The use of knowledge in our educational system

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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126 Responses

  1. No time to comment much, though I liked this quite a bit.

    These few sentences, however, hit on something with which I’ve been struggling a lot of late:

    In their dealings directly with their employer, in contract negotiations and worker-rights, they very much are a bottom-up institution. Similarly, in their advocacy for teacher autonomy and protection of individual teachers from political reprisal, unions represent a small “d” democratic strength-in-numbers force out to protect the rank-and-file from management and from the political winds of the day.

    But unions are also top-down. The two big teachers unions have over 4 million members between them, and constitute a powerful political force that can make or break politicians, policies, and can halt both good and bad reform efforts in their tracks. Ultimately, it’s hard for me to see how true teacher autonomy can ever be realized without major reforms to the union system.

    The divide between teachers’ unions (and any public employee union) acting as political force and acting as a collective bargaining unit strikes me as an important distinction, at least conceptually (I cannot think of any legislative fixes to the problems of this divide that I would find constitutionally tolerable). In some cases, the two roles may even be working at cross-purposes for the union itself, with political clout coming at the expense of collective bargaining clout (the reverse would presumably be less troubling since collective bargaining power is a union’s true raison d’etre).

    Part of the problem is that the distinction can be extremely blurry and, as I said, I’ve been struggling with the question so I don’t have much to say on it other than that I think it poses a real dilemma both for public employee unions and their opponents in the reform movement. But it’s an issue that I think deserves real exploration.Report

    • In-house reform of the unions, maybe? It would seem to me that a genuinely sympathetic reform of the big unions — not one designed to cripple a political enemy — would emphasize transparency and accountability in the hopes that these could mitigate the union higher-up’s more authoritarian impulses/temptations.

      But it becomes more troubling if we imagine that union members are quite all right to have the bosses throwing weight around in DC — and not necessarily always for the greater good, but rather for the union.

      (Of course, this is what corporations do — and we, at least at this cultural juncture — have no issue with that. I suppose that’s where the public/private distinction regarding unions becomes key.)Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to Elias Isquith says:

        Oh I don’t know, I think a lot of people are quite concerned with corporate power, rent-seeking, protections of corporate privilege and so forth.Report

      • That’s almost certainly the biggest part of it. I have at least some minimal experience dealing with national union leadership (I would not call it more than minimal), and it always seemed to me that there were some public sector unions who handled this division quite well, and some that handled it in a truly appalling fashion.Report

      • henqiguai in reply to Elias Isquith says:

        > But it becomes more troubling if we imagine that union members
        > are quite all right to have the bosses throwing weight around in DC
        > — and not necessarily always for the greater good, but rather for the
        > union.
        Elias, you seem to be a bit unclear on the concept of a workers’ union. The workers’ union’s primary purpose is to ‘throw weight around’ where ever is the site of negotiation and political activity with regards to the business and welfare of their members. You want the ‘greater good’ taken care of, elect a better grade of legislators and convince them to support decent American civics and economics education in the curriculum so that you can have a better grade of involved and informed citizens.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to henqiguai says:

          Mr. Henqiguai, I examined the actual Texas curriculum changes after the hysteria died away.

          You want the ‘greater good’ taken care of, elect a better grade of legislators and convince them to support decent American civics and economics education in the curriculum so that you can have a better grade of involved and informed citizens.

          The previous curriculum was anthropology [the study of me!] rather than civics and history; rather than the customs of “people,” the new curriculum concentrates on “citizenship.”

          It’s not perfect either, but the academic establishment had their shot at playing it straight, but Deweyized it instead.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Totally agree, Mark. This deserves lots of exploration. There are really no good answers, but one idea I do like is contract innovation. Charters really do have the potential to be vehicles for this, if charters and unions can work together. Not sure what to do about the unions as massive political outfits, though, anymore than I know what to do (in practical terms) about corporate influence.Report

  2. Pat Cahalan says:

    > In our education system we have nothing nearly so
    > clear as prices to help piece together the various bits
    > of knowledge and experience, desires and frustrations
    > that comprise the system as a whole.

    I’m not so sure I believe this.

    I think we have a pretty good base metric for measuring badness: parent opinion.

    Prices are a relatively good way to measure goodness. Parent opinion is a relatively good way to measure badness. The trick is that you have to recognize in what ways that readily-usable metric is actually readily usable… and it’s *not* the same ways that prices are.

    You need to invert a lot of your thinking about how processes ought to work when your base metric is “least pessimum” instead of “most optimum”, but you can still get a pretty usable system out of the other end.Report

    • Sam MacDonald in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      I am not so sure this is right. Look at higher education. We are making parents happy, by and large, by building expensive dorms and fielding expesnive sporting teams. Yes, parents are in charge. But they have their own pathologies, too.

      In short, the customer is not always right.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

        It’s not that the customer isn’t always right, it’s that there isn’t even a customer (yet). You want meaningful changes in education?

        It’ll be the students who give the most useful feedback. The problem is, they’re not at the point where they can really give it until after they’re done with their education, and can see how well it prepared them for the real world.

        At 27, I can certainly give insightful critiques about my k-12 education. They’d be useful too, except that half of my schools have closed, and most of my teachers have retired.Report

        • Patrick McClung in reply to Alan Scott says:

          Students give feedback. Every day, every hour, every second. To the teachers. That’s why teachers know so much. Not just one persons experience, but thousands. That’s why teachers can tell what the mistakes have been, and how to change things to make them better. Charter schools are good idea, if run by qualified teachers and limited in scope. “Skunk works.” But, alas, 95%+ of new ideas, however promising, don’t work out.Report

      • That’s not making the parents happy. Generally, that’s making the either the alumni (Go Lions!) or the students (Whoo, Luxury Apartment!) happy about things that don’t have much to do with their education. That said, you have a point… but in any event, colleges and universities are a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish, Sam, and the problems in higher ed aren’t the problems in public school.

        Look, you can design any sort of metric/feedback loop you want, and there’s always going to be an exception scenario. That’s a basic security problem. But those problems are highly exacerbated when you’re going for optimal solutions: the weight of the exception scenario drags down quite a bit. When you’re going for least pessimum solutions, it’s not as big of a deal.

        Put another way, some parent might bitch about a teacher because that teacher is the football coach and their son really *ought* to be a starting quarterback!! Okay, that could be a problem if the parent-induced audit mechanism *ended* there. But it doesn’t, it *starts* there.

        In other words, don’t bother to measure teacher performance by default. Let ’em do their jobs. If some parent complains, that starts an audit process. The principal and the district can get involved at that point and move the investigation along.

        See, this is basically the process that we use for investigating police officers. Citizen complains, IA opens a case. It doesn’t work well enough for police officers, because the power imbalance is too high and because you’ve only got one agenda going: the citizen vs. the cops. It could, however, work for auditing teachers.

        Because instead of IA, which reports to the same power structure as the cops that they are investigating, you have the principal, who reports to the school superintendent, you have teacher representatives, who report to the union, you have the PTA, who are parents, you can even use representatives of the BoE.

        In any event, waiting for somebody to report badness and then investigating it is much more efficient than trying to crawl all up in the business of thousands of people who are generally honestly trying to do their jobs: you’re trying to catch bad guys that aren’t there.

        Security methodologies that work on small populations aren’t the same as security methodologies that work on large ones.Report

  3. Hi Erik, I’d be interested to hear more about why you think this: “Charters bring all the school choice the system needs to infuse it with the sort of bottom-up experimentation that any system needs to thrive.” (or maybe you’ve taken it up elsewhere that I missed?)

    I’m not ready to deny that position, exactly, but I have doubts about the capacity for charters to innovate maximally well, given for instance caps on the number of charters allowed in a district, and requiring charter schools to select students by lottery (when they might have been able to develop curricula or methods that were highly effective, but only for a subsection of students).Report

  4. “We should significantly increase teacher entrance and hiring standards, step up attempts to attract the smartest, most capable college graduates to the profession, and raise teacher salaries.”

    I know these aren’t your words, but I would urge caution. Turning teaching into a position for the best and brightest would turn our educational system into the Japanese one, which is a complete nightmare.

    Turns out, the people who naturally excelled at school tend to have no idea how to teach.Report

    • James K in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      In this context most capable would need to be interpreted as “most capable at teaching”.Report

      • Of course. But how would we gauge college students’s teaching abilities? Would we specifically recruit AT’s and tutors for schools? Specifically, I think it’s important to avoid hiring based mostly on academic success at the particular subject in question. Mastery of the basics and mastery of what needs to be taught is requisite, but excellence should be far down the list in terms of hiring factors.

        There is also something to be said for the relevance to education of Tom Wolfe’s idea to write what you don’t know and thereby avoid perpetuating lazy assumptions and orthodoxies. In short, the primary factor in hiring educators should be teaching ability regardless of subject material.Report

        • This touches on one of the problems I have with the overspecialization of teaching. You have to make a life decision before you’re 20th birthday. When you get out, you are prepared for a single, heavily regimented career path. Then, once you get started, a lot of your pay is on the back-end and there is a penalty for deciding to do anything else. And, unless you’re doing something completely untoward, you’re relatively difficult to fire (which, considering the early-exit penalty, is not without reason).

          So whether after four or five or more years of college, you determine that teaching is not for you, or otherwise you’re simply not good at it, you’re kind of stuck. All surrounding a job that is not like many others and where it’s difficult to know whether you will like it or not or be good at it or not until you’re already pretty deeply committed to doing it.Report

          • James K in reply to Trumwill says:

            I think this is a serious problem with seniority-based pay and back-loaded benefits. It chains people into a career they may have no aptitude or taste for.Report

    • Barry in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      “We should significantly increase teacher entrance and hiring standards, step up attempts to attract the smartest, most capable college graduates to the profession, and raise teacher salaries.”

      Right now, we’re doing the opposite of these things – teachers’ salaries and benefits are being cut; one political party is at the level of open war against teachers; one political party and its corporate cronies are clearly trying to ‘privatize’ education (meaning to extract as much cash in the short term as possible, and d*mn the long term). In addition, the ‘reform’ movement, if successful, will leave teachers far more vulnerable to political fads and sh*theads. Remember, education is a field where teaching *science* is politically tricky (due to deliberate sh*theadedness on the right), let alone teaching history and literature.Report

  5. rj says:

    You made quick mention of it, but I’d like to talk a little more about the idea that the education system does serve some children quite well. We’ve all seen the surveys that show large majorities say their local school is good, their local school district is slightly less (but still quite) good and American schools in general are absolutely horrid. This means that either people think their local schools are better than they are, or that the American education system is better than they give it credit for.

    So if most school systems are functioning well, why rope them into this crisis-mode rethinking of the teaching and student evaluation models? Why not let well-performing districts keep teacher seniority and lighten up on the testing instead of these statewide and nationwide plans that seem to be focused more on anger at government employees, with poor kids as pawns?Report

  6. Sam MacDonald says:

    “there is a good case for basic standards, for instance”

    The for instance does a lot of work here. As does the word autonomy in “teacher autonomy.” The hard work comes in defining these things. Should I, as a language teacher, have the autonomy to rely on whole language? Should a superintendent be permitted to demand that method across the district? What about teaching the controversy in biology?

    You say we need different standards of demanding accountability and effectiveness. OK. One community might measure that by readiness for the work force among graduates. That community might do a great job of that by al the standards the community chooses to employ. Of course, that community might be a weird religious sect in Wyoming that refuses to educate girls beyond reading and writing, but manages to send all its boys off to lucrative careers.

    As far as i can tell, not a single person anywhere is against “accountability” or “standards” or “effectiveness.” If you are arguing for democracy in these things, and for “bottoms up” reform, that’s fine. But in reality, I think that means giving communities a lot more leeway than you might be comfortable giving them.Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    Matt Groening (remember him?) came out with a humor book called “School is Hell” a few years back in, this can’t be right, 1987. Huh.

    Anyway, one of the cartoons was titled “Lesson 5: What I learned in school”. The panel for “3rd Grade” had the teacher explaining “The class has been divided into three reading groups. The gold and silver group will stay here. The brown group will go to a special room in the basement.”

    Much discussion has been done with regards to how best to allocate resources among these groups.

    There are some theories that say that most of the resources ought to be poured into the gold group, as they’re the ones who will provide the engine of society someday. I’ve heard other theories that explain how it’s best to pour resources into both silver and gold because, someday, these guys will all be working for each other. I’ve also heard it argued that the silver and brown need the most resources because the gold will be fine all by themselves and we’ve got to help the brown reading group the most.

    It seems to me that schools can also be categorized as gold, silver, and brown.

    It seems to me that most of the defenses of the school system as it exists are defenses of the gold and silver schools. Most of the screaming about the need to change focuses on the brown schools that go to a special room in the basement.

    It’s uncomfortable to discuss these things. It’s easier to discuss teachers and unions and administration.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Jaybird says:

      This. I think the Gold/Silver/Brown distinction is very important to this debate, and generally overlooked.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well, but most criticisms of NCLB are indeed saying that the gold and silver groups ought to get all the resources–but they’re saying it’s because there’ll always be a brown group(*) and you can’t do much to help them.

      You’re right that everyone in the education debate tends to assume that all students would be equally proficient if only it weren’t for (bad teachers, overly-constrained teachers, poor cirriculuae, liberal attitudes, whatever).

      (*) one of the ways you can tell this was the 1980s was that nobody felt it at all strange to call the less-intelligent cohort the “brown group”.

      It would be quite interesting to hear Matt Groening’s thoughts on the modern education-reform debate.Report

  8. Patrick McClung says:

    The whole discussion of and the resultant quality of primary and secondary education in the US could be greatly improved if we made a rule that no one who has not stood in front of a classroom of children and taught them for at least five years – no one without this experience – should be allowed respected status in the debate, or as participants in social and political decision making about primary and secondary education.
    This is not to say that there are not other parties at interest – parents, politicians, academic “educators”, the general public – only to point out that these latter haven’t the faintest idea what they’re talking about.Report

    • Oh, dude! Could we do this for other stuff?

      Business tax law? Health Care policy? Medical Marijuana?

      The list goes on and on!Report

    • Patrick,

      There is a significant difference between education policy and pedagogy. I’m pretty sure the latter is best discussed and determined by teachers and education professionals. I’m not sure the policy should be driven by people trained to teach.

      Also, too, this sentiment is very common but it’s also a clever way of saying we should simply do nothing.Report

      • Patrick McClung in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Well, E. D.
        My point isn’t that we should do nothing, rather that we should recognize that we don’t know much (almost nothing compared to what most of us think we know), and need to rely upon those who do know for policy opinions and of course (omg!) pedagogy. You should try teaching children. It’s a very enlightening and a very humbling experience. Not at all like teaching adults. You quickly (if you survive) begin to learn what will work and what will not work. Takes about 5 years to master the craft.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Patrick McClung says:

          I think teacher and input are very important. But suggesting that only teachers should be involved in discussions of education policy and organizational politics is just nonsense.

          I have taught children. Not a ton, not for five years. But enough to agree that it is a hard job. That really has very little bearing on the policies in question.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            What makes you think teachers are such a bad domain for establishing education policy? As you point out, your own opinions are informed by years of teaching: do you really want the current idiocy of the Texas School Board to enable unscientific education? Surely in your time as a teacher you observed how it’s the states who treat education policy as a political football: even the districts have precious little input into policy.

            The teachers should simply take control of their schools and regulate their own. There was a day when the “principal” was the “principal teacher” and teachers did have control of not only their curriculum but discipline, too. That system produced better results than the current craptaculous schemes by a long shot.Report

            • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Oh, did I say that?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Spare me. You said But suggesting that only teachers should be involved in discussions of education policy and organizational politics is just nonsense.

                I don’t see it that way. In every other profession, the professionals make policy. Why should teaching be any different?Report

              • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “In every other profession, the professionals make policy”

                Not really. Best example – the military. The day to day procedures and rules are indeed (for the most part) set by people in uniform itself, but big picture stuff, (and numerous details) are set by ‘outsiders’. (as it should be)Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

                Have you ever soldiered? I have. With rare exceptions, the battalion commander might as well be a complete dictator to everyone below him.

                There are only two civilians in the military: POTUS and SecDef. Which is as it should be.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

                BlaiseP, I’m career military. I know how the systems work.

                You are simply wrong. Plenty of policy is made at the undersecretary level in both the DoD as a whole and all of the service branches.

                And most recently and famously, the (ongoing) repeal (*and* the initial implementation) of DADT was made by Congress.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Policy is made by people with the mandate to make it. Some undersecretary at DoD can whip up some policy paper but it doesn’t make it policy. It’s policy when SecDef and JCS says it’s policy, and you know enough about the military to know that’s true.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You clearly do not understand how the Service Secretariats workReport

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

                And may I add in passing, with the exceptions of POTUS and SecDef, everyone else in the military was promoted to their positions by their peers. Would that the same were true of Boards of Education.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You’re wrong about this too. The very senior Generals and Admirals are personally selected by the President and the Secretary. And every one – actually every single officer above 0-3 – has to be approved by the Senate. (the lower ranks are usually rubber stamped, but I’ve seen rather junior officers pulled from the promotion list because their name would raise attention if submitted).Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                (incredulous stare) Are you saying generals are appointed from the ranks of civilians? One day it’s Mr. Jones and the next it’s General Jones?Report

              • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You clearly have a problem with the English language today.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Spare me the silliness. I know nothing of the other branches of service, but I did know Army TRADOC very well, and it was constantly the target of would-be policymakers from afar. They wrote a great many policy papers. None of them had any perceptible impact on my military career. Curiously, not one of them gave me an order or a mission. That would be my chain of command.

                They did affect my civilian career, especially in Gummint Consulting, as thousands of drones like me and the coterie of corpse flies in the tiers of civilian chain of command above me wasted millions of dollars on failed systems. By the time it came to military oversight, those poor J-5s and J-6es above us were so buffaloed by those lying maniacs they didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Kolohe says:

                Right, Mr. Kolohe. The drill instructors do not design the curriculum, nor have carte blanche in how to teach it.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                As a former drill instructor, I can tell you that’s not quite true. TRADOC issues guidelines, the training battalion has its schedules, the weather determines how much PT can be done outdoors on a given day, but really, you’d be surprised how much autonomy an individual drill instructor is given in the course of a training cycle.

                The fact remains, teachers don’t have any say-so in terms of policy, and some people are quite content to have it that way. The military is a spectacularly bad example for instruction anyway: a drill instructor has authority a teacher doesn’t.Report

              • I’m just fine with a teacher having as much autonomy as a drill instructor does. No more no less.

                And authority, for that matter.

                As for “teachers don’t have any say-so in terms of policy,” I’m all for that being true, also.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                You may not have it both ways, Tom. Either the DI operates with mandate, or he does not. His mandate derives from his superior officers, men who have earned their rank and were not appointed to it by civilians.

                If the teaching profession is to have any say-so, it will be when society decides it wants teachers and not goddamn babysitters in classrooms and not a day before. Unlike teachers, the military still has the respect of the nation. Ask yourself why: it’s pretty clear to me. The military has authority over its own, and the teaching profession should have authority over their own.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I still didn’t day what you insist I said.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Have it your way. You were quoted directly. As for what you consider nonsense, well….

                As it stands now, teachers have no input into the process. The goals and strategies are not defined at their pay grade. The curriculum is not something they can define. That’s the province of the Boards of Ed. That much is factual.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Right, you quoted me directly and still can’t be honest about what I actually said.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Do you think I am an idiot or a liar, incapable of reading what you wrote? You’re not sure teachers making policy is a good idea, that much is beyond dispute from #23. If this is somehow an incorrect conclusion, be so good as to expand on what you actually think, not slyly and contumaciously intimating I am misquoting you. I can only work with what you’re writing.

                I think teachers making policy is a great idea. This puts the mandate where it belongs. Education, as I have said, wants to be a verb. What shall we teach in schools and how shall it be taught? Heaven forbid we should come to the conclusion, as with every other profession from lawyering to laundry, that the specialist might actually know his business better than the layman.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I do not take well to charges of dishonesty, Kain. Just let you know that right up front. Throw me out of here an it please thee, you don’t deal well with criticism. I have not lied to you nor have I misread you.Report

              • @BlaiseP, please don’t take this the wrong way. You’ll always referencing your relevant experience as something or other. It seems like you live a very interesting life. I’m wondering if you could just list some of that experience in chronological order, so I could more effectively engage your arguments. I understand if you don’t want to do this, but it would help me a lot to better understand your comments! Thanks!Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Sumimasen. I don’t take it the wrong way, but if you insist. Chotto ne I have been a missionary’s child and grandchild, a soldier linguist and military trainer for eight years, a refugee worker for three, a consultant specializing to machine intelligence for pretty much the rest of my life, maybe thirty engagements over time over a wide range of industries, maybe a decade of work for Matsushita and Panasonic: all their robots run on a scripting language I invented. Mostly I’m doing health care systems integration work for the likes of Blue Cross / Blue Shield franchises. I run a Spanish language school and jazz club in Guatemala. I’ve built thirteen lending libraries in Guatemala. My degrees are in linguistics. I put my wife through college and two master’s degrees and endured the fallout of 25 years of her disastrous career as a public school teacher. I’ve been deeply involved in local school boards and the politics of education since I was in the military.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                How is your book coming along, Christopher?

                There is no end, but addition: the trailing
                Consequence of further days and hours,
                While emotion takes to itself the emotionless
                Years of living among the breakage
                Of what was believed in as the most reliable—
                And therefore the fittest for renunciation.

              • Strange, that’s the second time I’ve looked up verse I didn’t recognize and the second time it’s been T.S. Eliot. I read Eliot extensively in high school, but can’t seem to remember much.

                The book is coming along more slowly than the other projects I’m working on, like finding a source of income, navigating the legal labyrinth to my wife and stepson being allowed to stay in America, and various short pieces, but it’s progressing a bit. I’m still in the pre-writing stage and continuing to post new developments on my Facebook wall. It’d be optimistic to think I’d be finished by the end of summer.Report

              • I meant I’ve looked up verse twice today, and both times it’s turned out to be Eliot.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Heh. Poetry sticks to me. When I was a kid, my Dad would pay me a shilling for every chapter of the Bible I could memorize. To ease the tedium and stress of military life, I’d memorize poetry.

                Eliot is so easy to commit to memory: it’s comforting to walk with that silly man and his strange, evocative phrases. I wear Eliot like an old coat, a bit tattered at the cuffs. The end is where we start from. / And every phrase and sentence that is right.

                Auden is wonderful stuff, too. Whitman and Seamus Heaney, Conrad Aiken, Roethke. All become grist for the mill. Memorized the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and felt like I’d eaten an entire fruitcake at one go. I’ll never memorize anything but blank verse again. And no Robert Frost.

                I have been praying for you and your little family. The tumult and upheaval of Japan is beyond the scope of anyone to imagine, much less comprehend: for me it has found a focus in you.Report

              • Thanks a lot, BlaiseP. I appreciate your prayers. I’ll keep you updated on the book.Report

              • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

                They really don’t. Policy is developed by people who are experts in developing policy. Subject matter experts are important as an information source, but in my experience subject matter expertise is of little use in writing good policy.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James K says:

                Interesting. Perhaps you’ll expand on why this is so, that someone with no subject matter expertise might write better policy papers than someone who has some.Report

              • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Because writing good policy is a skill all by itself. There are a number of traps you can fall into in making policy, that you are less likely to fall into if you are experienced in the policy making process.

                In my experience policy written by subject matter experts tends to be too narrowly focused, and has too little thinking put into the side-effects of the policy on areas outside the scope of the expert’s expertise.

                In short, subject matter experts as policy analysts act too much like Adam Smith’s Man of System to be good policy analysts. Subject matter expertise is very useful of course, but it’s only a part of the process.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, yes, I can stipulate to that much, rather like an SME might submit to the expertise of a contract lawyer. Conversely, I wouldn’t trust any of my contracts to someone who didn’t understand the needs of the software industry: he couldn’t handle the litigation. For example, a good deal of what I do involves open source: I’ve made improvements to open source code and pushed it back up the wire into the open source community: my clients have to understand I’m liable to do that by virtue of the various licenses under which that code is made available. Once it’s explained to them, they get the point immediately, since they obviously benefit from all such subsequent improvements.

                But here’s where it gets tricksy, because we’re talking about policy, which I contend is the product of politics. The fishbone in my throat is the Texas State Board of Education, which is pushing its mandate down on biology teachers, obliging them to teach unscientific rubbish, and I believe the biology teachers don’t have any pushback on this issue. That’s a policy problem and the teachers have no input.Report

              • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The problem there is the political process, it’s not that the wrong people are giving advice, its that the wrong people are making decisions.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “What makes you think teachers are such a bad domain for establishing education policy?”

              How do you ensure that it won’t lead to the attitude of “there are no bad teachers, only bad parents and bad administrators, and any evidence to the contrary must be either fake or misinterpreted because (A) there are no bad teachers…”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Don’t go begging questions, Duck, my lad. Nobody can achieve anything without the mandate for achievement. Teachers have none at present. There are bad teachers. There are also bad administrators and bad school boards and bad politicians with their fingers shoved up the ass of the educational system, problems we have right now, not theoretical bogeymen.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

                If they don’t throw me out, I don’t think you’ll be pitched anytime soon.
                You might wanna try that olde virtue you and God were talking about. Maybe ED errored, was embarrassed, or misunderstood. A little compassion here. You don’t have to step on everyone’s dick who screws up…hell, one of these days you’re gonna screw up….maybe?Report

              • Baron von Munchausen in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                I’m glad all is well, Dr. Cheeks. For a moment I thought we were about to enter an alien abduction case not a more down to earth, kidnapping, I’d still have that comprehensive blood test–face it–you’ve been targeted and your words, thoughts, and actions are literally blasting throughout the entire Universe! You can thank that Voegelin character you’re frequently talking about but more than anything else, you’ve unconsciously created a new language that is only understood by our alien visitors. Ask Blaise about this, Bob. he’s a linguist who probably knows more languages than exist. Take that Chomsky–that King of A–holes who calls himself a linguist speaks ZERO languages!

                By the way, I’ve made a very, very big discovery tonight. That sounds a bit boastful, to be sure, but I think it’s a considerable event, certainly for music historians and for anyone else who takes delight in serendipitous events and happenings.

                Oh what the hell, here goes. I’m not going to tell you how I found this out, that’s a story in itself–but 100% accurate. Mozart went from a pauper’s grave to a more dignified grave–he had it all to himself (sounds downright comfy). But next to Wolfgang’s grave site was buried a man named Karl Marx. Now this is not THE Karl Marx, but nevertheless, an extraordinary, monumental, collusion of oddities needed to make this happen and take place. If anyone has ever seen or knows about this, I have never heard about it.

                Fox News trucks are going to be here soon, Bob–must run. Either Fox News trucks or ambulances waiting to take me to a hospital–dammit, I thought I was going to get a free pass for awhile.

                So long.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “Nobody can achieve anything without the mandate for achievement. Teachers have none at present.”

                Why the fuck are you talking as though that’s not exactly what I said?Report

  9. BlaiseP says:

    The forms of education haven’t changed much since the public school was first instituted in America. John Dewey was complaining of many of these same issues which bedevil us today.

    Education is one of those awkward nouns which really wants to go back to being a verb, to educate, with some sort of topic attached. Dewey pins the debate down and demands a rationale for education. Without such a rationale, such a strategy, it’s pointless to discuss tactics and methodology.

    When people want to go to the charter school model, I can understand this urge. You’d think, all things considered, a corporation would respond to market needs but curiously, the charter school is even less adaptable than the public school. As a divorce binds the two parties closer than the original marriage contract, the charter school is regulated within an inch of its life without many of the benefits: I speak as someone who attempted to start one. I had the teachers, the building, everything you’d think such a school might need and the regulatory strictures proved insurmountable. We even looked at a private school model: oddly, this would have been far easier to manage. After several months of wrangling with the state, I just gave up and commenced to home school my last child.

    You’re still missing the point, E.D. More properly, you’ve got the cart before the horse. Before we can discuss the Education System, we must discuss its goals and rationale. Every attempt to broach this discussion, historically, from Dewey until today, uncorks a Bottle o’ Pandemonium.Report

    • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

      John Dewey perverted education by politicizing it. We owe him much, none of it good.

      “One of the great heresies of the followers of John Dewey is that they saw, and still do see, education as primarily political. The evidence of this damning proposition is that they tried to make the schools not the means of handing down the traditional knowledge and wisdom of our civilization but political instrumentalities for the constituting of a different kind of society.”—Richard WeaverReport

      • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

        It doesn’t matter what Dewey wanted: he defined the problem. Education is by definition political and moral: it inculcates value systems. The question is merely which values we wish to inculcate and to what end. Why else would moral agencies take such umbrage at the teaching of Evolution and other heresies?

        As for Richard Weaver, he doesn’t like Dewey but only reinforces Dewey’s own point. Poor old Richard Weaver, that pedant, that Don Quixote of the Confederate Mythos.Report

    • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Before we can discuss the Education System, we must discuss its goals and rationale. Every attempt to broach this discussion, historically, from Dewey until today, uncorks a Bottle o’ Pandemonium.

      I strongly agree with this. The first step of the policy development process is: Articulate your goals (ultimately in a sufficiently explicit way that you can measure progress against them). The failure to do this pretty much guarantees failure, how can you succeed when you don’t even know what success looks like?Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to James K says:

        C’mon, Cheeks: The problem is indeed Dewey’s “normative goals,” and how they differ from yours, mine and ours.

        The fingerprints of Dewey’s ideological “professionals” are all over the current dysfunction. To whitewash him and them as a Socrates is either ignorant or disingenuous and I have no use for either.

        Socrates had no interest in taking over the system. Dewey was a socialist, a modernist, and a proponent of a bunch of other -isms, and sought to take over the educational system to make his -isms into our reality.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

          That’s the problem with Education-the-noun. Education in the abstract is a fine thing but when it comes down to what shall be taught, out come the quotation marks around “professionals”.

          I repeat myself to the point of tedium: had Dewey’s politics not run afoul of your judgment and were it were your value system taught in schools to the letter, the quotation marks around “professionals” would disappear. Put aside Dewey’s politics. Substitute your own, then try on Dewey for size and see how he fits. Looks pretty good, huh? Everyone taught your value system, at taxpayer expense, how could you possibly complain? Now you look just like Mortimer Adler and those Paideia Principle dudes.Report

          • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Again, that simply whitewashes Dewey of his content. And yes, sir, I’m afraid you do repeat yourself to the point of tedium, unengageable by any counterargument. Dewey cannot be plugged into some generic “reformer” trope; neither is he Socrates [more accurately, Plato’s Socrates—we do not have Socrates].

            Dewey cannot be whitewashed into Plato: it’s not just Dewey’s socialist politics, it’s his agenda to take over the education establishment to create his utopia, and create the New Man who will inhabit it.

            And he largely succeeded with the first part, of taking over education for his ideology, but the second is collapsing of its own impossibility. Plato was right about human nature; Rousseau and Dewey were wrong.

            And your attack on Texas per biology was inaccurate as well, BlaiseP. Yes, there are forces at work—Christian fundamentalism vs. humanism/scientism—but the final curriculum change of 2009 implemented neither creationism nor “intelligent design.” And the teacher’s unions and federations such as the Texas State Teachers Association are allied politically with the Texas Freedom Network and similar left advocacy groups. They are not on the sidelines, they are front & center.

            Everybody and everything is in play, but don’t believe everything you read. Neither the Christian fundamentalism or humanism/scientism is succeeding in running roughshod over the other. The system is working. Bloody and ugly, but that’s the way it’s got to be. The professionals had control of the system, and are still trying to swing public opinion back to their side, with push polls like

            Today the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released results from a statewide survey of what Texans think about the intersection of politics and religion with public schools.

            72 percent of likely Texas voters want teachers and scholars, not politicians, to be responsible for writing curriculum requirements for public schools.
            The overwhelming support for putting experts in charge of writing curriculum standards is bipartisan (84 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents) and evident in all of the state’s major urban regions.

            Uh huh. Then get it done at the ballot box, the only poll that counts.

            [And somehow, I think they will. Rust never sleeps.]

            [As for your steady drip of factual misunderaccuracies, I don’t wish to harp on them. I gave up debate a long time ago in favor of discussion and catching the other fellow in error brings no joy. I do not know if your opinions are based on these errors and misapprehensions; I suspect corrections such as these will leave your POV unaffected and untroubled. I write for the gentle and unfortunate reader who may form conclusions on assertions that fall short of fact.]Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

              All you say here is true…. of Dewey. The only point I’ve attempted to make was derived from Dewey’s assertion that education is normative. If you don’t like Dewey, that only proves my point, that education is considerably more than stuffing the kiddies full of facts, especially facts about Evolution. For the life of me, I don’t see where you and I disagree in the slightest.

              Forget Dewey. It’s me saying it: education policy in the hands of unscientific idiots is dangerous. Stuffing Education policy into some political Bed of Procrustes will never work. Bloody and ugly it may be, and bloody and ugly it will always remain. The creationists rejoiced at the decision.

              The Discovery Institute, which encourages teaching that the universe is the product of an intelligent designer, called the vote “a huge victory for those who favor teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution.”

              By requiring students to evaluate the evidence for major evolutionary concepts such as common ancestry, natural selection and mutations, the institute said in a statement, “Texas today moved to the head of the class.”

              “Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned,” said John West, a senior fellow at the institute. Report

            • Deweyist-progressivism is the flipside of creationist-fundamentalism, Blaise. Perhaps it takes a Catholic to see that. 😉

              We [and I speak culturally here; I don’t discuss my personal faith publicly] have a foot in both camps, and neither one.

              I object to the “modernist” project from Rousseau on but I have no problem with teaching evolution. I think it’s pretty cool, and as a Thomist, see “Intelligent Design” as argued by Discovery Institute as superfluous to any divine plan.


              On the other hand—and my area of study is religion and the American Founding—I believe I’m a genuine American pluralist. I wish I had an answer for the right of creationist parents to keep their kids away from scientism and Deweyism.

              And in my vocation as a religion-and-Founding guy, I’ve kept a close eye on the Texas Schoolbook Massacre as it was Ground Zero last year in my bailiwick. I can say that all sorts of idiocies were proposed—and that’s what got the ink—but what was actually achieved by consensus passes my own fair-minded muster. Not perfect, mind you, but one must read the enacted TEKS standards and compare them to the old before quibbling. The Texas Freedom Network got conspicuously silent at the promulgation of the actual standards.

              I’m actually not surprised that we have 8 Catholics or Jews on the Supreme Court. We were a Protestant country at the Founding, with evangelicals at one end and barely-theists like Jefferson at the other. Today we have fundamentalists more fundamental than the Puritans, secularists more secular than Jefferson.

              Yr Catlicks and yr Jews fit so easily in between. Honest brokers.

              I thank you for yr thoughtful reply, but I can’t “forget Dewey.” I need to learn more about him because his influence was so pervasive and pernicious. And as I’m disinclined toward polemics, this is a disagreeable task. I prefer studying those who elevated us out of the slime, not brutes and theorists like Dewey who sought to replace them.

              Had Dewey sought to subsume them, to take the good, leave the bad, and make genuine progress, I would be more sympathetic. But he was a man of violence, who believed the ancient must be eradicated before progress is possible.

              And, y’know, he’s made quite a go of it. As Leo Strauss implicitly admitted to Alexandre Kojeve, the Universal Homogeneous State has risen and may yet conquer. Still waiting for yr paper on that, mate, but this discussion is precisely why you were unable to finish it.Report

  10. Patrick McClung says:

    Blaise P
    I would like to discuss the goals and rationale of the education system.
    1. Every student who comes to school should have had a proper peaceful place to sleep the night before.
    2. Every student who comes to school should not be hungry.
    3. Every student who comes to school should feel safe, and able to trust.
    4. Every student who comes to school should be respected for the promising person that she or he is.
    That would fix most of the problems. You don’t need to be a teacher to understand that (or to fix quite a bit of it).Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Patrick McClung says:

      Those are the problems. You list the end goals as if they were the solutions.Report

      • Patrick McClung in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I was merely listing some goals and rationale that people who don’t know much about education might try to achieve. These originate and should be be dealt with, in the main, outside the classroom. They are (some of) the important prerequisites for a well functioning educational system. The fact that it falls upon the education system to try to function in the face of these societal problems is what is causing so much of the pathology and concern. You have to solve these societal problems. Then education can be allowed to work. Don’t look to education or the schools to solve these problems. They can’t solve them, only fail to function well because of them. People who think of these as education problems aren’t talking about education at all. That, in itself, is a realization we can find instructive.Report

        • My part of town was perfectly capable of achieving 1-4.

          Perhaps we should make other parts of town more like my part of town.

          Problem solved.Report

        • James K in reply to Patrick McClung says:

          That’s a good example. The reason why it’s so important to articulate your goals is so that you can design interventions targeting those goals. If someone takes the step of articulating points 1-4 as goals of the education system they will quickly realise they need to find another instrument to deal with those specific objectives.Report

  11. E.D. Kain says:

    Blaise – I said I did not think teachers should be the *only* ones talking about education policy. You quoted me. You either have terrible reading skills or you are being dishonest. I could care less really what you do. Stay or go. But quit bullshitting me.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      Now I will tell you that your post at #23 was exactly what I said it is, a doubt that teachers should make policy.Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Which I then followed up with a statement of clarification saying I did not think teachers should be the *only* ones involved in policy making. You are being stubborn. It’s an unhelpful and dishonest way of having a conversation. This blog is here in order to further conversation. I would appreciate it if you would play along. I’ve seen you far too many times ignoring clarifications, casting other commenters in the worst light possible, etc. It’s time for that to stop.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Your next statement was Also, too, this sentiment is very common but it’s also a clever way of saying we should simply do nothing..

          If you were interested in further conversation, a conclusion I am increasingly led to disbelieve, you might observe this much about your own rhetoric: telling someone their sentiments are common and merely a clever way of saying we should simply do nothing is might be construed as the very sort of condescending twaddle you find so very irritating in others.

          The fact remains, as McClung asserted and I concur: there are those who have taught and there are those who haven’t, and when it comes to educational policy, those without ought to stand aside and leave it to the professionals. What we have now is worse than nothing.Report

          • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Oh right, I almost forgot. Teachers and their unions have no input at all in the current system.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

              They do not. The State Boards of Ed have that purview.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

                This is such BS, Blaise. Do you think unions have no influence over State Boards of Ed? Of course they do. They lobby hard for policies they like. They support or choose not to support elected officials.

                Otherwise, what on earth is the point of having a union? If they have no influence what’s the bloody point?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                The fact remains, the State Boards of Ed are political appointees. They alone control educational policy.

                Teachers and teachers’ unions have no input into this process beyond your desperate and hilarious efforts to inject their influence into the process like so much marinade into a duck.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Then neither do the reformers, or Gates, or any other player in this. Only State Boards of Ed. El Fin.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                When it comes to educational policy decisions, that is exactly true. Everyone else is a mere bystander. Mandate is everything, Kain.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                So then what do you do about the State Boards of Ed if nothing else really matters?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                First thing, quit maundering on about who has the mandate for change.

                And quit calling me a liar, that too would be an excellent start for further discussion. That, for you at least, might be a positive next step.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Way to avoid the question.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Way to avoid an apology. You are a weak debater: your skin is far too thin. I have laid out the problem and any intelligent person could derive the conclusion: it is fundamentally a political problem and can therefore only have a political solution.

                I have said, and you have not contradicted me, that teachers currently have no input into educational policy. Insofar as the State of Texas can put its Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat on unscientific biology textbooks, the scope and magnitude of the problem and its solution by definition should be pretty obvious to you, too.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Blaise, you ignored or misread what I wrote. You continue to do so. Furthermore, you’re incoherent. Is it a political problem with only political solutions? Or is it a problem only teachers should have any input on? You’re making no damn sense, and you’ll get no apology from me as none is warranted.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                I mean, for goodness sakes Blaise, you really are incoherent. I said I did not think teachers were the best people to direct policy. I qualified this by saying they should not be the *only* people involved in the policy debate. You dug yourself in and refused to acknowledge this. Then you said teachers have no influence in the debate and that it required a political solution anyways. I can’t piece any of it together. I have no idea if you’re a liar or not, but you don’t make any damn sense and you’re much too stubborn for you’re own good.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                At #23 and #25, you made it clear enough where you stood. You condescended to McClung when he observed the people who make the policy should be actual educators, telling him this was the equivalent of doing nothing and you’ve done nothing but condescend to me when I observe the same.

                Current educational policy is not driven by educators. It’s driven by politics, as it’s always been, by State Boards of Education, filled with apparatchiki. When this uncomfortable truth finally settles in, Kain, you’ll finally get the point: there can be no educational reform while teachers have no policy mandate. If this position seems incoherent, you’re the one who’s not sure if teachers should have mandate in this policy business. I entertain no such doubts.

                My request for an apology is withdrawn. So has any respect I might have entertained for your positions. You clearly have none for mine.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                > Current educational policy is not
                > driven by educators. It’s driven
                > by politics, as it’s always been,
                > by State Boards of Education,
                > filled with apparatchiki.

                Yeah, I don’t see this as entirely accurate. It’s not entirely inaccurate, either.

                It’s certainly the case in a couple of states in the Union, granted. But you’re looking at the exception to the average state of affairs and claiming that it’s a universal problem. I’m not so sure that it is.

                I can only speak for California, myself, and while the BoE here does *set* educational policy, that’s not the same thing as *controlling* educational policy.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                State employee (teachers, fire, police, etc.) unions (Ohio, Wisconsin, etc.) are the primary contributors to the commie-dems vis-a-vis their ‘union dues’ which are in part a function of the sundry boards contracting with these thugs.
                The only entity not in on the negotiations is a representative of the taxpayer.
                The ‘union dues’ are sent to the commie-dems in the grandest of all money laundering schemes that systematically and regularly break it off in the taxpayer’s shorts.
                Nobody in this corrupt system wants to see it ‘reformed.’ The only way to reform it is to elect a Republican with nuts, and they’re few and far between.
                Kasich for President!Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Well, there you are, Bobbo. If only the GOP version of Goodness and Righteousness were spread over this great land like so much butter upon the hot toast of our national ignorance, we should all wake up tomorrow, dig up Charles Darwin and burn his corpse, as they did with Cromwell. Evolution is wrong, as any right-thinking GOP legislator will tell you. Science is what the politicians tell us is science, not the educators.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, they didn’t burn Cromwell, they gave his corpse a drawing and quartering. His head seems to be somewhere though.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I don’t know why you shoot me, hell, I’m just the messenger. I like teachers. I just don’t wanna see ’em unionized and screwin’ the hell out of the taxpayers. The entire system is outta balance and the beloved Kasich has sworn to balance it. So fish the union thugs and their lying to the public.
                Please note I qualified the GOP remark by demanding a Republican with nuts!Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Far me it from me to discharge any weapon, be it ever so metaphorical, in your general direction, Bobbo. I must go on your assertion wherein only the GOP might have solutions to this problem. When it comes to Contracting with Thugs, as a general rule thugs don’t much like their contracts in writing. Evidence at trial, you see.

                Kasich wants parents to take over failing schools, if I read aright. This ought to be great. Gosh, let’s turn a group of high school dropout moms loose on a public school in Appalachia and see how that works out. Gosh, I can’t wait.Report

  12. E.D. Kain says:

    Blaise, you’re really not one to talk about respecting others’ opinions. You do your best to ignore or twist all of mine to suit your rhetoric.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      I am not the one saying you’re bullshitting me. I am far too old and cruel to take any heed of such tu-quoque whining, Kain. I have made my point: teachers have no input into educational policy because the State Boards of Education and the federal Department of Education through such legislation as NCLB are where such policies are made. That is a simple fact. All else is so much sophistry and if I may be allowed to use your own term for me, bullshittery.

      I have no simple answers: education has become a political football and will never be anything but such a football, not while the teachers themselves have no mandate.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

        So in response to Kain saying that he wasn’t saying that teachers should not have a say in the process, you’re arguing that the process will never be fixed until teachers have a say in the process and, god damn it, you’ll slap a bitch who thinks otherwise?

        I’m just trying to keep this straight.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

          May I now resort to insisting that’s what I didn’t say? That seems to be par for this course, scorecards filled with mulligans and cheap shots as it is.

          Well, no, I think I’d rather point out the obvious. Teachers don’t have any policy input. It’s politics that drives educational policy.Report

          • Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Generally, the commie-dem teacher’s policies, the thug teacher’s union’s policies, and the policies of the state apparatchiks are the same.
            Oh, and it’s pretty much a failure.
            Maybe MFA will do better?Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              Oh, Bobbo, Bobbo. You genial commandant of conflation, your arguments so blissfully unencumbered by the slightest burden of proof or the banal confines of logic. They soar like the Boola-Boola Bird o’er the Islands of Chandelier, defecating little Pearls of Wisdom upon the balding heads of the hapless mortals below.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Well, personally, I think that teachers ought to have a say in policy.

            But I don’t think that they should be the only ones.Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

              Aren’t teachers and teacher’s unions generally liburls and wouldn’t that bias their approach to edumacation?
              ……….just sayin’.Report

              • Baron von Munchausen in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Regarding Education, I forgot: To Sir With Love, The Miracle Worker, Blackboard Jungle, To Be and To Have, Up the Down Staircase, Alfie, Flowers For Algernon….you know what I’m getting at.Report

  13. “There is the Burkean case to be made that we should push forward as cautiously and carefully as possible, not tinkering too much, and allowing slow change to happen over a long period of time.”

    You must be kidding, Mr. Kain. We know how this story ends. In a system where teacher unions control 99.9% of the power (money, organization, power, lobbyists, legislation, rhetoric (in communities), parent loyalty, alliances, etc. etc.), wishing for gradual change is to beg for no change at all. Descriptions and prescriptions that fail to genuinely factor the ridiculous power asymmetry between defenders of the status quo and reformers are part of the problem. Objects in motion stay in motion. Self-funding interest groups in power stay in power. Terry Moe has done a wonderful analysis of this in his latest opus, “Special Interest.”

    I do believe that Mr. Kain is well-intentioned. But let’s dispense with the self-flagellation. Being critical of defenders of the status quo is not reckless and it requires no qualification or apologies; it is logical and necessary.

    Teacher unions are evil and all-powerful and when given an inch they take a mile. They represent very well the plurality of dim-witted, mirror fogging bodies who we hired by the millions into America’s classrooms during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. They do. They do and will continue to shroud the status quo in the cloak of reform. Their members insist on it. They want one and only one thing, and it’s the only thing that matters: 100% job security.

    They have opposed and with a near perfect record, have defeated every sensible proposal designed to increase teacher quality and consequences for public education failure, in the past half-century.

    These days I’m reading a lot of high-minded critiques from many pro-reform commentators who fall over themselves to accomodate ridiculous arguments and suicidal concessions offered by wiley teacher union sympathizers. Show me a school turn-around that did not requiring laying off a majority of staff, and I’ll show you a failure. Show me a turn-around that required laying off a majority of staff, and I’ll show you union opposition. Real reform is a zero-sum game. We’re going to have to fight for it. The question is not whether feelings will be hurt: they will. But to look only at hurt teacher feelings and to bury the tears and bodies of 4 generations of children and families destroyed by the public schools — is WRONG. Batter up folks, change is hard and when the enemy has all the power and is willing to fight at every turn, you can bet that it will be “controversial.” As with running great schools, there is no shortcut to education reform. It will never be negotiated with a ruthless and wiley enemy committed to defending jobs principally within its very core; it must be imposed.

    The ONLY challenge for thoughtful pundits who genuinely want better outcomes is to devise reforms and rhetorical strategies that advance great teaching environments while at the same time blocking the teacher union efforts to undo them. The rest nets out to feel-good posturing that will prolong the genocide against poor children.Report

  14. Barry says:

    BlaiseP: “Unlike teachers, the military still has the respect of the nation. Ask yourself why: it’s pretty clear to me. ”

    Well, when I ask myself, these things are clear:

    Politicians heap praise on the military; they heap scorn on teachers,
    saying that teachers s*ck and should be fired.

    When the military doesn’t accomplish something, it’s proof that we’ve underfunded it. When schools don’t accomplish something, it’s taken as proof by at least one party that teachers s*ck and should be fired.

    Corruption in the military is ‘a few bad apples’ (and the normal corruption of many officers retiring and taking up jobs in military contractors is usually taken as normal, and not corruption). Corruption in schools is taken as proof by at least one party that teachers s*ck and should be fired.

    And so on.Report