Progressive Education Policy – Day Two: Know Yourself, Know Your History

Who decided it was a good idea to write a weekly blog post on a class? As I second guess that decision from a time commitment perspective, I’m pressing forward for several good reasons. By opening the doors to our classrooms in this fashion, we’re modeling positive behavior that we see in our local schools and in schools around the country, but we also admit that doing so is a risk. It’s much easier to shut one’s door and do what she or he thinks is best for the students, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. By sharing glimpses of class and materials and readings from a potentially enigmatic–privatizing education, for example, is en vogue across party lines–course like this, we are opening ourselves to criticism and the potential for outright attacks. That said, the door to Peabody Hall 307 is virtually and physically open for others to join because part of the point of this class is to communicate with those outside of the academy. It’s much easier to not practice what we preach.

Let’s start with a quick recap of last week’s class and a reminder of what was read and prepared for Day Two. Last week we kicked off the semester and partied like it was 1897 with John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed.” Students concurred that the text is just as relevant today and it provided the impetus for all of us in class–instructors included–to begin to stake our claim in our own individual educational beliefs. Students and those following along at home were encouraged to take up the questions, “what’s your line in the sand and/or what do you most firmly believe about education?”

Peabody Hall

On Wednesday, September 2nd, we worked to take additional steps in addressing these “line in the sand” and “firm beliefs”  questions by presenting drafts of our educational oaths. We split the class into three groups for writing response. The format for the response groups was something I learned in the 2007 and 2008 Invitational Summer Institutes of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project. While I’d participated in and directed students through a variety of peer revision and editing formats, as a teacher I’d never settled on one that truly worked. Rather than participants reading the papers of one another, these “NWAWP Response Groups” rely on oral readings of an author’s paper and then a conversation that following focusing on what the listeners liked, questioned, and suggested about the piece. It might be a form of educational alchemy because I’ve found it to work so well with so many different populations.

In listening to and reading my educational oath to others, I was both buoyed and challenged to further develop what I was writing. I’ve decided to tackle a teacher educator’s oath for a host of reasons, none perhaps as glaring as the fact the media and various pundits believe teacher educators to exist somewhere under the layer of pond scum that covers the local lakes each fall. Decisions are taken out of our hands, opportunities to influence our future teachers are taken out of our hands, and generally speaking our profession is being privatized right along side that of  the K-12 Public Schools. This is nonsense for lots of reasons, but I digress.

For those of you following along at home, you may want to attempt to replicate the experience of the response groups by both reading your oaths aloud and reading them aloud to someone unfamiliar and asking for structured feedback. They are due next Wednesday, September 9th at 6 PM.

In addition to developing and refining our educational oaths for Day Two, we also read two pieces for class–Chapter One of The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Lies and Stan Karp’s “Challenging Corporate Ed Reform: And 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance,” that appeared in Rethinking Schools (a publication I can’t recommend strongly enough).

Dr. Endacott led our discussion of the two readings that students completed in advance of class. He started us out talking about the efficiency epidemics in education starting on page 14, a point Tienken & Ulrich make as part of a general unpacking of the attempted and failed education reforms of the past century. Perhaps an early theme of their book is the cliche notion that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it, an issue that came up in Day One’s reading and discussion of Dewey as well.

To this issue of forgetting our history, it seems to me that at least some of this disappearing act of our educational and social foundations are not a coincidence. They represent efforts to deprofessionalize education and to ultimately make it into a for-profit business. An article that influenced my early thinking on this issue was written by Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon from the University of Tennessee, an article in The Journal of Thought in which she challenges the leaders in her college on the fact that she was then the lone remaining faculty teaching social foundations of education.

A nation that does not have citizens who are knowledgeable about their past, understand their cultural roots, are able to analyze their social institutions, and able to make an argument for what should be on the grounds of justice, care, beauty, truth, and goodness is a nation that cannot hope to be a democracy someday. (p. 6)

And while the article wasn’t part of our discussion, it provide a representation of the general experience we shared as readers of Tienken & Olrich’s Chapter One–this was a good reminder of what has been tried, what worked, what didn’t, and how important it is to know and keep current our knowledge of educational history.

One aspect of the efficiency notions of education in the early Twentieth Century are again ideas that seem to be very popular once again, especially in this quotation from the chapter that suggested that overwhelming research evidence “…did not defer the efficiency gurus and the wannabe business-captain superintendents from climbing aboard the efficiency train.” (Tienken & Olrich, 2013, p. 15)

The second reading, the article from Rethinking Schools, was equally as generative in terms of discussion. While Tienken & Olrich do a nice job of naming the challenges and outlining the historical perspective, Stan Karp’s piece outlined the current challenges but ends with then (2012) hopeful signs of resistance.

Some of the ideas that seemed hopeful in 2012 have evolved greatly in the last three years, especially the example of United Opt Out and the fact that 20% of students in New York state refused to take the PARCC exam last year. Others ideas have faded but new ones have surfaced too. Students in class brought to the fore a reference to the situation in Little Rock and a recent article published in Alternet (detailed below) detailing how parents organized to attempt to stop privatization efforts in the city following the state taking over the school district last year.

We finished class by outlining the projects and aim for class and handing out the syllabus. Students have a good amount of say in which topics we’re covering and when. They ranked potential topics for a course such as this and we’ve landed on eight topics  they want to cover in class as a class this semester. Drumroll:

High Stakes Accountability
Standardized Testing/Achievement Gap
School Choice (Charters, Vouchers)
High School & College Graduation Rates
Education & Inequity
Teacher Accountability, Merit Pay, VAM
Federal Education Policy (NCLB, CCSS, RTTT)
Alternative Teacher Preparation

In what we think is an important movefrom the 2013 iteration, we’re shifting writing and discussion leader responsibilities towards an outward audience. In other words, we had terrific discussions in class two years ago and the students took on projects of a public advocacy nature, but the work they completed were more academic in nature. Students will write blog posts instead of discussion papers, for example.

For next week:

1. Complete your Educational Oath.

2. Read and prepare Chapters 2, 3, and 4 from Tienken & Olrich.

3. Select two or three topics from the list about which you’d want to write and lead discussions.

Further reading:

Holloway, K. (2015). How the Billionaire Kingpins of School Privatization Got Stopped in Their Own Backyard. Alternet Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/education/how-billionaire-kingpins-school-privatization-got-stopped-their-own-back-yard

Thayer-Bacon, B. (2013). Dear Dean Rider and Department Heads McCallum and Bell. Journal of Thought, 6-16.

Tienken, C. Standardized Testing is Not Teaching. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/dPs46yOcwP0