Reformed to Death: Discipline and Control Eclipse Education

An enduring gift of being a student and a teacher is that these experiences often create lifelong and powerful personal and professional relationships. Reminiscing about these experiences, however, is often bittersweet because we are simultaneously reminded of the great promise of education as well as how too often we are completely failing that promise.

After writing about my two years as as a co-lead instructor for a local Writing Project summer institute, the former student I discussed called me, and we found ourselves wading deeply into the bittersweet.

She has in the intervening years been a co-facilitator in the same workshop where I taught her now more than 15 years ago; she also has worked in many capacities providing teachers professional development and serving as a mentor to pre-service teachers completing education programs and certification requirements.

As we talked, the pattern that emerged is extremely disturbing: the most authentic and enriching opportunities for teachers are routinely crowded out by bureaucratic and administrative mandates, often those that are far less valid as instructional practice.

In my chapter on de-grading the writing classroom, I outlined how the imposition of accountability ran roughshod over the rise of the National Writing Project (NWP), which embodied both the best of how to teach writing and a gold standard approach to professional development.

What is best for teachers and what is best for students, however, are mostly irrelevant in the ongoing high-stakes accountability approach to education reform, a process in which discipline and control eclipse education.

Local sites of the NWP are crucibles of how the reform movement is a death spiral for authentic and high-quality teaching and learning as well as teacher professionalism.

At the core of the NWP model is a charge that teachers must experience and become expert in that which they teach; therefore, to guide students through a writing workshop experience, teachers participate in extended summer writing workshop institutes.

While NWP site-based institutes and other programs thrived against the weight of the accountability era, that appears to be waning under the weight of accountability-based mandates that are in a constant state of reform; teachers are routinely required to seek new certification while they and their students must adapt to a perpetually different set of standards and high-stakes tests.

That bureaucracy is often Orwellian since “best practice” and “evidence-based”—terminology birthed in authentic contexts such as the NWP—have become markers for programs and practices that are aligned with standards and testing, not with the research base of the field. The logic is cripplingly circular and disturbingly misleading.

This erosion and erasing of teaching writing well and effectively is paralleled all across the disciplines in K-12 education, in fact—although how writing is particularly ruined in standards- and testing-based programs and practices remains our best marker of accountability as discipline and control, not as education.

I want to end here by staying with writing, but shifting to the sacred cow of the reform movement: evidence.

High-stakes testing of writing has been a part of state accountability and national testing (NAEP and, briefly, the SAT) for more than 30 years since A Nation at Risk ushered in (deceptively) the accountability era of K-12 public education in the U.S.

What do we know about high-stakes testing as well as the accountability paradigm driven by standards and tests?

George Hillocks has documented [1] that high-stakes testing of writing reduces instruction to training students to conform to anchor papers, template writing, and prescriptive rubrics. In other words, as I noted above, “best practice” and “evidence-based” became whether or not teaching and learning about writing conformed to the way students were tested—not if students had become in any way authentic or autonomous writers, and thinkers.

My own analysis of NAEP tests of writing [2] details that standardized data touted as measuring writing proficiency are strongly skewed by student reading abilities and significant problems with the alignment of the assessment’s prompts and scoring guides.

And now, we have yet more proof that education reform is fundamentally flawed, as Jill Barshay reports:

“(T)he use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap,” concluded the working paper, “Performance of fourth-grade students in the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing pilot assessment.”  If so, that has big implications as test makers, with the support of the Department of Education, move forward with their goal of moving almost all students to computerized assessments, which are more efficient and cheaper to grade.

Not only does high-stakes testing of writing fail the research base on how best to teach composition [3], but also the pursuit of efficiency [4] continues to drive all aspects of teaching and learning, effectively contradicting the central claims of reformers to be pursuing seemingly lofty goals such as closing the achievement gap.

Writing instruction and assessment are prisoners of the cult of proficiency that is K-12 education reform, and are just one example of the larger accountability machine that has chosen discipline and control over education.

Reform has become both the means and the ends to keeping students and teachers always “starting again,” “never [to be] finished with anything,” as Gilles Deleuze observed [5].

Barshay ends her coverage of the IES study on computer-based writing assessment with a haunting fear about how evidence drives practice in a high-stakes accountability environment, a fear I guarantee will inevitably become reality:

My fear is that some educators will respond by drilling poor kids in the QWERTY keyboard, when the time would be better spent reading great works of literature and writing essays and creative stories.

As long as reforming and accountability are the masters, we will continue to make the wrong instructional decisions, we will continue to be compelled to make the wrong decisions.


[1] See Hillocks’s “FightingBack: Assessing theAssessments” and The Testing Trap: How State Writing Assessments Control Learning.

[2] See 21st Century Literacy: If We Are Scripted, Are We Literate?, co-authored with Renita Schmidt.

[3] See The Impact of the SAT and ACT Timed Writing Tests – NCTE.

[4] See NCTE Position Statement on Machine Scoring.

[5] See Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control:

The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms: to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons….In the disciplinary societies one was always starting again (from school to barracks, from barracks to the factory), while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything—the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation….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.

The Rise of Crony Appointees and the Inexpert Ruling Class

Imagine the U.S. president appointing the Secretary of Education based almost entirely on that appointee being connected, and not because of a wealth of experience and expertise in public education.

No, this is not about Trump and Betsy DeVos—or at least not just about the most current spit in the eye of educators. The opening comment applies to Barack Obama appointing Arne Duncan, his Chicago basketball buddy.

The line from Duncan to DeVos is not some dramatic leap, but very direct and incredibly short.

“In the disciplinary societies one was always starting again (from school to barracks, from barracks to the factory),” wrote Gilles Deleuze in Postscript on the Societies of Control, “while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything—the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation.”

Many would discount this as so much French philosophical hokum, but when Deleuze turns to the fiction of Franz Kafka, the more concrete warning of this examination appears. Writing over a century ago, Kafka was keenly aware of the soul-destroying consequences of the bureaucratic existence.

Just as Kafka himself offered dark humor in his existential tales, more recently we have the comic strip Dilbert and two versions, UK and US, of the TV sitcom The Office as well as cult class films such as Office Space to dramatize exactly what Deleuze and Kafka feared: the rise of crony appointees and the inexpert ruling class.

Duncan and DeVos are inners, building careers on being connected and buying connections. And education has been a harbinger for the inevitability of Trump for three decades now since being without expertise and experience has driven who controls public education and what policies are implemented.

Education and education policy have been a playground for Innovators! who have no historical context or real experience in day-to-day teaching and learning.

The policy equivalent to DeVos being confirmed as SOE is the charter school—a garbled Frankenstein of pet policies manufactured by Innovators!

Charter schools sew together “public” with “choice” and hire inexperienced and uncertified TFA corps members who dutifully (although briefly) implement Innovation! such as project-based learning (PBL).

And as a result of the inexpert ruling class, we continue to hear this sort of nonsense:

In fact, the rise of charter schools mirrors disruptive innovation, a term coined by the Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The theory explains how technology allows for the creation of better services, which eventually replace those of well-established competitors. Traditional public schools, for example, are focused on low-risk, sustainable improvements. They lost their dominance in the market to cutting-edge charters that worked to transform labor, capital, materials, and information to better meet consumer needs.

Yes, Technology! and Disruptive Innovation! But there is more:

For more than 2.5 million students in almost 7,000 schools, 43 states, and the District of Columbia, charter schools have ignited innovations in how education is delivered, measured, and structured, by lengthening school days, emphasizing project-based learning, and using new and creative models for classroom management. That traditional public education has adopted many of the same notions first tried in charters is cause for celebration. The more established innovations become, the greater their impact. But charters also run the risk of losing the very conditions that made them able to innovate in the first place.

Wow, Ignited Innovation! As you can tell, this is a hot mess.

The vapid Newspeak of inexpert Innovators! is a veneer covering a complete lack of credibility or substance.

And the result is a reduction of teaching and learning to the exact sort of bureaucratic hell found in Kafka, Dilbert, The Office, and Office Space—know-nothing bosses and managers dutifully keeping the workers on task by constantly changing those tasks.

If we simply unpack the Innovation-of-the-Moment!, PBL, we have a model for exactly how Trump came about, and what to expect in the wake of that rise.

“The cause for my wrath is not new or single. It is of slow growth and has many characteristics,” writes Lou LaBrant. “It is known to many as a variation of the project method; to me, as the soap performance,” explaining:

I am disturbed by the practice, much more common than our publications would indicate, of using the carving of little toy boats and castles, the dressing of quaint dolls, the pasting of advertising pictures, and the manipulation of clay and soap as the teaching of English literature.

LaBrant, then, concludes:

In encouraging much of handwork in connection with the reading of literature, it seems to the writer, wrong emphasis is made. The children may be interested, yes. But it makes considerable difference whether the interest be such as to lead to more reading or more carving….

That the making of concrete models will keep interested many pupils who would otherwise find much of the English course dull may be granted. The remedy would seem to be in changing the reading material rather than in turning the literature course into a class in handcraft.

Let’s note here LaBrant was confronting the failures of obsessive commitments to PBL in 1931.

That’s right.

1931.

The very ugly truth about our crony appointees and inexpert ruling class is that all they have is snake oil and barker’s bullshit.

Innovation! Technology!

Bullshit.

Since one of the first controversies after DeVos was confirmed involved her using a public school for a photo-op, prompting protests and Duncan’s crony-appointee solidarity, I invite anyone who genuinely cares about education to not only visit a public school but also listen to the teachers and students trapped in the Kafkan nightmare that is, for example, a school-wide embracing of PBL.

Teaching and learning—necessarily messy things, essentially personal endeavors—are reduced to a never-ending quest to do PBL as prescribed, teaching and learning be damned (just as LaBrant observed almost 90 years ago).

And as Deleuze recognized, education remains trapped in “always starting again,” “never finished with anything”; education Innovator’s! obsession with Technology! has nothing to do with teaching and learning, but everything to do with making someone money and with discipline and control.

The ceaseless updating of technology requires vigilant retraining (educators are always in a state of retraining), the ceaseless reintroduction of New! standards requires vigilant retraining (educators are always in a state of retraining), and the next program Innovation! requires vigilant retraining (educators are always in a state of retraining).

All the technology and facilities retooling and teacher retraining to implement PBL must necessarily call on Innovators! to create something New! to replace the tired and (once again) ineffective practices.

Once PBL becomes the norm of schooling, Innovators! will pounce on the New! opportunity to Innovate! No, with great speed and determination—Disruptive Innovation!

The know-nothing ruling class and their enablers will scoff at French philosophy and Prussian fiction because that is all about being informed, knowledgable.

We in education have lived under this nonsense for decades now so let me say to the rest of the U.S.: welcome to our nightmare.

Michael Scott has been elected POTUS, and he has given all his friends the cool jobs while he pecks away on Twitter giving the rest of us the middle finger emoji.

Recommended

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Huxley vs Orwell

Teaching Students, Not Standards or Programs

Teaching Reading and Children: Reading Programs as “Costume Parties”

At a Great Beyond Starbucks: Deleuze, Freire, Kafka, and Malcolm X Discuss Obama

“Shouldn’t we be at a bar?” Gilles Deleuze raises his arms and hands scanning around the Great Beyond Starbucks.

“It’s Malcolm,” Franza Kafka explains. “Doesn’t drink.”

“Coffee either,” Deleuze shrugs. “And why are we here? Talking about some American football player and the president?”

“The brother has a name,” Malcolm X says walking to the table before sitting. “Kaepernick. Colin Kaepernick.”

Paulo Freire scoots his chair over so the table mostly is equally divided among Deleuze, Kafka, Malcolm, and himself.

“And the president, Obama, is talking like a house slave,” Malcolm continues. “Telling Kaepernick to consider how he has hurt military members and their families.”

“It is the bureaucratization of the mind,” Freire interjects. “Obama must assume the political pose of the bureaucrat—seeking to offend no one and as a result offending everyone.”

“Poseidon,” Kafka offers absently.

“Poseidon?” Malcolm asks, scanning the others at the table.

“Obama has endless work, the work of a bureaucrat, the chief bureaucrat,” Kafka sighs.

Deleuze raises a hand, adding, “It is the necessity of administration, of administering. Always reforming, always in flux.” He pauses with a slight shake of his head. “If he declares anything, it is over, finished. To be finished is to be without purpose. The nightmare of the bureaucrat.”

“If Jimmy was there,” Malcolm says, “if Jimmy were there, he would say what needs to be said.”

“Jimmy?” asks Deleuze.

“Baldwin,” Freire leans toward Deleuze. “James Baldwin.”

“O, yes, where is Baldwin?” asks Deleuze.

“With Ali,” Malcolm explains. “Prince is performing, and Jimmy says he has had it with the living and their invoking his name while doing nothing.”

“Carlin is doing a set after Prince,” Kafka smiles.

Seemingly in unison, the four turn toward the billow of smoke gradually enveloping their table from the one beside them.

“So it goes,” comes through the fog of cigarette smoke. “So it goes.”

Meanwhile among the living.


“A generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure”: Deleuze

Franz Kafka, “Poseidon”

Teachers As Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach, Paulo Freire

Message to Grassroots, Malcolm X

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Teacher Education and A Call to Activism

If such a thing existed, education as a profession and discipline would easily take Gold, Silver, and Bronze in the Low Self-Esteem Olympics.

Historically viewed as a woman’s profession—and thus a “second” salary—and as merely a professional discipline, education has labored under a secondary status in both the professional and academic worlds.

As a result, education chose early to be a scientific profession and discipline to counter the perception of softness—and thus, as Kliebard details, the heart and soul of education (child-centered commitments and social activism) were marginalized for the more conservative and “hard” elements (efficiency and core curriculum).

In the early decades of the twentieth century, then, a paradox developed: while many who demonized and championed education associated U.S. public schools with John Dewey, the reality was that very little progressivism was practiced but that standardized testing was established as the engine driving the education machine.

Throughout the twentieth century, IQ testing and then the SAT and similar gate-keeping standardized tests (such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills) significantly influenced how students were labeled and then what courses students were assigned—and even if they had real access to higher education. By the early 1980s, a new era of hyper-accountability was established within which the locus of power shifted entirely to standards and high-stakes tests.

In short, teachers have been reduced to implementing the standards prescribed for them and to conducting test-prep—while the discipline of education has been almost entirely bureaucratized since education courses serve as vehicles for fulfilling certification and accreditation mandates.

In the Preface to Regenerating the Philosophy of Education (edited by Kincheloe and Hewitt, Peter Lang USA, 2011), Hewitt confesses:

Seriously. I never thought I would ever have to justify the moral importance of social foundations courses—particularly philosophy of education courses—in Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs to a committee of colleagues, all holding Ph.Ds. (p. ix)

What Hewitt and the volume are addressing, however, is the new reality about teacher education: education philosophy and foundations courses are disappearing (are gone) because more and more course work in education degrees has to fulfill demands of certification and accreditation.

No more Dewey, Greene, and Freire. But a relentless drumbeat of validity, reliability, teacher impact, and rubrics (my God, the rubrics).

Teacher educators, teacher candidates, and practitioners—all are now not in the business of investigating and building/re-building the profession and discipline of education, but are soldiers taking marching orders from bureaucrats and technocrats.

No more “What is the purpose of universal public education in a free society?” but instead “How do we raise test scores among poor and black/brown students?”

And as I have pointed out before, among those of us in teacher education—who work in higher education where many of us have tenure and are full professors“we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Teacher education has continued the most self-defeating aspects of being a low self-esteem profession and discipline by trying way too hard to prove we are like “hard” disciplines—scrambling to be like psychology while sacrificing our sociological roots, battering our majors and candidates with statistics and measurement while reducing educational philosophy to surveys at best and eliminating it entirely at worst.

And to drift a bit into irony, philosophy is extremely illustrative of the problem facing education. Gilles Deleuze explains:

We are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure—prison, hospital, factory, school, family. The family is an “interior,” in crisis like all other interiors—scholarly, professional, etc. The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms [emphasis added]: to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons….

In the disciplinary societies one was always starting again [emphasis added] (from school to the barracks, from the barracks to the factory), while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything—the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation. (pp. 3-4, 5)

Education, then, as bureaucratic and technocratic has characteristics of both societies of control and disciplinary societies—”always starting again” and “never finished with anything” as characteristics of the accountability paradigm driven by ever-new standards and ever-new high-stakes tests.

But for all the bluster about being “scientific” and the relentless mantra of “crisis,” bureaucratic and technocratic education has failed to examine the data and re-evaluate the process: after nearly a century of standardized testing and over three decades of accountability, most “problems” all of that has been fashioned to address remain the same: poverty and inequity, racism, sexism, and homophobia still plague society and the schools designed to serve and even change that society.

The short version is that bureaucratic and technocratic education has not worked—except to destroy the heart and soul of education as a profession and discipline.

At both the K-12 and higher education levels, the school year is beginning all across the U.S. We in teacher education are spending much if not most of our time as soldiers in the certification and accreditation wars—recalibrating syllabi to standards and rewriting our rubrics to meet those new standards as well.

We in teacher education are so busy complying to bureaucratic and technocratic mandates, and so-long beaten down by the demand that we avoid being political (and thus remain compliant and silent), that we are embodying the very caricature of what educators and education professors are, paradoxically, as we rush to prove our profession and discipline are “hard,” scientific: rarely scholarly, superficial, and simplistic. 

K-12 teachers are increasingly even less powerful than the profession has been forever; therefore, teacher education—where we are tenured and full professors—is the last best hope for reclaiming the heart and soul of universal public education from the bureaucrats and technocrats.

We must reclaim the coursework and the discipline—ripping off our low self-esteem and standing proudly with our philosophy, theory, history, and methodology.

As a profession, education is a human endeavor, guided by our hearts and anchored by our souls. Teaching daily is messy, unpredictable, and chaotic.

None of that is “soft,” or hedging accountability.

As a discipline, education is rich and still in a constant state of becoming.

I cannot stress enough that over a thirty-plus-year career as first a public school English teacher and now a teacher educator, I don’t need standards, I don’t need tests, and I damn well don’t need rubrics to teach.

I do need students, and I do need courses to teach.

But these are trivial matters, irrelevant, as long as teacher educators remain dedicated soldiers in the bureaucratic and technocratic education war.

Now, we do need defectors, conscientious objectors—teacher educators willing to resist, to speak up, and act out.

Especially those of us with tenure and who are full professors, we need not be the enemy—we can and should do better.

 

Many Closets, One Fear: How Not to Be Seen

This starts with caveats and clarifications so please be patient.

I am white, male, and heterosexual—by the coincidences of my birth, many of my defining characteristics place me in the norm of my culture and combine to bestow upon me through no merit on my part a great deal of privilege.

Below, then, I am making no claim that the closets I have suffered and that others suffer share some sort of ultimate equivalence even though they share the crippling power of fear. I remain deeply angered at the scars of racism, sexism, and homophobia that linger in my country that claims to be a beacon of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I remain deeply angered at the scar of poverty that flourishes in that same country wrapping its crass consumerism and capitalism in the flag in order to continue to ignore inequity.

But as a privileged person, I too understand the weight of the closet and the paralysis of fear so I am venturing into this not as a pity party, not as navel gazing, and not to make some grand claim that I know what it is like to be the daily victim of racism, sexism, or homophobia, what it is like to be homeless or hungry.

I don’t.

This, however, is a place to offer a few words about the intersections that may at first not seem like intersections at all: Jason Collins coming out of the closet, the Boston Marathon bombing, Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and other “no excuses” schools.

“Stones can make people docile and knowable,” writes Foucault [1]. “The old simple schema of confinement and enclosure—thick walls, a heavy gate that prevent entering or leaving—began to be replaced by the calculation of openings, of filled and empty spaces, passages and transparencies” (p. 190).

Here, Foucault is being literal, confronting the culture of control that is housed in social institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and schools. But I want to consider the enclosure of the metaphorical closet before coming back to the role of the brick-and-mortar school below.

My privilege built on gender, race, and sexuality (all elements of my being I have not chosen, but essentials of whom I am) has contributed to my existential angst of coming to recognize throughout my life the equally important aspects of my Self that are distinctly outside cultural norms.

In my late 30s, I began to experience panic attacks, notably ones not directly associated with an event but attacks that were, as best as I can describe them, the manifestation of a war with myself. The attacks came upon me any time I tried to sleep, relax, and this was when my Normal Self let down the guard enough for the real and true me to begin to fight for the surface.

Again, I don’t want to belabor my personal struggles, but I do want to emphasize that the human condition is fraught with closets of many kinds that are joined by fear.

My closeting has always been an existential one: I have never felt the sort of normal response to religion that others appear to embrace (a powerful closeting condition in the South), but even more profoundly, I recognize my worldview as completely out of kilter with almost all other humans. It has created for me an often overwhelming sense of alienation.

What often is left unspoken is that it is in the moments of conflict between who we truly are and who we are expected to be that we feel self-conscious, we imagine that all eyes are on us, judging us, recognizing us for who we truly are in order to banish us from the community. For me, it is the never-ending ritual of “Let us pray…” or that split second when someone says something and everyone else nods in agreement while I calculate the damage that would be done if I said my piece. Both of these seem trivial to me in the text I just typed, but the cumulative effect of this daily, I think, must not be discounted—particularly as it occurred in my childhood and youth.

Closets exist because humans come to recognize two forces—who we truly are and who the World around us demands that we be. If who we truly are doesn’t match the demand, we often gather the stones to build our closets because above all else we are afraid of not being accepted, not being loved, not being cherished for who we truly are.

Even in our moments of such recognitions, we reach out for someone to join us:

I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)

Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

The closet, then, is a place to hide, how not to be seen. However, the human condition involves a drive not only to be seen, but also to be accepted, embraced. This has been profoundly demonstrated in Jason Collin’s own words about his motivation for confronting his sexuality within the exponentially judgmental worlds of social and athletic homophobia and normative expectations for being fully a man.

This tension between being seen and not being seen is at the center of Foucault’s culture of control: “This infinitely scrupulous concern with surveillance is expressed in the architecture by innumerable mechanisms….The perfect disciplinary apparatus would make it possible for a single gaze to see everything constantly” (p. 191).

Constant surveillance, then, achieves two ends: The power and coercion of normalizing (control, obedience), and the creation of anxiety, fear, where neither are warranted: “The perpetual penality that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institutions compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes” (p. 195).

The existential angst within the human condition, made more pronounced from within our many closets, confronts the concrete structures recognized by Foucault—hospitals, schools, prisons—but also now confronts a pervasive surveillance that was identified and then normalized itself because of the Boston Marathon bombing—the Brave New World of constant surveillance through smart phones, ubiquitous surveillance cameras, and the interconnectivity afforded through the Internet.

The normalizing came in the form of repeated comments from political leaders, law enforcement, and the media that the constant surveillance has now shown itself as essential for our safety—from the (criminal) Other, our mechanisms for the middle-class cocoon.

“Similarly,” Foucault explains, “the school building was to be a mechanism for training” (p. 190).

Building on Foucault’s recognition of the structures within a culture of control, DeLeuze details:

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]. (pp. 3, 5)

And now the intersections among closeted existences, fear, constant surveillance and the Boston Marathon bombing, and the “age of infinite examination” that is education reform built on accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing.

First let’s zoom in to the life of the student, specifically the student marginalized in her/his home and community and then marginalized in her/his school: “a pupil’s ‘offense’ is not only a minor infraction, but also an inability to carry out his tasks,” Foucault explains (p. 194), predating significantly the new norm of “no excuses” school cultures as captured by Sarah Carr’s look at post-Katrina New Orleans and the rise of KIPP and similar charter schools:

The reformers approach students they perceive as disadvantaged in much the same way they do struggling teachers….[L]ow income children must be taught, explicitly and step-by-step, how to be good students. Staff at a growing number of “no-excuses” charter schools…are prescriptive about where new students look (they must “track” the speaker with their eyes), how they sit (upright, with both feet planted on the ground, hands folded in front of them), how they walk (silently and in a straight line, which is sometimes marked out for them by tape on the floor), how they express agreement (usually through snaps or “silent clapping” because it’s less disruptive to the flow of class), and, most important, what they aspire to (college, college, college). This conditioning (or “calibration” or “acculturation”…) starts with the youngest of students. (pp. 42-43) [2]

“The disciplinary mechanisms,” Foucault explains, “secreted a ‘penalty of the norm,’ which is irreductible in its principles and functioning to the traditional penalty of the law” (p. 196). Carr and Nolan, in her ethnography of zero tolerance policies in urban high schools [3], shine a light on how schools and the penal system have merged in the U.S. for “other people’s children”—creating both a school-to-prison pipeline and schools as prisons.

CCSS and the high-stakes tests designed to enforce those standards, then, are yet a logical extension of the broader purposes of school to control, an institution that “compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes[,]…normalizes” through the mechanism of tests:

The order that the disciplinary punishments must enforce is of a mixed nature: it is an “artificial” order, explicitly laid down by a law, a program, a set of regulations. But it is also an order defined by natural and observable processes: the duration of apprenticeship, the time taken to perform an exercise, the level of aptitude refer to a regularity that is also a rule. (Foucault, pp. 194-195)

As well, Deleuze recognizes education is in a contant state of crisis, reform, and standardization, within which schools, teachers, and students can never finish. Our Brave New World of standardization and “infinite examination” is one of international rankings, school rankings, teacher rankings, and student rankings—all of which assure that virtually everyone cannot possibly measure up; number two is perpetually the first loser.

“The power of the Norm appears throughout the disciplines,” adds Foucault:

The Normal is established as a principle of coercion in teaching with the introduction of a standardized education and the establishment of the ecoles normales (teachers’ training college)….Like surveillance and with it, normalization becomes one of the great instruments of power at the end of the classical age. (p. 196)

A culture of control is the antithesis of a community.

A culture of control uses the normative gaze to breed conformity and to excise the Different from the herd.

A community reaches out, lends a hand, opens arms. A community is an invitation to the recognition of the humanity that joins all people despite the diversity among us individually.

Many closets, one fear—this should speak to our hearts in a way that moves us beyond cultures and societies of control and toward a community.

We should also come to see that our culture of control is built upon and perpetuated by a dehumanizing education mechanism grounded in surveillance and fear.

Just as fear is the wrong motivation for embracing the perpetual surveillance created by smart phones, cameras on every street corner, and the Internet, fear is the wrong motivation for how we build our schools.

Ultimately, KIPP and other “no excuses” charter schools, CCSS, and the perpetual churn of education reform are the consequences of fear.

Ceaseless school reform is irrational and heartless; it is building closets from the stones of test scores.

Ceaseless school reform creates schools and a society in which we all must find ways not to be seen, fearful if we take the risk to stand as our true selves in that open field we too will be shot down like a punch line in a comedy sketch.

[1] Foucault, M. (1984). The Foucault reader. Ed. P. Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books. See “The means of correct training” from Discipline and punish.

[2] Carr, S. (2013). Hope against hope: Three schools, one city, and the struggle to educate America’s children. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.

[3] Nolan, K. (2011). Police in the hallways: Discipline in an urban high school. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.