Standardizing human beings



I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture. . . . Such men [as Henry Ford} do not always realize that the adoration which they receive is not a tribute to their personality but to their power or their pocketbook. 

Albert Einstein, Saturday Evening Post interview, Oct.26, 1929

Diane Ravitch was not “once born” (William James). This brilliant New York educator had a real conversion, the result of an intellectual crisis. At one time hopeful about the benefits of testing, accountability and choice(markets), she switched her beliefs. The facts had changed. She had always had an aversion to fads and intellectual movements so cavalierly embraced (mostly by non-practioners in the field). As a historian of education, she intuitively rejected the simplistic “royal road to learning”, the one size fits all nostrum peddled today  by those with too much money and clout and with so little experience in what they are talking about. It reminds me of the late Globe columnist Richard Needham’s definition of a school trustee as “one who has never met a child but has had one described to him.”

Anybody remotely familiar with education knows the terrain. A fad appears and the ambitious ride it for all of its worth until it turns out to be—you guessed it, simply a fad. And then the next guru appears with THE solution.

Ravitch writes in her brilliant book that she too had fallen for the latest panacea sweeping North America : standardized testing. The almost sole means of accountability would close the achievement gap between rich and poor, and new schools (charters) would emerge in the sunlight which would automatically solve the problem. This movement was corporate-driven with little teacher or oparent input. What succeeded in the market place could easily be transferred to the school systems. What of course was missing was the mystery of the human person and the social circumstances surrounding the child.

Ravitch had bought into the corporate culture’s obsession with charters, choice, merit pay and accountability,Schools like businesses would be judged by the results. Underperforming schools would be closed. Deregulation and privatization, here we come! The market somehow would solve the problem. Oh, yeah there are real people in those schools!

Here is Ravitch today:

In city after city, state after state, the privatization movement is seeking to take control of public sector institutions and to turn a profit.

They begin by attacking the public sector as costly, wasteful, and inefficient. This is the classic use of FUD (look up the term in wikipedia, it has a long history in public relations as a way to destroy your competition): Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.

In the case of public education, they say our schools are failing when they are not. Our schools are doing exceptionally well, and where test scores are low is in schools with high levels of poverty and racial segregation. The privatizers don’t want to talk about poverty and segregation. Instead, they blame unions, teachers, and public control. They want what privatizers want: private control of public dollars.

The good news: the public is growing aware of this attack on the commons. The pushback has begun. The public is beginning to understand that the private sector “succeeds” by pushing out the toughest cases. The private sector does not do education or prisons or hospitals or parks or libraries better or cheaper.

When the public understands the raid on the commons, the privateers lose.

That is why we must all tell the public what is happening. We must defend what belongs to us all. We must defend it not to be defensive but to preserve it for the future. We do not want the “status quo.” The status quo is testing and privatization. We reject the status quo. Nor do we want to go back to a mythical past.

We want better schools. We want good schools in every neighborhood. We want schools that are subject to democratic control, not to corporate or autocratic control. Restoring democracy is at the heart of our struggle against privatization. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

We will continue to resist all efforts to turn schools into profit-making enterprises. We will demand that our nation resume its struggle for equal opportunity for all, a goal that has been cynically abandoned these past dozen years.

May the private sector grow and thrive. And may we work together until the public sector once again recaptures its purpose, which is to serve the public without fear or favor.


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