Friday, April 9, 2010

I heart Deborah Meier

Ugh. I so do!

There are two pieces of her's I just read that really are meaningful.

Free Market Schooling

"This is a perilous moment. The individualist, greed-driven free-market ideology that both our major parties have pursued is at odds with what most Americans really care about....Working families and poor communities need and deserve help because the free market has failed to generate shared prosperity — its famous unseen hand has become a closed fist." Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, and I, agree. But the public seems just as suspicious—if not more so—about public institutions as the private ones. Thus the relative lack of alarm over the extraordinary shift in "ownership" of our public schools. We are witnessing more federal intervention at virtually all levels of schooling, more power in the hands of private wealth, and more "market-driven" decisions — at the same time! And there is almost no well-funded opposition, except for teacher unions who are then villainized as being anti-reform, self-interested, too protective of their bad apples.
The second, Until We Take Democracy Seriously, is similar.
Here's an essential question: When trying to get at the truth of things, what role do data play? Most of the time our "habits" take over before we can exercise any form of reflective judgment (which is why John Dewey focused on "habits of mind" as the goal of good schools). Habits are slow growing so slowing things down could help. It takes a "leisure class" to rule well. Leisure has a democratic purpose because "data" rarely speak for themselves. That's true whether the data are numbers or observations. Sometimes, highly structured and standardized "observations"—standardized tests—work. Sometimes, highly structured debates or formal proofs work—with the rules of the game and the judges chosen by those viewed as most expert or representative. Often, we decide on the sheer logic of the argument, calling upon the data life itself has brought us.
I'm also reading a couple books. Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I've never totally agreed with Ravitch's views, but find her to be a fascinating individual and as I read this book about her changing views on how education to look, I continue to respect her. And it looks like we agree on more "stuff."

I'm also reading Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards.

Our basic strategy for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you'll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way that we train the family pet.

In this groundbreaking book, Alfie Kohn shows that while manipulating people with incentives seems to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm. Our workplaces and classrooms will continue to decline, he argues, until we begin to question our reliance on a theory of motivation derived from laboratory animals.