Wednesday, August 3, 2011

“Wishing doesn’t make it so”

Freddie deBoer has some good, if painful, advice for school “reform” enthusiasts:
Educational policy is the graveyard of superb ideas.

. . .

Every year, a new, supposedly revolutionary text emerges that challenges our core understandings of pedagogy, which asks us for an entire new educational philosophy, which is sure to spark massive change in our schools....

. . .

We have to consider the possibility that improving educational outcomes will always be expensive, frustrating, and slow, and the gains tenuous. We have to consider that this might be reality.

. . .

Among the most frustrating elements of debating education reformers is that many tend to speak as though they are the first to ever “put their foot down.” When you study the history of education reform, you will find that one thing that has never been lacking is earnest, well-meaning white people talking loudly about how something must be done. I assure you: if the presence of impassioned, minimally-involved liberal strivers in the education debate guaranteed progress, we’d have achieved far more than we have. I expect and welcome discussion of education reform from passionate popular/generalist sources. That’s democracy. But I do wish people would understand that it is no coincidence that teachers and administrators at public schools tend to have a much more limited and skeptical view of reform. They live where education happens.

. . .

Educating is hard. Doing responsible social science is hard. This debate is desperately in need of modesty. Adjusting your expectations downward is not nihilism, and it’s not despair. It is reacting to decade upon decade of discouraging data.
I like deBoer’s call for modesty. I admit, though, that I’d be less bothered by the grand schemes of education reformers if they involved treating kids with more respect and giving them more independence and autonomy, if they were less burdensome and coercive, and if they were less likely to model authoritarian values.

The unspoken premise of most educational debate is that the ends justify the means. If it will “improve outcomes” -- that is, raise test scores -- then we should do it, period. It’s an ethically questionable premise at any time -- God help us if research ever shows that corporal punishment raises test scores -- but it’s a particularly questionable one when we know so little about the real long-term effects of any educational proposal. Especially in that context, doesn’t it make sense to let our treatment of children be driven by our values, rather than by pie-in-the-sky hopes that treating kids harshly will “improve outcomes”?

Read deBoer’s whole post.

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