Saturday, November 19, 2005

Linking with kindred spirits

Kevin Kosar is interviewed on Alexander Russo’s blog. Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards, sees quite clearly the dilemma we are in. Without strong leadership, we become balkanized and act too chaotically to reach high standards. Though he’s talking primarily about the federal level, “where politicians say things which are so far out, so incredibly divorced from reality, that one’s jaw falls slack,” one can see the same pattern at staff meetings around the country. It’s hard to get a group large enough to accomplish much to agree on a plan strong enough to make a real difference.

Since we have quite a lot of freedom and quite a lot of ideological diversity, we reject strong leadership.

Our ideological divisions are so fierce that good policy doesn’t survive our political process. “Multiculturalists will caterwaul that standards that emphasize knowledge of grammar are Eurocentric, creationists will holler about any mentions of evolution, and so forth. Even mathematics, a seemingly objective discipline, isn’t immune to intense debates about what gets taught and how.”

At the national level, it doesn’t seem likely that our divisions are going to get any less vexing, and yet we no longer have a political party arguing that education should be a state and local affair. Though either the Democrats or the Republicans had taken turns holding that position since the 1880s, both have abandoned it since Bob Dole lost to Clinton, campaigning on a platform to reduce the federal role in k-12 schooling. So as we abdicate more and more education decision to the feds, the feds get less and less capable of making sound policy.

To teach in these noisy times within a system that may be coming apart, good teachers need to find sources of serenity apart from the lobbying agencies that assail them. I feel a certain lack of passion about the big arguments in education--not that they don’t matter, but that fighting is not learning or teaching. It’s good to follow the debates, to stay informed, to keep learning and thinking about what will work, and to talk with those who are trying to make learning work better for young people but to disengage readily from those who are trying to “do well by doing good.”

This feels like a time to link up with individual teachers and to form “tribes” of kindred spirits working together to understand better ways of teaching and learning. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/19 at 01:40 AM
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