Two-Headed Dragon of Education Policy

Recently, I posted a chart highlighting that current “No Excuses” Reform (NER) claims and policies are no different than traditional problems and policies in public education.*

The great ironies of NER include that NER perpetuates the inequities of society and the current education system and that NER does not seek a reformed and revolutionary public education system but a dismantling of public schools for private interests (See RavitchFlanagan, and Cody).

The problem in education reform parallels the problem in our two-party system: While the competing ideologies and policies have successfully masked their being different sides of the same corporate coin, the many and varied alternatives outside the either/or norm remain hidden and silenced.

Part of the success of NER, historically (before such a phrase as “no excuses” was in vogue) and currently, lies in falsely positioning progressive education as widely implemented and failed (see Kohn) and falsely positioning status quo policies as “reform.”

So let me offer another chart I use with my introductory education course that builds on the parallels (and minor differences) between traditional and progressive agendas** while including a critical alternative to the two-party education reform agenda. This chart examines the need to change theoretical and philosophical assumptions about a wide range of aspects in teaching, learning, and public education if our reform agendas seek to revitalize a public good (universal public education) for goals that include democracy, equity, and agency:
[Traditional Practices]
[Progressive Suggestions]
[Critical Lens]
Critical Pedagogy
Facilitator/ Mentor (Coach)
Authoritative (teacher-student)
Receptive (passive)
Empowered (student-teacher)
Role of CONTENT (ends v. means)
Ends (goal)
Nature of REASONING (inductive v. deductive)
Instructional decisions = Deductive
Instructional decisions = Inductive
Not primary over affect;
Instructional decisions = Inductive
Assumptions about student thinking/ learning
Analytical (part to whole)
Global (whole to part)
To be monitored by teacher and learner
Responsibility for learning
Primarily the teacher
Primarily the student
Teacher-student/ Student-teacher
Central source of CURRICULUM
Traditions of the field
Student needs and interests
Discovered and defined during process
Selected response/ serves to label and sort
Created response/ performances
Authentic/ integral part of learning
Nature of learning conditions (individual v. social)
Nature of QUESTIONS (open-ended v. closed)
Open-ended (confrontational)
Attitude toward ERROR
Must be avoided
Natural and even necessary element of learning
Sees “error” label as dehumanizing and oppressive; function of normalization
Assumptions about MOTIVATION (intrinsic v. extrinsic)
To be monitored by teacher and learner
Role of psychology (behavioral v. cognitive)
Postformalism (Kincheloe)
Names associated with theory
Pavlov, Skinner, Thorndike, Watson
Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky
Freire, hooks, Vygotsky, Giroux, Kincheloe, Apple
Attitude toward standardization
Appropriate goal
Flawed expectation
Goal of instruction (answers v. questions)
Answers (correctness)
Questions (possibilities)
Questions that confront norms, assumptions
Perception of the nature of the mind
Blank slate
Jungian (Collective Unconscious)
Cognitive and affective both valued, evolving
Nature of Truth/truth
Truth (absolute)
truth (relative)
Truths as normalized assumptions (oppressive)

NER narratives argue that school-based reform alone can somehow revolutionize U.S. society, that social inequity can be overcome by the force of public education.

That narrative is false on two fronts: (1) We have no evidence public schools have ever been revolutionary (see Traub), (2) because public schools traditionally and currently have reflected and perpetuated the inequitable norms of the society they serve.

The privileged will never lead the revolution because the privileged benefit from the status quo.

*Originally published at Daily Kos (November 4, 2012) as Two-Headed Dragon of Education Policy.

**See the problem that traditional/progressive posturing creates—ignoring a truly critical pose: Who’s the Real Progressive?


6 thoughts on “Two-Headed Dragon of Education Policy

  1. Pingback: Two-Headed Dragon of Education Policy – @ THE CHALK FACE

  2. I can appreciate that a teacher has to be more than a mentor or facilitator , but the word authoritative has the connotations of Baumrind’s authoritative parenting which has more to do with control than collaboration.

  3. Pingback: Progressivism and Whole Language: A Reader | the becoming radical

  4. Pingback: Teaching Students, Missionary Zeal, and the Cult of Personality | the becoming radical

  5. Pingback: empathyeducates – Teaching Students, Missionary Zeal, and the Cult of Personality

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