Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Other Hidden Purpose of NCLB: Privatization

Craig Cunningham posted at The Wall a nice piece that addresses the tragic and ongoing stupidification of urban poor children who are purportedly being helped by an unceasing regimen of test prep in chain gang schools where teachers learn their scripted lines and students mouth them back (see Kozol's "Confections of Apartheid" in the December Kappan. That is the greatest human tragedy now unfolding before our eyes, an intellectual and emotional genocide of epic proportions in the making.

The other tragedy is, perhaps, more abstract, but goes to the heart of the civic purpose of schools to help sustain the Republic. It is the agenda to privatize American schools, and to use NCLB with its impossible demands to manufacture a widespread failure that a Massachusetts study has shown, for instance, will label as failures over three-quarters of their schools by 2014--unless NCLB is ditched or modified next year when re-authorization comes up.

The requirement that all school children be at grade level in reading and math by 2014 is simply ridiculous. Those who point this out are, nonetheless, accused daily of "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It seems to me that to craft a national policy on the manufactured failure of most American public schools demonstrates clearly the implacable racism bound up in impossible demands of a hidebound ideology. If I had to choose, and I don't (there are more options), I know where I would stand.

If NCLB is not rolled back next year and the probable scenario develops (psychometricians say certain), and a large majority of American schools are clear failures or on the “Federal watch-list” by 2014, then the road to school privatization will be clear sailing. By then, American parents will be shell-shocked and willing to try anything to avoid another one of those Federally-mandated letters telling them that their children are failing because their schools are failing. And state legislatures, broken financially and in spirit by then from the under-funded burdens of NCLB implementation, will be desperate enough to turn the whole effort over to the voucher advocates and the EMOs of an education industry that will be ramped up, ready, and waiting to pounce.

Here is a piece just out in the Monthly Review by Michael Perelman that puts many of the issues in perspective. It is called "Privatizing Education." Read it and ACT.


Anonymous said...

I'm now putting the finishing touches on my revised lecture notes on the common-school reform movement, and while I am deeply worried about NCLB (and our own Florida mini-crisis), "intellectual and emotional genocide" strikes me as an ahistorical label. We certainly have seen attempts at what some historians call "cultural genocide" with Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools, but I'm not convinced NCLB has anything like that flavor. Stupidly done? Yes. But there's more complexity than meets the eye, I think.

I search for ironies in these huge battles. One of them in the common-school reform era is that the same folks who wanted school reform to preserve social order (Horace Mann's comments in 1848 are signal here, though few of my students understand why it would have resonated that year) were also pushing for what Michael Katz has called "softer pedagogy": less punishment, engaging student interests more, and so forth. And the Boston schoolmasters certainly used that contradiction against Mann: We would have them stimulated to the pursuit of knowledge, by a love of that pursuit for itself, and by a proper appreciation of its results; and not by that temporary interest which is awakened by the pleasing manner or amusing speech of their instructor; ... and, when that influence ceases, to leave the mind disinclined to exertion; its energies exhausted, and its faculties deadened. This state of mind must surely be most unfavorable to a perception of those "social, every-day duties and obligations," to which Mr. Mann properly attaches so much importance (quoted in Robert Church's 1976 text, Education in the United States, p. 98).

Certainly, there are ironies galore in the current wave: the double standard of accountability ("accountability for thee, not for me," say advocates of privatization); the Connecticut NAACP's siding with the Bush administration in the federal lawsuit over NCLB; and Bush's cooptation of civil-rights rhetoric (which I'm not convinced is as cynical as some might claim), among others. But genocide? I need more convincing?

James Horn said...

"Genocide" is so new that it does not even appear in Webster's 2nd Unabridged (1953). The definition in the Oxford American is "the deliberate killing of a large group of people, esp. those of a particular ethnic group or nation."

When I use "intellectual and emotional genocide," it is to portray what is happening in "watch-listed schools across America, where there are concentrations of disabled, poor, and/or minority children. The direct instruction curriculum that is being used in these schools represents nothing less than an effort to sterilize the intellect, emotion, behavior, and spirit of these children.

In case you haven't been in these classrooms or if you find Kozol's account unconvincing, have a look at the Association of Direct Instruction website, where you can view some of these remedies for brown and black children in action and hear the teacher who are using them:

Craig A. Cunningham said...

I agree that "genocide" is too strong a word, given that real genocide is....well, mass murder. The phrase "nothing less than an effort to sterilize the intellect, emotion, behavior, and spirit of these children" does seem accurate to me, though.

When I wrote The hidden purpose of NCLB. I thought of calling it "The Hidden Purposes...." and dealing with the privatization issue. So I'm glad that Jim picked up on that.

I do think that NCLB will have the long-term effect (assuming it is not completely rethunk) of eroding support for many public schools. But I'm NOT sure it will increase support for private schools. After all, private schools aren't subject to its requirements, so there is no public data on how well private schools are doing. So a parent who gets yet another of those federally-required letters is MOST likely to think "you know, 2/3 or more of the schools in this state are getting this letter. I don't believe that [such-and-such a school] is that bad, so I don't think my child's is, either."

I frankly think that both the vouchers-for-private-schools folks AND the need-to-improve-lower-income-schools folks are totally disappointed with NCLB. The only people who like it are the "back to basics" folks. And they are just reactionary, nostalgic fools who deserve to be run out of town (and out of the US Dept. of Education)!

James Horn said...

As Sherman points out, we know of cultural genocide against indigenous folks, when we were sending Indians off to boarding schools like Carlyle and Hampton. "Kill the Indian, save the man" was official US Gov't policy at the end of the 19th Century.

I am talking about something similar, but this time it is a systematic policy that is based on killing the human (the ability to think and to feel and express autonomous purpose), while hoping to save the worker/consumer, who will know nothing more than she needs to know for the dead end job that is awaiting her.

A smooth transition to our own homegrown third world economy requires this kind of rendering of the poor within our new and improved crucible that comes with digital read-outs and that feeds on children of the poor.

Anonymous said...


I have just joined this blogging business and wish to post a response to the piece on caring teachers but can't get in, so am testing this one out.