The American Education Wars

In politics, we have witnessed the detrimental impasse of rigid ideologues unable to legislate responsibly no matter how dire our needs. In the education wars, the sides are no different — unyieldingly stubborn —but the education wars are on many fronts. There continues to be new vs. old math, whole language vs. phonics but now we have our modern “education reform war” with all it twists and turns.

One result of the education wars thus far is the takeover of our education policies and practices at the exclusion of “us” in the process. So now we have a full-blown greed-driven, politically motivated power struggle pitting those wishing to end neighborhood public schools, as we have known them, against those wanting to preserve and improve them.

The high level of frustration produced by the education wars has made easy pickings for those looking to make a buck off of us, the government of the people. That’s the bad news.

The good news? We have the opportunity to end this war by making the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) right —again.

The top-down education mandates for accountability tied to higher “achievement” scores, through No Child Left Behind (NCLB*) only furthered our resistance to change, made a bad situation worse for many, and escalated the education wars.

(*Note: NCLB was formerly ESEA and now called the Every Student Succeeds Act since 2015)

Scholars, politicians, and pundits are fighting over issues most citizens can’t fully comprehend while many patrons are growing frustrated and walking away. Still others are spending their time and energy protesting and actively working to gain back some control of the legislative process. Many of these people are mothers and fathers whose time should be focused on their children.

This war appears to have started over the question, is there a crisis in education? Well, there is now. The war has been smoldering beneath the surface for 30 years and now has parents fighting for their rights while trying to obtain a good education for their children. Through all this one fact remains certain, over the last three decades of attempted education reform, children have fallen through the cracks while adults fight about who is right.

End this war!

Did political and business leaders take over education policy and now dictate classroom practices because they found “the establishment” educators inept and unwilling to listen? Or did they take over as part of a plot to undermine our republic through standardization and privatization of our schools? Frankly—I don’t give a damn if it was the chicken or the egg that started this. Both “sides” are doing harm to children’s opportunity to learn and to what was once revered as the best system of free public schools in the world.

The “education reform wars” have got to stop. This tug-of-war over opposing political agendas is leaving behind teachers, students, and their families as collateral damage. It is time to stop fighting against each other over the smaller problems we can solve at the local level and take on the far more threatening problem — national education reform policy.federalism-timeline-19-728

The national education policy process is flawed because the conversation and debate is being controlled — the voice of the people excluded. And the law has not been about the children. If it had been, it would have been changed on time in 2007 when we knew with certainty that it was doing harm.

This fight will only be for the children if we make it so. Now is the time. The reauthorization of ESEA in 2015 failed to change what needed changing. That door of opportunity closed. Now it is up to us to end the American Education Reform Wars our way.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Frederick Douglass

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6 thoughts on “The American Education Wars

  1. I do not know if you have read “The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B.Du Bois but if you have not you should. It was written in 1903 but parts seem like 2015 to a perceptive reader. This is especially true of chapters two and three (I think those are the ones.)
    When the book was written Booker T. Washington was enjoying great popularity and was considered the leader/spokesman for African American needs and aspirations. His popularity was the result of Washington’s advocacy of a system of schooling for the children of Freedmen released from slavery only 38 years earlier. Washington was putting forth the proposition that a system of common schools for Blacks should be developed supplemented by industrial training schools to prepare students for jobs in industry. I think he asserted that every Black should be made ready to accept employment in manufacturing, construction or service.
    Du Bois wisely countered Washington’s ideas by pointing out that such a system would forever condemn African Americans low expectations and second class citizenship. Du Bois pointed out that colleges were needed to prepare individuals to be teachers at least in the common schools).
    It seems to me that today we are moving toward making education just what Booker T. Washington advocated except we will educate all working class students just enough to allow them to be useful to the wealthy elite who will exploit them much as Blacks have been exploited since 1876.

    • Yes and the problem at the moment is to help the civil rights groups see that the means to equal opportunity must be fair and just. We can’t limit educational opportunity, for some kids, through excessive and unnecessary testing because we are holding on to the failed test-based “accountability” theory. …. As always, the question is, how?

      As some that have read my book know, I feel I uncovered the answer in our own history of ESEA.

      • Where is your book available? and what is the title? I do not have a lot of time to read printed books and when I refer to “reading” a book I have often just listened to an audiobook on my I-pod. I can do that while I drive.

        After listening to “The Souls of Black Folk” I have become convinced that since the Civil War the NAACP has been more effective and influential than any other organization in causing change in the United States Government. It was only through this group that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights acts became law in the 1960s. It was pressure, through public opinion, from the NAACP that raised Americans’ consciousness level on matters of civil rights other than just in matters of racism. Many of the gains made by women, gays, the disabled, the elderly and immigrants were only brought about because of the mirror this group held up before our collective consciences.

        If you stop and think about it most of the problems we face today, including the ridiculousness of NCLB and Race to the Top, are conservative backlash to the success of the NAACP in bringing about greater equality of economic and political opportunity (at least on paper). Maybe we all need to take a lesson from this group.

        Perhaps the time is right for the formation of a new organization. Maybe it would be called “The National Association for the Advancement of All people.” Possibly it could be a Federation of all groups working for the good of Americans whose livelihood, well-being, and quality of life depends on their labor and not on their inheritance. It would be goal oriented and could have affiliates as diverse as the Tea party, LGBT, OWS, NAACP, AARP, Chamber of Commerce, Labor Unions, NEA and any other group or individual claiming to have an interest in reducing inequality. Given enough diversity and membership this could bring powerful influence on elected official and might defeat big money.

  2. Start by ending schools of education. They are failures and jokes at most universities. Where else can C- and D high school students be admitted and get A averages in college? Make teachers get a degree in their subject matter and then have them earn a minor or certificate in teaching well.

    Put discipline back, remove the unions, make it easy to dismiss those who don’t care or aren’t competent.

    These are primary reasons public schools are abysmal failures.

    • You make multiple points most definitely worthy of open dialogue, debate, conversation – whatever you want to call it.

      1) Colleges of Education
      2) Teacher preparation & certification
      3) Classroom management & student discipline
      4) Role of unions in public service jobs
      5) How professionals handle a breach in their standard of practice

      These are some of the problems we should be solving. If you or anyone else out there would like to do a guest blog here – and would welcome a rebuttal from me if I feel compelled to do so – I’m game.

      The way we are NOT dealing directly with problems is insane.

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