Curmudgeon Me.

Il y a etait un fois, America had the best democratic public school system in the world, AND the greatest college and university system in the world.  More Americans went farther in education than did people in any other country.  In percentage terms, America had more and better “human capital” than did any other country in the world.  “We cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA&t=16s

Then, standardized tests revealed a terrifying decline in American educational attainment.  The generally-accepted, state-mandated, and Federally-funded response took the form of more standardized testing, accountability through assessment, the standardization of delivery models, and the proliferation of rubrics.

Here’s the thing.  When American education led the world, nobody did much standardized testing, nobody did much formal assessment[1], nobody insisted on standardized delivery, and no truly-educated person knew what the word “rubric” meant.  Schools and teachers didn’t do ANY of the things that now are supposed to cure “the prince of our disorders.”  This suggests that the origin of American educational problems lies elsewhere than in the educational system itself.

This applies to the American education reform experience of the last several decades.  Has anyone—other than me—ever been lost in the woods?  The hard-won lessons of millennia in this matter counsel certain behaviors.  First, Stop where you are!  Do not keep going forward!  Do not turn aside to the left hand or to the right to go bush-whacking through the brush!  You will fall over the edge of a cliff, bust your leg, and end up being mauled by some aggrieved Momma-bear.  Second, turn around and head back down the trail that you came up.  Eventually, you will come upon the place where you last knew where you were.  Third, stop in that place, consult your map and compass, and discern where you went wrong.  Fourth, get back on the trail you were supposed to be on before you missed the way-mark because you were looking down at your boots, trying not to trip over roots, when you should have been looking up to notice the white-painted blaze in a tree.

Thus, we need to stop bush-whacking through the educational underbrush.  We need to stop, turn around, and go back to whatever it is we were doing right before the wheels came off.

What was it we used to do when “once we were warrior kings”?  Historians have begun to explore what went wrong since the 1970s.  The early evidence suggests that complex social, economic, and cultural forces combined to wreck the foundations of American educational achievement.  The oil shocks of the 1970s put an end to an already troubled economic boom.  Families stopped valuing education as the pathway to success and stopped supporting the teachers who provided it.  Women’s Liberation took a lot of smart women out of career ghettos in teaching school (and nursing and bank-tellers and secetaries in offices), then replaced them with inferior substitutes.  They stopped buying encyclopedias and stopped subscribing to newspapers and magazines, and stopped taking their children to public libraries.  (Which have now become “social centers” with Ute and yentas grumbling at the top of their lungs.)  Divorces and re-marriages multiplied even though that meant that children had fewer resources and less family-support structures in challenging circumstances.  Trust in any and all institutions (understandably) declined.  (Hard to appreciate where those idiot anti-vaxxers come from otherwise.)  In short, the bourgeois social norms that had raised up individual “achievement” and collective “civilization” (along with its many injustices) went into a death spiral.

It would be un-fair to ask college administrators and faculty leaders at any one college or university to have the testicular fortitude to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  So, I’m doing it.

That’s my straw-man.  Knock it to bits.

[1] Although teachers and professors wrote a good deal of commentary in the margins of blue-books and essays.  Less common now because many people just score a rubric.  Leave the student to figure it out on their own.

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