EDUCATION AND THE WHIPLASH IT’S CAUSED

The marvels of Facebook surprised me again last week. A former student–this time from 1968–’found’ me through my daughter’s work. Thanks, Liz (mom-101.com.) Wendy reminded me of “Alice in Bookland,” the film we made when she was in the 4th grade. Her gracious message brought on a wonderland of memories.

I followed my reverie to the basement where I store students’ love notes, workshop handouts, binders, class photos. Memories.

While I was downstairs I decided to go through the material I offered as I facilitated professional development workshops. That’s when the whiplash began. Those standards from the 1970s? Toss ‘em. The ones from 1988? Trash. How about those Twentieth Century Skills? Not relevant. Local Standards from 1992? Nope. State Standards from 2010? Gone forever. Common Core Learning Standards circa 2012? Keepers. Trust us this time parents, teachers, community members.

Pinky promise.

When the deli down the street changes ownership, they close the store for a week or three as they put in shiny tiles on the walls, new linoleum on the floor, and bring in a new baloney slicer. Then they hang a red, white and blue banner from the window announcing, “Under New Management.” Educators? Not so lucky. We have to be in the classroom teaching kids even as we’re ‘Under New Management.’ Every time new standards come to us we’re expected to learn them, master them, and show student’s success.

People, can we all assume that the baloney is real this time? We’re told that there is money behind this effort. It’s NOT for professional development. It’s NOT for music or art teachers. The money is NOT for creating smaller classes. The money is for new tests to measure teachers. The money is for grading the tests. And for assessing teachers.

According to Class Size Matters,  smaller class size is a research-based variable we can count on to provide more effective teaching and instruction. But we’re not in an age of research. Teaching is a business; therefore, successful business leaders are best able to ‘reform’ education. No research is necessary, because business just knows how to do it. Pinky promise.

Once a meme enters the public consciousness it doesn’t stop to examine itself. It bounces back and forth from originator to talk show host to Facebook , to Twitter, to the New York Times, The Washington Times…your PTA meeting, your soccer field, your carpool. You know.

Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of Class Size Matters: You are in good company. No one listened to Louis Pasteur, either, when the public believed that illness was caused by spontaneous generation

“I am afraid that the experiments you quote, M. Pasteur, will turn against you. The world into which you wish to take us is really too fantastic.”  La Presse, 1860

Remember when salt was bad for us? Not anymore. But it took forever to get the word out, because the ‘truth’ was too far gone.

Where is the research that equates business models with successful education? Why does the public believe those who say, “Don’t confuse us with the facts?” Why are these standards better than any others we’ve had? Educators want to hear from members of our own profession whose ideas are supported by research.

Members of our profession? Right. Name three. Um, Diane Ravitch…

Our new standards tell us what counts as knowledge, what information gets taught, whose stories matter and where reality lies. And now we will be tested to validate these truths. Scientific method, indeed!

In 1988 Rick Simonson and Scott Walker, edited The Graywolf Annual Five:Multi-Cultural Literacy. They offer their own list of what constitutes knowledge. Try these on for size. How many do you know? And I’m only up to the D’s.

  • 100,000 Sons of Milarepa cholera
  • Adler, Alfred
  • Amado, Jorge
  • barrio
  • bioregional
  • Black and Tans
  • Brooks, Gwendolyn
  • cinéma verité
  • cholera
  • Castro Street
  • cultural materialism
  • deep ecology
  • Disappeared, The
  • Dresden
  • Druids
  • dub poetry

Whose stories will be told? Whose voice will count in the 21st century? What sort of education are you willing to fight for? Whiplash alert 2012 version.


About Nancy Letts

Nancy Letts consults with school districts, professional organizations and public sector agencies.Her teaching appointments have included public schools in Pennsylvania and New York, and at Pace University and the City University of New York. She and her work have been the subject of articles in the New York Times, Teaching K-8 Magazine, Thinking: the Journal of Philosophy for Children, and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” She has been a contributor to the Teachers College Record, The Quarterly at UC Berkeley, and Teaching magazine. Audio tapes include”Building Learning Organizations,” and “Getting Started With Portfolios,” from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Her book "Creating the Caring Classroom" is published by Scholastic Professional Books.

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  • http://twitter.com/leoniehaimson leonie haimson

    thanks but could you correct the spelling of my name? and I wouldn’t say that “no one is listening” — parents and teachers and researchers continue to back class size reduction, strongly, even if the Billionaire boy’s club don’t …though they do for their own kids of course.

    • Nancy

      We’ve fixed the typo. Sorry. We know that the ‘choir’ is listening. Our attempt is to get to the ones who can make the changes to pay attention. They are their brother’s keeper. I just heard from a colleague who works at PS 77, the Lower Lab School for the Gifted She told me that they were expecting class size to increase to 33 students next year.

  • Nancy

    Of course, the converted are listening. We want others to believe in the science-the research-of your work, and not simply in an emotional explanation of why it’s not possible. My understanding is that class size will increase considerably next year, not only in city schools but in the upscale suburban schools I also work in. I’m not sure why there isn’t more of a protest.