I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Training America's Next Generation of Followers

Paul Krugman breaks down Romney's "Boca Moment," and tells us something about class stratification in the process:
Where does this disdain for workers come from? Some of it, obviously, reflects the influence of money in politics: big-money donors, like the ones Mr. Romney was speaking to when he went off on half the nation, don’t live paycheck to paycheck. But it also reflects the extent to which the G.O.P. has been taken over by an Ayn Rand-type vision of society, in which a handful of heroic businessmen are responsible for all economic good, while the rest of us are just along for the ride.
In the eyes of those who share this vision, the wealthy deserve special treatment, and not just in the form of low taxes. They must also receive respect, indeed deference, at all times. That’s why even the slightest hint from the president that the rich might not be all that — that, say, some bankers may have behaved badly, or that even “job creators” depend on government-built infrastructure — elicits frantic cries that Mr. Obama is a socialist. [emphasis mine]
The first priority of those in power is making sure they keep it. Respect, deference, and even obedience are the tools the wealthy use to keep the proles in their place. And when the elite don't get their regular obeisances, they get angry and worried.

Which is why the children of the working classes need to be trained to know their place:
Kim, who is a professor of education at the College of William and Mary, analyzed scores on a battery of measures of creativity—called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)—collected from normative samples of schoolchildren in kindergarten through twelfth grade over several decades.  According to Kim’s analyses, the scores on these tests at all grade levels began to decline somewhere between 1984 and 1990 and have continued to decline ever since. The drops in scores are highly significant statistically and in some cases very large.  In Kim’s words, the data indicate that “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” 
According to Kim’s research, all aspects of creativity have declined, but the biggest decline is in the measure called Creative Elaboration, which assesses the ability to take a particular idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way. Between 1984 and 2008, the average Elaboration score on the TTCT, for every age group from kindergarten through 12th grade, fell by more than 1 standard deviation. Stated differently, this means that more than 85% of children in 2008 scored lower on this measure than did the average child in 1984.  Yikes. [emphasis mine]
Hmm... let's review the timeline:
  • 1981: Reagan destroys PATCO and the 30-year war against workers begins.
  • 1983: A Nation At Risk is published, the shot across the bow of public education. Reagan starts advocating for policies like tuition tax credits.
  • 1990: Vouchers begin in Milwaukee. TFA is established.
  • 1992: The first charter school opens.
  • 2001: "No Child Left Behind" becomes law, mandating an extensive, high-stakes testing regime.
  • 2009: "Race To The Top" implemented; Common Core standards initiative launched.
So during the time that creativity in America's students has declined, we've steadily eroded teacher workplace protections; let corporate interests drive education policy; seen the proliferation of vouchers and charter schools; implemented an enormous testing regime; set in place a rigid curriculum narrowly based on reading and math; and implemented teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores.

Of course creativity has been in decline! Of course our students are now far more comfortable thinking convergently rather than divergently! Of course our kids are losing their ability to solve problems and think outside the box! Look at what we've done for the last 30 years; it's as if someone planned to turn kids into unthinking, regurgitating drones. Given our nation's educational policies, why would we expect anything different?

Of course, that isn't what happened to the children of the plutocrats. They sent their kids to suburban public schools that either treat standardized testing as an annoyance, or private schools that don't deal with them at all. Their children got a broad, rich curriculum, experienced teachers, and school governance that is responsive to parents and/or democratic.

Because they knew that their children were going to be the leaders, and everyone else's children were going to be the followers. The young leaders learn how to think; the young followers learn how to obey. The young leaders engage deeply in the arts and sciences and gain creativity skills; the young followers learn to fill in the correct bubbles on Scantron sheets.

Sure, there are outliers: children so talented that they broke through the circumstances of their births and their mechanistic educations to stand apart. Children like this are very helpful to an aristocracy; they give the impression that the game isn't rigged, and the poor have no one to blame but themselves for the mess they are in.

But the differences in the way rich children and poor children (and, increasingly, middle class children) are schooled in our standardized, charterized, urban public schools betrays an attitude of condescension among the elite: pottery wheels and lacrosse teams for mine, virtual schooling in cubicles for yours.

This attitude is at the core of who Mitt Romney is; it's also at the core of the corporate reform movement. He could actually take a few cues from these people: they are very good at turning the tables on their critics. At the end of the day, however, both the plutocrats and their well-paid reformy servants are ultimately betrayed by their own sense of moral superiority. Their hypocrisy is writ large upon the college application essays of their own progeny: essays that speak of a life experience and an education denied to the children of those in the "inferior" classes.

An education that could be provided to all if only these people were made to pay their fair share of taxes. Don't be surprised, however, at the ferocity of their indignation if you dare to suggest this.

It's how they roll.

Guess which child is heading off to the KIPP Academy?

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