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robertogreco : educationism   2

Better Public Schools Won’t Fix Income Inequality - The Atlantic
"Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first."

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"Long ago, i was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem."

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"However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

The scientific literature on this subject is robust, and the consensus overwhelming. The lower your parents’ income, the lower your likely level of educational attainment. Period. But instead of focusing on ways to increase household income, educationists in both political parties talk about extending ladders of opportunity to poor children, most recently in the form of charter schools. For many children, though—especially those raised in the racially segregated poverty endemic to much of the United States—the opportunity to attend a good public school isn’t nearly enough to overcome the effects of limited family income.

As Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, notes, poverty creates obstacles that would trip up even the most naturally gifted student. He points to the plight of “children who frequently change schools due to poor housing; have little help with homework; have few role models of success; have more exposure to lead and asbestos; have untreated vision, ear, dental, or other health problems; … and live in a chaotic and frequently unsafe environment.”

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

Today, after wealthy elites gobble up our outsize share of national income, the median American family is left with $76,000 a year. Had hourly compensation grown with productivity since 1973—as it did over the preceding quarter century, according to the Economic Policy Institute—that family would now be earning more than $105,000 a year. Just imagine, education reforms aside, how much larger and stronger and better educated our middle class would be if the median American family enjoyed a $29,000-a-year raise.

In fact, the most direct way to address rising economic inequality is to simply pay ordinary workers more, by increasing the minimum wage and the salary threshold for overtime exemption; by restoring bargaining power for labor; and by instating higher taxes—much higher taxes—on rich people like me and on our estates.

Educationism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, narratives like this one let the wealthy feel good about ourselves. By distracting from the true causes of economic inequality, they also defend America’s grossly unequal status quo.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less."
economics  education  inequality  2019  labor  work  policy  poverty  history  nickhanauer  educationism  charitableindustrialcomplex  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  trickledowneconomics  ronaldreagan  billclinton  canon  edusolutionism  us  unemployment  billgates  gatesfoundation  democracy  wages  alicewalton  paulallen  anandgiridharadas  middleclass  class  housing  healthcare  publicschools  publiceducation  schools  learning  howwelearn  opportunity  lawrencemishel  curriculum  innovation 
june 2019 by robertogreco
The Educator’s Secret and Modern Stupidity
[Followed by:

"The Educator’s Dilemma and the Two Big Lies"
http://www.lifelearningmagazine.com/0710/dilemma.htm

and "The Educator’s Folly and the Shadow of the Future"
http://www.lifelearningmagazine.com/1108/educators-folly.htm ]

"Several years ago, a distraught mother who knew I was an “educator” called me in tears. She had just come from a parent/teacher conference where she had been informed by her son’s kindergarten teacher that he was “four months behind.” (In kindergarten!) She imagined her son’s future possibilities slipping away and hoped I could give her some advice, or at least some sympathy. “Is there anything I can do for him?” she wondered.

I told her what her son’s kindergarten teacher should have known: that no two children are alike; that each child develops in his or her own mysterious way; that a child who is “four months behind” when he is five might be “two years ahead” when he is seven.

I told her that when Albert Einstein was her son’s age his teachers thought he was slow and simple-minded and that Thomas Edison was expelled from first grade because his teacher thought he was retarded. (In Edison’s case, we can have some sympathy for the teacher. It was probably difficult to assess his school work in the dim light.) “I’m sure that with a concerned parent like you,” I told her, “your son will be all right.”

This kindergarten teacher was probably not being malicious. She was probably doing what she had been trained to do; what she thought her job required her to do. How can we explain such an absurd situation?

In The Art of the Novel, the Czech writer, Milan Kundera, claims that one of the greatest ills facing the contemporary world is “the modernization of stupidity.” In pre-modern times, stupidity implied ignorance, “a simple absence of knowledge, a defect correctable by education.” In its modern form, however, stupidity is something else. It is “not ignorance but the nonthought of received ideas.”1

Modern stupidity is closely related to what Ivan Illich called “modern certainties,” ideas that have become so ingrained they are almost never questioned because we are hardly aware of having them. “Nonthought” also underlies the “modern superstitions” that Wendell Berry has criticized, for example, in books like Life is a Miracle.2


Ironically, the field of education is as rife with this “nonthought” as any other. One example of modern stupidity is the superstitious belief that there is such a thing as an “average child,” whom a five-year-old could be “four months behind.” In succumbing to what philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness” – that is treating an abstraction as if it were a concrete reality – educators start their work in the wrong place.3

In his book Citizenship Papers, Wendell Berry recounts a conversation between a well-known, highly respected horse trainer and someone curious about his methods. “How do you train horses?” the latter asks. The former replies, “Which one do you have in mind?”4

If such a response makes sense for horses, then surely, given the complexity of human development, the answer to the question “How do you educate children?” must be “Which one do you have in mind?”

Instead of beginning with the pernicious abstraction of the “average child” and tracking students into the “gifted and talented” at one end of “the bell curve” and those needing “special education” at the other, we should try to free our approach to “education” from modern stupidity. Since no two children are identical, there cannot be one best way to educate all of them. And we should certainly stop frightening parents with pronouncements about their children’s status compared to some abstract and arbitrary standard."



"“Most of what we learn before, during, and after attending school is learned without it being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much of what is remembered is irrelevant.” 10

Ivan Illich was even more to the point when he said: “It is really an alienation to believe that learning is the result of teaching.” 11

The “science” upon which the structure of schooling rests is flimsy at best and certainly out-of-date. Roger Schank, the Director of the Institute for the Learning Sciences [sic] at Northwestern University, summed up the latest research about the approaches to “learning” used in schools this way:

“From elementary school to college, educational systems drive the love of learning out of kids and replace it with the “skills” of following rules, working hard, and doing what is expected…We all learn in a very specific way, and the method schools use in antithetical to this learning model.” 12

After reviewing the various claims educators have made for the “scientific” basis for their theories of “learning,” Bruce Goldberg concluded:

“There is no such thing as educational science. When the views that have been offered as scientific are examined closely, they turn out to be not scientific at all but rather a combination of personal taste and simplistic, distorted versions of philosophical theories about how the mind works.” 13

I think the obsession with science itself must be questioned. Philip Sherrard and others have shown that the assumptions upon which modern science is based inevitably dehumanize people.14 Scientists investigating human nature are confronted with a dilemma: Either human beings can be reduced to observable, predictable energy and matter, or we must remain unknowable to ourselves. And, as Wendell Berry observed, if we accept the reductive premises of modern science, we get caught in a paradox:

“Reductionism…has one inherent limitation that is paramount, and that is abstraction: its tendency to allow the particular to be absorbed or obscured by the general. It is a curious paradox of science that its empirical knowledge of the material world gives rise to abstractions such as statistical averages which have no materiality and exist only as ideas. There is, empirically speaking, no average and no type.” 15

There is no such thing, for example, as an “average child,” which brings me back to the anxious mother of the boy in kindergarten. When she had calmed down, I decided to take a risk and to share with her “The Educator’s Secret.”

Professional educators, at least those trapped in what Richard Mitchell (and Flannery O’Connor before him) called “educationism,” keep the secret because they want gullible people to believe their services are indispensable.16 They realize that if the general public knew about it, the entire project of compulsory schooling, which costs more than $500 billion each year in the United States, would be threatened.

“If you love your son and feed him,” I confided, “he will grow up.”

“And who knows?” I added. “Someday, he may come up with an idea that will light up the world.”"
culturaldarkmatter  darkmatter  ivanillich  2010  danielgrego  milankundera  alfrednorthwhitehead  education  unschooling  deschooling  schooliness  schools  teaching  howweteach  aldoushuxley  wendellberry  supersticion  skepticism  criticalthinking  children  scientism  educationism  sfsh 
august 2016 by robertogreco

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