Monday, December 26, 2011

Guest Blog by Robert Rendo: The Rich and Education

The opinions below are solely those of the author.

No wonder the rich are so passionate about education; they stand to change the way young brains get wired, schools get financed, and who we become as a society. Moreover, who can ignore their capture and reinventing the vast public realm of American schools into an even vaster capitalist empire of goods and services? One such byproduct of the reform movement is the fixation on standardized testing, which is one of many ways of assessing students' strengths and weaknesses. Left alone to stand by itself or used as the dominant mode of assessment, it quickly gains the accurate status of "efficient, relatively cost effective, and weakly empirical".
Rob Rendo

There is no metric out there that is sensitive enough to truly measure everything a student knows. Our so called language proficiency tests for English language learners, for example, are a prime example in which students are taught hundreds of elements and aspects of English, but are only tested on a few, randomly designed array of those elements. It's hit or miss when students perform on such tests, unless, of course, the students have had substantial amounts of test preparation, most often at the hideous cost of crowding out other types of knowledge. For example, when a student's augmented lexicon contains 3000 items, but the tests look for literacy skills such as decoding "wr" and "ch", then the child's true linguistic acumen is not only measured inaccurately, but is mischaracterized. Literacy and reading skills, while ultimately critical, are learned and tested at the dire expense of children's true rich oral language, which develops saliently through experiences and the five senses. It makes sense to lower the stakes on standardized testing, therefore, so that the tests can serve their main purpose: to inform the teacher and drive future instruction. The test should only function as a data tool and not as a politicized castigative whipping post.

Oral language development has not become a substantive standard in and of itself, and this absence reflects the egregious incompetence and disconnect of policy makers. In the United States, we sacrifice language acquisition for rigid, inflexible and perniciously dominating tests.

Equally worse and unjust is the evaluation of teachers; if the child is to be assessed holistically, so must the teacher’s tutelage and custodianship. The two are inextricably linked. It leads one to easily infer that part of the "education crisis" is indeed manufactured, and the “manufacturing process” has very thickly coated the product with politics. The rich and their tentacles in education have brought us to the astonishing realization that those who create and enforce educational policy are far removed from the educational process and have succeeded in swaying the commercial media and its audience into buying the “product”. Such policy makers vacuum up the humanism in teaching and learning.

Which, really, is why the FIRST thing we educators must do is to remove people like Randi Weingarten, Bill and Melinda Gates, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, Steve Brill, and Michael Bloomberg, just to name a very few from the educational scene. And the aftermath of such a purging should also involve the cabinet installation of true cognitive scientists and researchers who observe and empirically prove what learning really is all about. . . . people like Steven Krashen, Linda Darling Hammond, Noam Chomsky, Jim Cummins, Pedro Noguera, etc. We would also add to this mixture actual veteran teachers who are Nationally Board Certified and some who have taught diverse student populations. If we were to systemize and institutionalize this, we would nearly eliminate achievement gaps and substandard levels of literacy, math, and science. We would also be fostering a more well balanced and well adjusted youth who would exude productivity in the workplace and in civic life. That very balance would propel and protect democracy. It would probably begin to ravage poverty. I think that this trajectory, seen by connecting all these obvious dots, scares not the ninety-nine percenters, but rather, the one percent.

Until we really convince and educate the public about what it means to learn, to teach, and to be educated, we will be absorbed into this cyborg-like plutonomy, all to have but a distant memory of what it was to be like to be creative, innovative, highly verbal, and critically thinking. And that, however subtly accomplished over a generation, would relegate the great populist masses into accepting a crime against humanity that no one should ever have to think of.

-Robert Rendo, New York

The commentator is a veteran Nationally Board Certified teacher in the public schools and teaches low income students. He is also a nationally award winning editorial illustrator with works in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. See http://altpick.com/rrendo

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