I have a friend who’s a teacher educator, who alternates between amusement and despair at the intellectual and bureaucratic chasm between teacher training curricula and current research on teaching & learning, on the one hand … and between research on teaching & learning and the school quality measures that drive teacher ed curricula, on the other.

Climate change ain’t the only science we’re ignoring.

There’s no sense in spending much mental energy, though, trying to grok why teacher ed doesn’t line up with the research on learning, which also doesn’t line up with school accountability protocols.

Anyone who has ever ventured (with cape and white hat) into public K-12 education knows the disappointment of waking up to the fact that the most valued (and least acknowledged) social function of our schools is childcare.

Much of the disconnect between stated goals and accepted methods is attributable to this fact. The willingness of parents to submit their children – for 12 years apiece! – to psychologically and pedagogically indefensible practices is also attributable to this fact.

More than anything else, most of us rely on schools to take our children off our hands for enough time to allow us to go out and bring home the bacon. Of course we’d love a good eduction for our kids, but most of us are mighty confused about what that even really means, and most educators aren’t empowered (if they’re at all welcome) to contribute to a dialogue through which parent/educator communities could collaborate to design local school experiences intelligently and humanely.

The purveyors of public schooling know damn well that they can depend on high levels of customer loyalty as long as the service continues to be free. Whether we participate directly or not, the public school system owns us all. The added allure of “school choice” (in a system where all the outcomes have to be the same) is the most brilliant red herring ever, for keeping well resourced and discerning parents off the trail of education practices worthy of their children’s capacities.

Even so, most of us track the official, quantified quality assurance data offered by school systems about as carefully as we track nutritional information on our daily diets. We have to eat something, and those of us who are struggling to make ends meet are not reading the fine print. Some parents have the resources and energy to delve into the “school quality” data in an effort to be deliberate and discriminating … many don’t. Even among those who are paying attention, few notice that school quality indices don’t actually line up with what they care about in terms of the long term well-being of their children. Most of us are primarily concerned with bringing home enough money to keep the lights on.

In exchange for the entitlement to free childcare, we hand our children over (if grudgingly) to be slowly habituated to authoritarian, consumerist learning cultures. The authoritarianism that arises in schools apparently of necessity (we save money by increasing student/teacher ratios), in fact also serves as excellent preparation for participation in our plutocracy.

We have quietly evolved to a system of governance in which influence and decision making power is directly correlated with (or, more accurately, determined by) wealth – which, with the assistance of our free-to-the-customer, rapidly ossifying K-12 sorting and ranking system, is becoming increasingly concentrated at the remote, high end of the “family net worth” bell curve. Ever fewer citizens are truly enfranchised to make decisions without the consent of ever larger groups of their fellows.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to grab our own children out of the K-12 factory to homeschool or alt school shake our heads sadly for all those children who are left behind. We’re utterly relieved to rescue our own from a system that, by law, enculturates the vast majority of our nation’s children to strive for excellence within a framework that rigidly enforces indolent consumption.

But whether or not we have kids of school age, and whether or not they go to the neighborhood school, we the people might consider taking charge of the fact that we’re allowing our publicly funded schools to mass produce a narrow set of officially endorsed human outcomes – universally and compulsorily.

If we don’t get off this path, we will all be governed, twenty years hence, by habitually torpid, rule-addicted, narrow-minded, approval-seeking consumers, who will vastly outnumber any number of voices of courage, critical reason, inquiry, innovation, inspiration, or self-directed, community-minded action that we try to cultivate around the fringes.

 

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Painting by František Kupka  “The Yellow Scale”  1907

This painting lives in the Museum of Fine Arts, in Houston, TX. Ironically, it is a self-portrait of a painter who was by all accounts prolific and highly creative: one of the pioneers in pushing the medium from realism to abstraction.

The creative ability of an artist is manifested only if he succeeds in transforming the natural phenomena into ‘another reality.’

František Kupka

 

 

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