I have a friend, a teacher educator, who alternates between amusement and despair: at the chasms 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 education curricula, on the other.

Climate change ain’t the only science we don’t know how to talk about.

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 some pedagogical cape and hat or other) into K-12 education knows the disappointment of waking up to the fact that the most valued (and least acknowledged) social function of our public schools is child care. The willingness of parents to submit their children – for 12 years apiece! – to psychologically and pedagogically indefensible practices is largely attributable to this fact.

The vast majority of parents rely on schools to take the children off their hands so they can go out and bring home the bacon. Of course we’d love a good education 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 even welcome) to contribute to a dialogue through which parent/educator communities could collaborate to design meaningful 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 is “free.” The public school system pretty much has us by the pocketbook. The added allure of “school choice” (deceptively named, in a system where outcome accountabilities are standardized and dictated) is the most brilliant red herring ever, keeping discerning parents off the trail of myriad pedagogical practices that are more worthy of their children’s diverse natures and capacities.

Even so, most of us study the nuances of official, quantified quality assurances about our school systems approximately as carefully as we monitor nutritional information about our daily meals. We have to eat something, and those of us who are struggling to make ends meet are the last ones to read the fine print. Some parents have the resources and energy to delve into “school quality” data in an effort to be deliberate and discriminating. Most don’t. Even among those who are paying close attention, few notice that school quality indicators don’t necessarily line up with what they deeply care about, in terms of the long term well-being of our children. Most of us are primarily concerned with keeping our children safe while we secure the roof over our heads, the food on on our tables.

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, and by simplifying and quantifying outcome expectations), in fact, also serves as excellent preparation for acquiescence to plutocratic governance – government by powerful business interest.

As it happens, it increasingly requires wealth and education for Americans to protect their children from a system that enculturates receptive young people to strive for excellence within a mastery framework of 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. Even if it’s a completely unintended consequence of high stakes standardization, it’s dangerous.

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


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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