Once again, I dip into Frank Smith books. I started Insult to Intelligence and was shocked to discover it was written in 1986. He predicted the horrible mess the bean counters have got us into. The bean counters don’t like numbers because they believe numbers reveal anything, they like numbers because they keep them from having to deal with people. People are messy, numbers clean.
Numbers are great and in their own way can reveal a lot, but they are not the whole picture. Bean counters assure us that numbers are indeed the whole picture and base decisions purely on numbers. Whole schools have gone this route, helped by the publishers of textbooks. All of this results from not trusting students. The lack of trust stems from religious teachings which say man is born evil. How can you trust an evil child? Hence, the need for control, hence the application of numbers which allows us to avoid applying other means of perception, like feelings, intuition, hunches; in other words, the stuff of art.
So the number crunchers have reduced teaching to numbers, what they call “steps”. Language teaching was long-ago reduced to “steps” as the languages were analyzed and organized into bits. The term “mastery” was distorted into meaning memorizing steps. All the essence of language was squeezed out of English and Foreign Language classes and replaced by steps. Look at any textbook. We could also look at history books, science books, etc. and discern similar distortions of the great excitement to be found in those subjects, reduced to steps, but I am not so familiar with how those fields are taught. (advisory: I did teach history and government about 22 years ago for a couple of years and have always looked at current textbooks in those fields, so I am not so naive as to believe they have escaped the bean counters).
Keep in mind, the bean counters can perform marvelous acts as long as they stay on the appropropriate tasks. Teaching is not such a task. Here’s something a bean counter would never understand, from Frank Smith’s The Book of Learning and Forgetting, p. 24:
“But reading is not a solitary activity. Readers are never alone. Readers can join the company of the characters they read about – that is the reason we read stories of peole with whom we can identify or of situations in which we would like to be. When we read, we can join any club in the world – a powerful advantage of reading.”
And so on. Do you see the danger lurking in the mind of a bean counter, someone who wants to control the steps? “…not a solitary activity…??? They’re cheating? How can they compete with other children if they are not alone? It’s all about sorting and ranking children – by pages read, by IQ, by seating chart, by test scores, and so on.
“….join the company of characters…?? What if they aren’t the right sort of people? Might they be molesters? Heathens? Jihadis? Socialists? Communists? (If you think I am exaggerating, the other night a Republican came to our Democratic meeting to invite us to a talk given by an “expert”: the topic? How Communism is threatening our society….. TODAY! Guess who they think the Communist-in-chief is?)
“We can join any club in the world”??? Shouldn’t there be rigid requirements, perhaps attendence at an elite private school, residence in the right neighborhood? Membership in the right church? Just any old club? In the whole wide world? OMG, who knows who our children might be associating with.
“… we read stories of people with whom we can identify….” The bean counters know that most people, bereft of pride and self-confidence by an economy that labels them losers, fearful of the future, and hyperaware of “enemies” everywhere, want to dictate who their children identify with. Control, control, control….. and who better to guarantee control than the bean counters.
Why did I jump into Frank Smith in the first place? Because I’m exhausted and it’s only October. Evening parent nights, Saturday open houses….. I am wiped out and need sustenance.