized for what they are worth by good people in pursuit of the truth. And good ideas, as during the reign of NCLB and in its aftermath, the Trump era, they will continue to be said bad by those same people who hate it when intelligence has the opportunity to evaluate their meanings.
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