FOR SALE: Public Education?

Poets, priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no one’s jamming their transmission

“De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” The Police

We are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure—prison, hospital, factory, school, family….The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms: to reform schools….But everyone knows that these institutions are finished….These are the societies of control, which are in the process of replacing the disciplinary societies….In the disciplinary societies one was always starting again (from school to the barracks, from the barracks to the factory), while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything [emphasis added]. (Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control, pp. 3, 5)

Let me break here my own guidelines to my students and open with something rather boring, a full disclosure.

I am the out-going Council Historian for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and on my second set of editors as a column editor for English Journal. Members and prominent leaders in NCTE are my colleagues, dear friends, and among the most respected people in my fields of literacy and education.

In short, I credit NCTE and the people of NCTE for a significant portion of my professional and personal accomplishments.

That said, something powerful and disturbing has remained with me after the 2015 annual conference in blustery Minneapolis, MN—something that leaves me with a spark of hope underneath a growing black cloud of doom.

This is a story about a place within a place within a place: Minneapolis, the convention center, and then the exhibitor hall.

As NCTE members converged on Minneapolis, another unfortunate but all too common police killing of a young black man occurred in Minneapolis, sparking a protest and occupation by #BlackLivesMatter.

On a much smaller scale and under considerably less urgent conditions, a select group of NCTE members organized a protest and occupation of the Pearson booth looming large over the exhibit hall (including also prominent displays by Scholastic, Heinemann, and other education-related corporations):

The spark of hope? Yes, I fully support the protest of Pearson, and hope that along with this demonstration of resistance, the renewed focus by NCTE on advocacy (a tribute to the legacy of Kent Williamson) is a sign that educators and their professional organizations have begun to recognize and even embraced the essential political nature of our profession, of being a professional.

This, I think, could be a unifying #EducatorVoicesMatter (and if so, it must be one that seeks out and includes all voices in our field, which itself has many challenges left with racism, sexism, and classism).

Now, this becomes much more complicated because I have a couple pointed (and what may appear to be accusatory) questions?

Why only Pearson? And just how did Pearson grow into this all-encompassing, all-powerful evil?

Over the past decade or so, I have witnessed the increased presence and influence of teaching/learning and testing businesses in education broadly, but at NCTE specifically. The exhibit hall is just a real-world manifestation of the inordinate advertising space consumed in NCTE publications and the enormous funding drain these companies create for public schools across the U.S.

With deference to Deleuze above, I must assert once again that Pearson et al. are the monsters, but it is we who are the Drs. Frankenstein.

And it is this: Thirty-plus years of state and federal accountability mandates have proven that there is no correlation between the presence or quality of standards and student achievement, that high-stakes testing always trumps any good intentions of standards, necessarily reduces the curriculum, and harms vulnerable student populations. And:

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself. (Mathis, 2012)

Nonetheless, when the Common Core train pulled out of the station, politicians as engineers, it was with many educators and professional organizations (yes, NCTE) sprinting to hop on board, unwilling or unable to see students, public education, teacher autonomy, and the like tied up on the tracks as if in a silent movie.

I will now risk being accused of arrogance here, but I detailed carefully that the only people set to benefit from the Common Core mania were political leaders and teaching/learning/testing corporations, and then reported that in fact this is what happened, with Pearson standing at the top of the pile of cash.

We in education are always starting over, we are never finished with anything—driven into frantic states of crisis by the politics and bureaucracy of government-run education.

Pearson et al. are simply the natural manifestations of allowing our public institutions to feed our consumer/capitalist economy.

I hope there will be more and larger protests. I hope that spirit of resistance and professional autonomy—the rising of educator voices—grows.

But we must also make a real stand. No more new standards, no more new tests, no more dehumanizing accountability, no more top-down education legislation and mandates.

And that begins with educators as well as their professional organizations—not simply in word or protest, but in actions taken.

I fully accept Pearson et al. are the monsters, but literature shows us we must look at the Drs. Frankenstein for how the monsters came about.

Pointing fingers at Pearson cannot hide the blood on our hands.

7 comments

  1. Millie Davis

    Paul, I’d like to correct the record regarding NCTE and the Common Core. NCTE neither supports or opposes the Core. Rather, we realized when the core became the standards across most of America, that NCTE members, other educators, and students would be the affected ones. Then president Keith Gilyard noted how NCTE would approach the Core, “”The Council is focusing its resources on supporting teachers and teams as they make their own professional decisions — informed by reflection and research — about how best to foster literacy learning.”

    • plthomasedd

      I have never misrepresented that I hope. I disagreed with that stance when it was made and remain convinced neutral = endorsement. Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.

      • erikaaltensee

        Inaction is action. I totally agree. I joined NCTE because of professionals (such as you present). I seek mentors in our profession because I realized that public education is killing literacy.

      • Lloyd Lofthouse

        “I seek mentors in our profession because I realized that public education is killing literacy.”

        I disagree. I think that quote should say, “The reform of public education from the top down since NCLB is killing literacy—the love of reading.”

        The reason I say that is because most if not all English teachers love reading and before the top down gulag of NCLB, RTTT and the Common Core Crap when teachers had a bit more freedom in the classroom, many of them did all they could to instill a love of reading in the children who did not grow up with books, magazines and newspapers. But when top down reform forces teachers to adhere to a script that is designed to boost test scores—-a faulty script for faulty tests—then we see the love of reading and the love of learning fly out the door never to return.

        For instance, the gulag of the Eva Moskowitz Suspension Academies will probably cause many children who are college ready—-at least according to her bubble test scores—to hate learning and reading and never want to go to college to learn more for the love of learning. Instead, they will probably decide to take vocational classes to train for a better paying job—and many of those jobs will be in health care and not the tech industry. If the corporate public education demolition derby wins, education will become a real assembly line churning out those bricks that end up in a wall. Every child who isn’t dumped by the Corporate Charters will come out at the end stamped out of the same mold. Individually will be bullied out of them. The children who are dumped will get their education on the streets from street gangs that are in partnership with the drug cartels, and the private sector, for profit prison industry that is growing in this country will be salivating over those kids waiting to sweep them into cells.

        Decades ago I did some research and discovered that the organization that represents mortuaries lobbied and donated a lot of money to candidates who supported the building of the interstate highway system and the spread of the gasoline auto. Did you know that about 40,000 people die in car crashes annually? Compare that death toll to the annual combat deaths in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and you will discover that it might be safer to be fighting in a combat zone than driving on the highways and streets in America.

  2. Lloyd Lofthouse

    I understand what you are saying, but if Pearson falls from the top of that corporate public education demolition derby industry pyramid, and it’s a bloody demise, then that might send a signal to all the other greedy psychopathic rats to back off and run for the hills before the flood of anger tramples them too.

  3. Pingback: FOR SALE: Public Education? | irresistiblecircumstances

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