Wednesday, April 05, 2006

20 Reasons, 1 Cause

I applaud Aaron's call for action, rather than just talking about action. But unless the call is translated into doing, the call itself remains just talk, too. Talk about talk about doing.

In terms of the perceived reification of Dewey, Dewey readers know that he would be aghast at the notion that anyone would look to Dewey for a formula that could solve problems into a future that Dewey could not have anticipated. Dewey was too much of an evolutionary democrat for that, and someone, too, who knew that continuity is represented by past, present, and future. He was neither an antiquarian nor a futurologist.

And yes, I agree, too, that social action, as Myles Horton pointedly pointed out, happens most often despite school, not because of it. Highlander was, indeed, about education, but hardly about school.

At this point in history, however, it seems to me that we educators of educators are faced with a much more pressing choice than a preferred venue for social action. That choice is whether or not we believe that public education in schools should continue and be improved or whether it should die and be replaced.

If we are unwilling or unable to make that choice, there is clear guarantee that the choice will be made for us. So while I embrace the notion of strategies to fight oppression inside and outside the schools, I would argue that the possibility of carrying on the good fight (above ground, at least) hinges on the civic commitment symbolized by and made tangible in the public school system.

In short, if we don't support schooling, public schooling, our opportunities to educate for democracy will be replaced for something that will be quite different, I am sure.

In keeping with that spirit, then, of doing as knowing, I have 20 Reasons to Eliminate NCLB (yes, I am obsessed, and I don't mind that my obsession may appear entirely pedestrian to my collleagues who serve the important function as the "elites of non-elitism" (Marquard, 1988):

A number of organizations have adopted a strategy of hoping to fine-tune NCLB when it comes up for re-authorization next year. Personally and professionally, I see no possiblity of using the word "fine" (even hyphenated) in conjuction with this cynically-devised policy that is having such devastating effects on children, schools, parents, and teachers. And unless eliminated next year, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Thanks to Monty Neill for inspiring me to come up with these 20 Reasons to Eliminate NCLB:

20 Reasons to Eliminate NCLB

  1. An education policy built on impossible performance demands that assure the failure of the majority of American public schools should be eliminated, not reformed.
  2. An education policy that has the same impossible demands for most English-language learners and special education students should be eliminated, not reformed.
  3. An education policy that traumatizes children, destroys the desire to learn, and corrupts the purposes for learning should be eliminated, not reformed.
  4. An education policy that uses fear, intimidation, and retribution as motivation should be eliminated, not reformed.
  5. An education policy that uses a single assessment once a year to make life-altering decisions should be eliminated, not reformed.
  6. An education policy that ignores poverty as a chief determinant in academic performance should be eliminated, not reformed.
  7. An education policy that creates two different school curriculums, one for the children of the poor and one for well-funded successes, should be eliminated, not reformed.
  8. An education policy that uses skewed and manipulated research from the National Reading Panel to devise a national reading strategy should be eliminated, not reformed.
  9. An education policy that uses the strain of test score competition to undercut public cohesion and civic commitment to democratic goals should be eliminated, not reformed.
  10. An education policy that shrinks the American school curriculum to two or three subjects that are tested should be eliminated, not reformed.
  11. An education policy that discourages diversity and encourages homogeneity in schools should be eliminated, not reformed.
  12. An education policy that supports the use of tax dollars to fund private schools rather than public school improvement should be eliminated, not reformed.
  13. An education policy that advocates the use of public money to pay private contractors to run public schools should be eliminated, not reformed.
  14. An education policy that is built on unfunded and under-funded mandates should be eliminated, not reformed.
  15. An education policy that reduces or eliminates local and state decision making by citizens should be eliminated, not reformed.
  16. An education policy that mandates that military recruiters have access to student information should be eliminated, not reformed.
  17. An education policy that inflames a teacher shortage in order to replace professional teachers with individuals who have passed a teaching test should be eliminated, not reformed.
  18. An education policy that is used to reward tax dollars to insiders and cronies for their political support should be eliminated, not reformed.
  19. An education policy that uses paid propaganda to advance its agenda should be eliminated, not reformed.
  20. An education policy that puts test scores in the place of the intellectual, social, and emotional growth of America’s children should eliminated, not reformed.
10 Action Strategies for Eliminating NCLB
  1. Hold a public forum in your community to explore and explain these points.
  2. Organize community and neighborhood potluck dinners with teachers and parents to talk together about how NCLB is affecting children and school.
  3. Persuade your organizations to pass resolutions calling for the repeal of NCLB based on these points.
  4. Collect signatures on a Petition to Eliminate NCLB based on these 20 points. Publicize your results in the local media and send copies of resolutions and petitions to your local and federal elected officials.
  5. Write letters-to-the-editor and op-ed pieces for your local and regional newspapers, making these points.
  6. Get your local school board to pass a resolution or hold a community forum about eliminating NCLB.
  7. Contact your U.S. senators and representatives about eliminating NCLB: Call them, write or email them (send these points and other information), and set up meetings with them in your district (bring a group of children).
  8. Contact your state legislators to enlist them in the effort to eliminate NCLB; get state legislatures to pass resolutions.
  9. Parents: Join the NCLB-mandated Parents Advisory Board at your child’s school. Bring the 20 Reasons to Eliminate NCLB to begin a dialogue.
  10. Organize a public protest or march on test days or days given over to test preparation.
If you do not have the documentation you need to explain the 20 Reasons, or if you can't find it on this or other websites, contact me via email.


Aaron Schutz said...

Okay, so I know I'm responding to the least important part of this post :)

However. . . The problem is not just with the "reification" of Dewey. If all Dewey meant by "democratic" was that we needed to experiment to make things democratic (and I know that's not precisely what you are saying, but bear with me a moment), then he wouldn't have said much. He was very clear that the form of democracy he promoted required the enhancement of individual identity through collective action. Of course, as a pragmatist, he might have changed his mind about this, but (aside from some points noted by Craig in an Ed Theory article, for example) he didn't for over a half century. Of course, this still isn't a "formula," but it is a set of principles to help one decide what is more or less "democratic," and these principles drive current discussions about democratic education (to the extent that anyone cares about this at all). I could cite a zillion examples, but I won't. It is these principles that I argue are essentially middle-class and, in isolation, of limited relevance to oppressed people.

I made argument (which may or may not be actually convincing) here:

Jim Horn said...

Yes, the "enhancement of individual identities through collective actions" that are sustained by enhanced individuals' contributions to the civic and political culture that will continue to provide the appropriate relational space to enhance more individuals.

Again, what separates healthy human systems from ant colonies is just that attribute--the collective purpose is the realization of individual autonomies, rather than individual purpose sacrificed for the good of the colony.

Any collective action that is not aimed at the realization of individual actors that constitute the collective would seem to me to more Spartan than Athenian. If I were a Greek (an old one), I know which side I would be on.

What individuals do with that freedom and autonomy, and what coaltions, cultures, or teams are joined as outgrowth of that freedom, becomes an expression of individual choice, which would not be possible without the the civic and political culture that regards that choice and that autonomy as sacred.

I know that part of this rendition (no, not that kind) is a view of Dewey through the lens of Maturana and Varela, but I think that their views on self-organization of systems offers much to chew on in terms of social organization.

I will read both your TC piece and Craig's ET piece. Much obliged.

Aaron Schutz said...

Well, that view of democracy is, as I've noted, the standard line in education. However, it assumes that the goal of a democratic action is to actualize an individual. If you make $3.25 an hour and you want a raise, then you are more interested in whether your leaders will carry out your general wishes. You don't necessarily care whether or not your own personal perspective reverberates through the action. It is possible to have fully democratic engagements that are very un-deweyan in this way. In fact, I am currently re-reading Aldon Morris's _The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement_ for yet a different project, and he makes it quite clear that the Montgomery Improvement Association, which directed the Montgomery Bus Boycott (MLK's original group, although he didn't actually do the planning for the boycott) was not very Deweyan-in fact, it was very "top down"--but was, perhaps _because of this_ a clear expression of a democratic impulse.

Nice quote: "In . . . [Leon Bennett's] view the church culture that permeated the meetings enabled the diverse groups (professors, porters, doctors, maids, laborers, housewives, even drunks) to abandon the claims of rank, class, and creed, while reaching out to each other in new hope and new faith. He further argues [and this is the key line for me--AS] that 'under the impact of the Old Negro Spirituals, of hand-clapping, shouting, 'testifying.' and 'amening,' personality shells dissolved and reintegrated themselves around a larger, more inclusive racial self'" (Morris, 1984, p. 47).

This was explicitly a "mass" movement, primarily run in a very authoritarian way, but by people who were deeply connected to the needs and desires, generally, of those they were leading. (The SNCC and Highlander/Citizenship School approaches looked much more Deweyan, although there is evidence that some of the Deweyan aspects of SNCC proved extremely limiting for them).

Now, I actually think Dewey would have been just fine with how Montgomery ran. But because of the criteria he set out for an "authentic" democratic engagement, it actually falls outside the vision of educational scholars who, almost without exception (even when they don't know it) look to Dewey. (It's not very Arendtian either, ala Maxine Greene).

Look, Dewey was not an activist. He didn't really know anything about activism or this history of activism, except in very marginal ways. He developed his vision of democracy in a school carefully supervised by teachers. So it isn't surprising that his democratic criteria don't hold up very well in very different kinds of contexts. Again, the point is not that Dewey is useless, but that, alone, his criteria tend to obscure the possibility of actions like the most important boycott of the Civil Rights Movement.

The world is not a classroom, and when we treat it like it is, we miseducate those students who will have to live in it.

Jim Horn said...

Dewey did not learn about democracy from a school marm. He learned in the streets of Chicago, under the tutelage of Jane Addams during the Pullman strikes.

Nor did Dewey subscribe to a kind rudderless anarchy without leaders who make decisions based on the well-being of those they lead. He did, of course, acknowledge the difference between authority and authoritarian, in much the same way as Freire, by the way. The most significant difference is that in the former, those who are led have choices and voices, and in the latter, they don't.

In regards to Highlander, Horton knew that democratic education is grounded in questions, not in supplying the answers. In problem posing, as Freire would say. This can be very disconcerting to authoritarian personalities, regardless of their cause. But I think it would be entirely consistent with Dewey, who some would like to sweep aside to make room for new conceptions. And there have always been those who argue that Dewey is simply an apologist for the status quo.

I would argue that if you look at the Dewey-Lippman debates of the 1920's, there may be some very good ideas useful in countering some the current crop of neo-fascists who give no credit to the potential of democratic governance.

Dewey was very clear in his refusal to budge on the democratic ideal, just as he was adamantly opposed to the possibility of achieving it by authoritarian means, regardless of the intent. The goal achieved thusly would, indeed, undercut the entire enterprise.

Of course, there are those who believe that freedom can be imposed, even from afar.

Aaron Schutz said...

I don't think there's any evidence that Dewey learned "on the streets" in any significant way. He was certainly there during the Pullman strikes, but whether this provided an opportunity for him to really engage with how these were organized, I think, is doubtful.

And, yes, he did learn from Jane Addams, but as far as I can tell, mostly in the university-like seminars they gave to mostly middle-class, educated "residents." And a relatively personal context like Addams's settlement house might actually lend itself to Deweyan forms of democracy, in any case.

In any case, these experiences did not lead him to alter his vision of democracy as focused on the collaboration of unique individuals.

And, of course he didn't believe in a leadersless democracy. But he did believe that the ruling practices of a democratic engagement, which would include leaders, etc., would be subservient to a process whereby all (or as many as possible) individuals contributed their unique perspectives and experiences. He also makes this quite clear in Public and Its Problems.

I've looked closely at Dewey's debates with Lippman, as has Westbrook and others. My conclusion, and I'm not alone in this, is that Dewey really didn't have a coherent response to Lippman's critiques. At the end he basically handwaves and says, well, I can't see an answer to Lippman's issues, but I think we should be able to solve them, somehow, someday. (sorry to cite myself so much, but I argue that it is unlikely that we will _ever_ solve some of the problems Lippman illuminates here:

We hold Freire and Dewey up as the great paradigms of true and authentic democracy, yes. But I think it is because they present ideas of democracy that fit with our own relatively privliged positions. They present visions of democracy that are very applicable to the relatively small discursive spaces of classrooms. They present visions of democracy focused on giving all individuals a unique "voice" in public settings--and we always want to make sure "we" are heard, as individuals. (See, e.g., Lareau's writings on how a middle-class upbringing leads to a sense of entitlement on the part of children). Of course, these approaches can be quite useful in specific settings of oppression--as Freire and Highlander and even SNCC showed. But they also come with quite severe limitations when one attempts to apply them outside small educational contexts.

There are different kinds of authority, and they play out in different ways. In the Montgomery example, I think authority served democracy in ways Dewey's model does not seem well equipped to recognize.

Are you really saying that you believe the majority of actions taken during the civil rights movement were undemocratic? Are you really saying that the results of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, because it didn't follow Dewey's cherished model "undercut the entire enterprise"? If so, I'm afraid we are in quite strong disagreement.

I'm enjoying our back and forth, here.

Jim Horn said...


Freire/Horton point: These folks made did all their significant work outside of anything the establishment would call school, until, of course, Freire was invited to Harvard. That's when he became co-opted, and that is when the competing elites of non-elitism began the fissure which eventually cast Freire, Dewey, and Horton afloat on their own little middle class icebergs.

I am getting the sense there something inherently reactionary about "unique individuals." Of course, those who make such suggestions must be representing a group, I would think. Otherwise . . .

If we push the left the Left ("those who live for the Revolution and by its non-arrival") far enough, and the Right far enough (those who seek to recover a past that never was), we find that they eventually meet in something that the science fiction writers called the Borg.

Resistance is futile.

Aaron Schutz said...

By the way, when I give a citation to my own work, I don't actually expect anyone to jump up and go read it. It's just meant as an FYI if you happen to be interested.

It always bothers me when writers imply that you don't understand what they are arguing because you haven't read their entire body of work. It seems to me that one's argument needs to succeed or fail based on what you say in the particular context you are engaging in (unless you're Dewey or W. E. B. Dubois or something).

Most of us are deeply buried in particular projects, and must choose carefully what we spend time reading. And since I won't necessarily go immediately out and read other people's work if they cite it, I can't expect that people will read mine.

Aaron Schutz said...

Okay, Jim, but I think you are dodging my central question, here. Do you think the Montgomery Bus Boycott was "undemocratic"? Do you think they shouldn't have used the organizational strategies they used because it doesn't fit your criteria? Does this make them the Borg?

Jim Horn said...

One more time--NO!

As we, and Dewey, found out in WWII, there are times when we must put our foot on someone's neck and cut his head off if that person insists upon quashing social rules and realities based on the acknowledgment, preservation, and/or expansion of human and civil rights. Some people you just can't talk to. The Hitlers and the Bull Oconnors of the world are two represenative examples.

Aaron Schutz said...

I feel like I may not be doing a good job of communicating my points, here, and I'm not sure I'm entirely connecting with what you are trying to say. So I apologize if I'm misreading you.

We may sometimes need to act anti-democratically, which I think is your point. I'm not sure. But I'm arguing that the non-Deweyan approach of King in Montgomery _was_ democratic, and that our blinders about what counts as democracy leads us either to deny such practices as democratic, or to define them vaguely as Deweyan without carefully examining them. They were not the borg. They voted for the mass movement with their feet, but not with their individual perspectives. _They_ thought the bus boycott was entirely democratic in spirit.

And, to defend Dewey, just so I'm not misunderstood, it is possible to engage in active resistance (and not dialogue) with an oppressor using quite Deweyan means. Robert Moses especially showed this quite clearly in the Deep South. My only argument is that this approach has a very limited scope and usefulness.

But maybe we're talking past each other a bit, here. And maybe we actually agree and I'm to dense to see it.

Anonymous said...

This was an excellent article and action plan. The Dewey and Democracy discussion is interesting but far from the main point.
Public Education is being destroyed by NCLB and it must be vigorously opposed. The important thing is to become active in the enterprise of resistance to NCLB at any level to which we have access.