NCLB a paranoid (properly so) view

This morning on npr I heard several letters from teachers regarding NCLB and its effects on their classrooms. They described their efforts to combat those effects. More than a narrowing of curriculum, NCLB, with its focus on testing and punishment, reflects a madrasa-type desire to restrict thought and channel learning into approved areas.

Some years ago, I read an article on surveys of high school teachers and college professors concerning how high school students should be prepared for college: the teachers said they should know lots of facts; the professors said they could pick up facts easily – what they needed was to know how to think.

I’ve read that article to my students over the years. It is upsetting to some, those fact-mongers who are desparate for the A, the high GPA, with little regard for learning. They feel cheated when the spotlight turns away from test scores and GPAs and onto thinking ability. Their usual question is: what should I think?

And that is the goal of NCLB in the long term: to produce a citizenry that is unarmed in the battle for policy. The goal of this administration is to enrich the wealthy people who are behind them and they cannot do that if the American people can think, analyze, express themselves creatively… all those essentials of an open society. If this administration can close down public thought, as they managed to do in the period after 9/11, they can put a lot more than a war over on us.

The short term goal of this administration is to convince the American people that public schools are no good. This provides an opening for their friends to invest in private education corporations, funded by government funds in the form of vouchers and other devices to bleed money away from secular public education and put it into religious schools or, as they are called now, faith-based schools. This enriches the administration’s backers, ensures the continued political base for the administration, and permits control over the economy, foreign policy and public affairs of our nation.

The Islamic world is facing the same dilemma: masses of people support superficial piety like George Bush?s. The Modernists in those societies are villified as being against God, just as promoters of secular education in this country are. But what kind of reilgion is being promoted in this country?

Cui bono? Who does this profit?

To start with, millions of Americans are convinced that they have the Truth and that no doubt, questioning, trifling with this Truth can be permitted. An open, questioning, non-authoritarian education discomfits in the sense of discomforts these Americans, often described as “people of faith”. This is mislabeling, because many “people of faith? are quite comfortable with doubt, considering it a sine qua non of a strong faith. Nevertheless, the administration garners support from many voters when it declares its determination to make sure students learn “facts”.

My wife was raised in a Pentecostal church and we still have strong ties to that church. My cousin is an evangelical minister. These are good, kind people and by no means patsies. But many have been misled by Bush’s declarations of faith. One woman said she disagreed with Bush on every policy point but was voting for him anyway because he is a “man of God.” I wonder if the casualty rates in her state, W.VA., have changed her mind.

Sam Harris was recently quoted in an ad, saying: “The President of the U.S. has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim amy more ludicrous or offensive.”

Religious people know the difference between the Word of God and the prattlings of charlatans. Some attest to the sincerety of Bush’s faith; I doubt it myself, but I don’t know the man. Nevertheless, anyone can see the sliminess of fending off questions about your political policies by claiming God as your prime consultant.

The less than ethical goal of many “people of faith? is to have their faith taught in schools. That is their goal. It is one held with conviction and sincerety, i.e. they genuinely believe society will be better off if we all believe their way. The thinking of the Founding Fathers has been corrupted by corrupt people to convince these “believers? that the writers of our founding documents were of a kind in their beliefs. I hope no one reading this blog is so uninformed as to hold that view of our founders.

I have talked about the short term goals of the politicians and the goals of the “people of faith’; what about long term goals? The amassing of power includes the amassing of money, so control over our society through corrupting the education system serves both goals. I think power itself is a drive and money is just the ends. A colleague once told me that people who have given up on finding love seek power. Maybe that explains it.

At any rate, the Bush administration took full advantage of the lulled sense of duty of our press and our government agencies after 9/11 to impose their agenda over a stunned and fearful people. Am I wrong in saying that anyone with two brain cells to rub together could see the problems that would accompany the invasion of Iraq? After the First Gulf War, didn’t most people know that Iraq was a country born of colonial manipulations and that it consisted of three mutually hostile groups, all with strong cross-border ties that threatened the balance of power in the region? Two other teachers and I stood around lamenting the inevitability of war in March of 2003 – and these guys are not Liberals. Frankly, they aren’t brilliant and neither am I, so how was it so easy for us to see the pitfalls, not to mention the sheer chicanery, of this invasion and so difficult for others?

That goes to the heart of NCLB – not only dumbing down our education but arousing fear in teachers that they will lose their jobs if they don’t stick to the tested curriculum… and in students that if they take their nose off the grindstone for a moment, they might not get accepted into college or get aid.

Teachers might even be sent back to junior high – Heaven forfend!

Are there signs the curtain is being pulled away… and, eventually down…. on this sorry mess? Katrina certainly opened the world’s eyes to the cronyism and ineptitude of this administration while Abramoff and Dulay and Lott exposed the corruption and racism inherent in an appeal to the basest instincts in our society. Rajiv Chandrasekaran has written a book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, about the way Arabists and other regional experts were ignored in the lead up to this war; how officials brought in were vetted in areas of political loyalty rather than expertise; how the culture and history of Iraq was ignored; how Halliburton and other firms were given contracts in the face of obvious conflicts of interest and unsuitability.

At a local level, some parents are beginning to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I went to that school and my kid is going there. The teachers are good. How can it be a failing school?” Personally, I have written elsewhere about my talk with my wife’s cousin’s wife in Texas, a school janitor, who witnessed an administrator coaching a group of students on a retake of the state’s high-stakes test. The rotten nature of reporting on education in Texas was reported long ago, but few paid attention then. They may now.

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