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

Friday, October 4, 2013

RIP Jean Anyon (1941-2013)

Anyon was a scholar who documented the most obvious thing in the world:
Professor Anyon, who died on Sept. 7 at 72, was one of the first people to study that landscape in detail — and among the first to assert that without accompanying social reforms like job creation, antipoverty initiatives and urban renewal, the problems of education in urban, poor areas would never be surmounted.
The structural basis for failure in inner-city schools is political, economic and cultural, and must be changed before meaningful school improvement projects can be successfully implemented,” she wrote in a 1995 article in the journal Teachers College Record. “Educational reforms cannot compensate for the ravages of society.” [emphasis mine]
Unfortunately, in our brave, new, reformy world, anyone who asserts this glaringly obvious point is "defeatist and fatalistic, not to mention depressing." Heaven forbid the poor plutocrats who run this country might have to waste their beautiful minds on the depressing facts of poverty and social immobility. To insulate themselves, they've replaced real scholars like Anyon with a gaggle of well-paid think-tanky wonks, who push out "studies" that assert the Lake Wobegonian absurdity that everyone can be an outlier.

Their shallow policy briefs may be endlessly recycled in our ill-informed punditocracy; Anyon's work, however, is what still resonates with those who dare to look beyond simplistic platitudes:
Professor Anyon joined the faculty at Rutgers in 1976 and first came to wide attention with a 1980 article, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” Published in The Journal of Education, the article examined fifth-grade classes in five New Jersey schools across the economic spectrum, from working-class to wealthy districts.
The study focused on what Professor Anyon called the “hidden curriculum” of each school — the type of work students were assigned, and the ways they were expected to complete it.
In the working-class schools, she found, work entailed the rote following of procedure, with no analytical thought encouraged. In the middle-class school, she wrote, “work is getting the right answer.”
In a more affluent school, Professor Anyon found, work emphasized creativity. In the wealthiest school, work meant “developing one’s analytical intellectual powers.”
These differences, she concluded, helped recapitulate existing class divisions. The children of blue-collar families, for instance, received “preparation for future wage labor that is mechanical and routine,” while those of wealthy families were taught skills that would help them assume leadership positions.
Two things strike me about this study of Anyon's: first, how American schooling is seen almost entirely  as a preparation for work, as opposed to a preparation for citizenship. In its quest to cut costs and maximize profits for owners, American business has essentially given up any role in training its workforce. The schools are supposed to do it all, with inadequate resources. Guess what winds up getting short shrift.

Second: the "working-class" schools that Anyon wrote of back in 1980 have curricula and practices that eerily mirror the "no excuses" urban charter schools of today. Take, for example, NYC's vaunted Success Academies:

“Focus on English Language Arts and Math. We spend the vast majority of class time teaching ELA and Math all year long. Kids have several blocks of each daily. We do not teach history or foreign languages in elementary school. We do have a good science program. They have a Specials period every day too. Aside from that, it’s reading, writing, math from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. Obviously the extended day and extended school year helps in terms of sheer volume of time.
“Put the best teachers in testing grades. During the first few months of school, teachers and assistant principals are shuffled between grades and even schools. The goal is to put the strongest teachers in grades 3 and up. So a strong Kindergarten teacher might suddenly find herself teaching fourth grade.
“Test prep starts in November: ELA test prep starts in November for two periods a week. After winter break, we have daily hourlong ELA test prep. Then we add math. By late February, we spend several hours a day on it. The last few weeks are almost all day test prep.
The more things change...

Jean Anyon (1941-2013)

Never heard of her...

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