Detroit Walkout: High School Students Suspended For Leaving School Start Freedom School

Detroit Walkout: High School Students Suspended
    For Leaving School Start Freedom School

Students suspended for walking out of class at Detroit’s Western International High School earlier this week to protest school closures and demand a better education, are holding a “freedom school” Friday in Clark Park, across the street from their official school building.

Students left class Wednesday morning to protest the closing of Southwestern High School, which many fear would lead to overcrowding at Western, and to demand more resources and greater teacher engagement for the district’s schools.

Southwestern’s nearly 600 students will be offered space at Western International and Northwestern high schools next year, according to the district.

Detroit Board of Education member Elena Herrada told the Detroit News that up to 180 students were suspended from Western and Southwestern high schools following Wednesday’s action. Detroit Public Schools spokesman Steven Wasko told The Huffington Post about 100 students were suspended for five days following the walkout.

School officials at Western did not return repeated requests for comment.

Wasko said concerns about a potential lack of supplies at Western are unfounded. “Western was one of the schools with top scholarships awards, coming in after Renaissance and Cass” high schools for the 2010-11 school year, securing more than $13.9 million in grants and scholarships.

One Western student told The Huffington Post she could be facing more than a suspension. Raychel Gafford, 17, said she has been singled out by school authorities for her vocal role in the walkout and that the district’s police have indicated she may face unspecified charges.

Gafford said students are organizing the freedom school for the same reasons they walked out. “We’re sticking together and we’re not backing down from this,” she said. “We were thrown out of school for fighting for an equal education and we’re doing this to show we’re still going to be learning even if we got kicked out of school.”

Classes at the freedom school will be held with help from community volunteers for the duration of the students’ suspensions, including over the weekend.

A Facebook page promoting the freedom school puts the number of participating students at more than 150:

We do not understand why we are being punished with a loss of educational opportunity when that is exactly what we were fighting for. To further demonstrate our commitment to education, we will be attending our own school taught by ourselves and community educators for the duration of our suspension.

Gafford said the freedom school would cover a number of subjects, including the history of the civil rights movement, hip-hop, and art classes, and that space would be provided for students to make up missed class work.

Raychel’s mother, Amber Gafford, 34, said she supports her daughter and other students fighting for a quality education.

“I wish there were more kids doing this,” she said of their decision to walk out. “The children, they aren’t doing it to be malicious to the school. They have a reason they’re doing it. Their voices should be heard.”

The freedom school is the latest in a series of recent student actions at Detroit schools.

Around 50 students were suspended March 29 after leaving their classrooms at Frederick Douglass Academy to protest the school’s shortage of teachers. And hundreds of students marched in front of Denby High School on March 16 to protest their school’s transfer into a new state-run district.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on nature, wholeness and education

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on nature, wholeness and education

His novel Émile was the most significant book on education after Plato’s Republic, and his other work had a profound impact on political theory and practice, romanticism and the development of the novel.  We explore Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s life and contribution.

Nature, wholeness and romanticism

Rousseau argued that we are inherently good, but we become corrupted by the evils of society. We are born good – and that is our natural state. In later life he wished to live a simple life, to be close to nature and to enjoy what it gives us – a concern said to have been fostered by his father. Through attending to nature we are more likely to live a life of virtue. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was interested in people being natural.

We are born capable of sensation and from birth are affected in diverse ways by the objects around us. As soon as we become conscious of our sensations we are inclined to seek or to avoid the objects which produce them: at first, because they are agreeable or disagreeable to us, later because we discover that they suit or do not suit us, and ultimately because of the judgements we pass on them by reference to the idea of happiness of perfection we get from reason. These inclinations extend and strengthen with the growth of sensibility and intelligence, but under the pressure of habit they are changed to some extent with our opinions. The inclinations before this change are what I call our nature. In my view everything ought to be in conformity with these original inclinations. (Émile, Book 1 – translation by Boyd 1956: 13; see also, 1911 edition p. 7).

As Ronald Grimsley has written, ‘From the outset Rousseau had drawn inspiration from his own heart and found philosophical truth in the depth of his own being’ (1973: 135). His later writings, especially Reveries of the Solitary Walker, show both his isolation and alienation, and some paths into happiness. ‘Everything is in constant flux on this earth, he writes (1979: 88):

But if there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. Such is the state which I often experienced on the Island Of Saint-Pierre in my solitary reveries, whether I lay in a boat and drifted where the water carried me, or sat by the shores of the stormy lake, or elsewhere, on the banks of a lovely river or a stream murmuring over the stones. (Rousseau 1979: 88 – 89)

Rousseau’s is sometimes described as a romantic vision. ‘Romanticism’ is not an easy term to define – it is best approached as an overlapping set of ideas and values.

The ‘Romantic’ is said to favour the concrete over the abstract, variety over uniformity, the infinite over the finite,; nature over culture, convention and artifice; the organic over the mechanical; freedom over constraint, rules and limitations. In human terms it prefers the unique individual to the average person, the free creative genius to the prudent person of good sense, the particular community or nation to humanity at large. Mentally, the Romantics prefer feeling to thought, more specifically emotion to calculation; imagination to literal common sense, intuition to intellect. (Quinton 1996: 778)

In many respects Rousseau’s vision could be labelled as ‘green’. But with this comes a classic tension between the individual and society, solitude and association – and this is central to his work.

Social contract and the general will

Chapter 1 of his classic work on political theory The Social Contract (published in 1762) begins famously, ‘Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains’. It is an expression of his belief that we corrupted by society. The social contract he explores in the book involves people recognizing a collective ‘general will’. This general will is supposed to represent the common good or public interest – and it is something that each individual has a hand in making. All citizens should participate – and should be committed to the general good – even if it means acting against their private or personal interests. For example, we might support a political party that proposes to tax us heavily (as we have a large income) because we can see the benefit that this taxation can bring to all. To this extend, Rousseau believed that the good individual, or citizen, should not put their private ambitions first.

This way of living, he argued, can promote liberty and equality – and it arises out of, and fosters, a spirit of fraternity. The cry of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ is familiar to us today through the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) – and the impact of the thinking and experiences of that time have had on political movements in many different parts of the world since. Just how the ‘general will’ comes about is unclear – and this has profound implications. If we are to put the general will over the individual or ‘particular’ will then there needs to be safeguards against the exploitation of individuals and minorities. Rousseau’s belief in liberty, equality and fraternity, and his emphasis on education (see below) may go some way in counteracting the dangers of the general will, but others have hijacked the notion so that the majority rules the minority – or indeed a minority a majority – it just depends who has the power to define or interpret the general will.

On education

The focus of Émile is upon the individual tuition of a boy/young man in line with the principles of ‘natural education’. This focus tends to be what is taken up by later commentators, yet Rousseau’s concern with the individual is balanced in some of his other writing with the need for public or national education. In A Discourse on Political Economy and Considerations for the Government of Poland we get a picture of public education undertaken in the interests of the community as a whole.

From the first moment of life, men ought to begin learning to deserve to live; and, as at the instant of birth we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for infancy, teaching obedience to others: and as the reason of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education of their children, as that education is of still greater importance to the State than to the fathers: for, according to the course of nature, the death of the father often deprives him of the final fruits of education; but his country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families dissolve but the State remains. (Rousseau 1755: 148-9)

‘Make the citizen good by training’, Jean-Jacques Rousseau writes, ‘and everything else will follow’.

In Émile Rousseau drew on thinkers that had preceded him – for example, John Locke on teaching – but he was able to pull together strands into a coherent and comprehensive system – and by using the medium of the novel he was able to dramatize his ideas and reach a very wide audience.  He made, it can be argued, the first comprehensive attempt to describe a system of education according to what he saw as ‘nature’ (Stewart and McCann 1967:28). It certainly stresses wholeness and harmony, and a concern for the person of the learner. Central to this was the idea that it was possible to preserve the ‘original perfect nature’ of the child, ‘by means of the careful control of his education and environment, based on an analysis of the different physical and psychological stages through which he passed from birth to maturity’ (ibid.). This was a fundamental point. Rousseau argued that the momentum for learning was provided by the growth of the person (nature) – and that what the educator needed to do was to facilitate opportunities for learning.

Now each of these factors in education is wholly beyond our control, things are only partly in our power; the education of men is the only one controlled by us; and even here our power is largely illusory, for who can hope to direct every word and deed of all with whom the child has to do.

Viewed as an art, the success of education is almost impossible since the essential conditions of success are beyond our control. Our efforts may bring us within sight of the goal, but fortune must favour us if we are to reach it.

What is this goal? As we have just shown, it is the goal of nature. Since all three modes of education must work together, the two that we can control must follow the lead of that which is beyond our control.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) Émile (1911 edn.), London: Dent, pp.6

The focus on the environment, on the need to develop opportunities for new experiences and reflection, and on the dynamic provided by each person’s development remain very powerful ideas.

We’ll quickly list some of the key elements that we still see in his writing:

  • a view of children as very different to adults – as innocent, vulnerable, slow to mature – and entitled to freedom and happiness (Darling 1994: 6). In other words, children are naturally good.
  • the idea that people develop through various stages – and that different forms of education may be appropriate to each.
  • a guiding principle that what is to be learned should be determined by an understanding of the person’s nature at each stage of their development.
  • an appreciation that individuals vary within stages – and that education must as a result be individualized. ‘Every mind has its own form’
  • each and every child has some fundamental impulse to activity. Restlessness in time being replaced by curiosity; mental activity being a direct development of bodily activity.
  • the power of the environment in determining the success of educational encounters. It was crucial – as Dewey also recognized – that educators attend to the environment. The more they were able to control it – the more effective would be the education.
  • the controlling function of the educator – The child, Rousseau argues, should remain in complete ignorance of those ideas which are beyond his/her grasp. (This he sees as a fundamental principle).
  • the importance of developing ideas for ourselves, to make sense of the world in our own way. People must be encouraged to reason their way through to their own conclusions – they should not rely on the authority of the teacher. Thus, instead of being taught other people’s ideas, Émile is encouraged to draw his own conclusions from his own experience. What we know today as ‘discovery learning’ One example, Rousseau gives is of Émile breaking a window – only to find he gets cold because it is left unrepaired.
  • a concern for both public and individual education.

We could go on – all we want to do is to establish what a far reaching gift Rousseau gave. We may well disagree with various aspects of his scheme – but there can be no denying his impact then – and now. It may well be, as Darling (1994: 17) has argued, that the history of child-centred educational theory is a series of footnotes to Rousseau.

On the development of the person

Rousseau believed it was possible to preserve the original nature of the child by careful control of his education and environment based on an analysis of the different physical and psychological stages through which he passed from birth to maturity (Stewart and McCann 1967). As we have seen he thought that momentum for learning was provided by growth of the person (nature).

In Émile, Rousseau divides development into five stages (a book is devoted to each). Education in the first two stages seeks to the senses: only when Émile is about 12 does the tutor begin to work to develop his mind. Later, in Book 5, Rousseau examines the education of Sophie (whom Émile is to marry). Here he sets out what he sees as the essential differences that flow from sex. ‘The man should be strong and active; the woman should be weak and passive’ (Everyman edn: 322). From this difference comes a contrasting education. They are not to be brought up in ignorance and kept to housework: Nature means them to think, to will, to love to cultivate their minds as well as their persons; she puts these weapons in their hands to make up for their lack of strength and to enable them to direct the strength of men. They should learn many things, but only such things as suitable’ (Everyman edn.: 327). The stages below are those associated with males.

Stage 1: Infancy (birth to two years). The first stage is infancy, from birth to about two years. (Book I). Infancy finishes with the weaning of the child. He sets a  number of maxims, the spirit of which is to give children ‘more real liberty and less power, to let them do more for themselves and demand less  of others; so that by teaching them from the first to confine their wishes within the limits of their powers they will scarcely feel the want of whatever is not in their power’ (Everyman edn: 35).

The only habit the child should be allowed to acquire is to contract none… Prepare in good time form the reign of freedom and the exercise of his powers, by allowing his body its natural habits and accustoming him always to be his own master and follow the dictates of his will as soon as he has a will of his own. (Émile, Book 1 – translation by Boyd 1956: 23; Everyman edn: 30)

Stage 2: ‘The age of Nature’ (two to 12). The second stage, from two to ten or twelve, is ‘the age of Nature’. During this time, the child receives only a ‘negative education’: no moral instruction, no verbal learning. He sets out the most important rule of education: ‘Do not save time, but lose it… The mind should be left undisturbed till its faculties have developed’ (Everyman edn.: 57; Boyd: 41). The purpose of education at this stage is to develop physical qualities and particularly senses, but not minds.  In the latter part of Book II, Rousseau describes the cultivation of each of Émile’s five senses in turn.

Stage 3: Pre-adolescence (12-15). Émile in Stage 3 is like the ‘noble savage’ Rousseau describes in The Social Contract. ‘About twelve or thirteen the child’s strength increases far more rapidly than his needs’ (Everyman edn.: 128). The urge for activity now takes a mental form; there is greater capacity for sustained attention (Boyd 1956: 69). The educator has to respond accordingly.

Our real teachers are experience and emotion, and man will never learn what befits a man except under its own conditions. A child knows he must become a man; all the ideas he may have as to man’s estate are so many opportunities for his instruction, but he should remain in complete ignorance of those ideas which are beyond his grasp. My whole book is one continued argument in support of this fundamental principle of education. (Everyman edn: 141; Boyd: 81)

The only book Émile is allowed is Robinson Crusoe – an expression of the solitary, self-sufficient man that Rousseau seeks to form (Boyd 1956: 69).

Stage 4: Puberty (15-20). Rousseau believes that by the time Émile is fifteen, his reason will be well developed, and he will then be able to deal with he sees as the dangerous emotions of adolescence, and with moral issues and religion. The second paragraph of the book contains the famous lines: ‘We are born, so to speak, twice over; born into existence, and born into life; born a human being, and born a man’ (Everyman edn: 172). As before, he is still wanting to hold back societal pressures and influences so that the ‘natural inclinations’ of the person may emerge without undue corruption. There is to be a gradual entry into community life (Boyd 1956: 95). Most of Book IV deals with Émile’s moral development. (It also contains the the statement of Rousseau’s’ his own religious principles, written as ‘The creed of a Savoyard priest’, which caused him so much trouble with the religious authorities of the day).

Stage 5: Adulthood (20-25). In Book V, the adult Émile is introduced to his ideal partner, Sophie. He learns about love, and is ready to return to society, proof, Rousseau hopes, after such a lengthy preparation, against its corrupting influences. The final task of the tutor is to ‘instruct the the young couple in their marital rights and duties’ (Boyd 1956: 130).

Sophie. This last book includes a substantial section concerning the education of woman. Rousseau subscribes to a view that sex differences go deep (and are complementary) – and that education must take account of this. ‘The man should be strong and active; the woman should be weak and passive; he one must have both the power and the will; it is enough that the other should offer little resistance’ (Everyman edn: 322). Sophie’s training for womanhood upto the age of ten involves physical training for grace; the dressing of dolls leading to drawing, writing, counting and reading; and the prevention of idleness and indocility. After the age of ten there is a concern with adornment and the arts of pleasing; religion; and the training of reason. ‘She has been trained careful rather than strictly, and her taste has been followed rather than thwarted’ (Everyman edn: 356). Rousseau then goes on to sum her qualities as a result of this schooling (356-362).


Rousseau’s gift to later generations is extraordinarily rich – and problematic. Émile was the most influential work on education after Plato’s Republic, The Confessions were the most important work of autobiography since that of St Augustine (Wokler 1995: 1); The Reveries played a significant role in the development of romantic naturalism; and The Social Contract has provided radicals and revolutionaries with key themes since it was published. Yet Rousseau can be presented at the same time as deeply individualist, and as controlling and pandering to popularist totalitarianism. In psychology he looked to stage theory and essentialist notions concerning the sexes (both of which continue to plague us) yet did bring out the significance of difference and of the impact of the environment. In life he was difficult he was difficult to be around, and had problems relating to others, yet he gave glimpses of a rare connectedness.

What Does Rupert Murdoch Want With America’s Schools?

What Does Rupert Murdoch Want With America’s Schools?

Murdoch has made it very clear that he views
America’s public schools as a potential gold mine.

Rupert Murdoch’s reputation precedes him—but one thing he’s not well known for is his education reform advocacy. But that could soon change. Next month, Murdoch will make an unusual public appearance in San Francisco, delivering the keynote address at an education summit hosted by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has lately been crisscrossing the country promoting his own version of education reform.

The high-profile speech to a collection of conservative ed reformers, state legislators, and educators is just the latest step in Murdoch’s quiet march into the business of education, which has been somewhat eclipsed by the phone-hacking scandal besieging his media empire. (On Tuesday, word of Murdoch’s appearance at Bush’s conference came just hours after reports that News Corp. had agreed to pay more than $4 million to the family of a 13-year-old British murder victim, Milly Dowler, whose voicemail was hacked
by reporters for Murdoch’s News of the World. ) But Murdoch has made it very clear that he views America’s public schools as a potential gold mine.

“In every other part of life, someone who woke up after a 50-year nap would not recognize the world around him…But not in education,” he remarked in May during a speech at the “e-G8 forum” that preceded the G8 summit in France. “Our schools remain the last holdout from the digital revolution.”

Last November, News Corp. dropped $360 million to buy Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based education technology company that provides software, assessment tools, and data services. “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” Murdoch said at the time.

A few weeks before the deal, News Corp. had hired one of the nation’s most prominent education figures, Joel Klein, away from his job as New York City schools chancellor. As it happens, Klein was already familiar with Wireless Generation, which began working with the New York City school system during his tenure.

While Murdoch’s arrival to the education business is being cheered by Jeb Bush and other conservatives, the idea of the parent company of News of the World and Fox getting into the school biz hasn’t gone over well with the education establishment. Murdoch’s new venture has stirred controversy in New York, where this summer the state sought to enter into a $27 million contract with Wireless Generation to track student performance. Given Klein’s hiring, the deal prompted an outcry by teachers’ unions and other critics who saw the public school system becoming just another example of revolving-door politics and crony capitalism. (“They chose us because we’re good,” and not due to any connection to Klein, says Wireless Generation’s spokeswoman, Joan Lebow.)

In early August, New York teachers’ unions demanded the state rescind its plans to contract with Wireless Generation. “It is especially troubling that Wireless Generation will be tasked with creating a centralized database for personal student information even as its parent company, News Corporation, stands accused of engaging in illegal news-gathering tactics,” representatives from the state and New York City teachers’ unions wrote.
Wireless Generation had caused controversy even before Murdoch purchased the company. Last year, when New Jersey lost out on millions of federal education funding due to a screw-up on its grant application, the company landed at the center of the debacle. The state, after all, had reportedly paid the firm $500,000 to ensure the accuracy of its application, among other things.

News Corp.’s entrance into the education sector raises broader education policy questions, says University of Arizona education professor Kenneth Goodman. Having a multinational corporation in charge of assessing kids’ reading skills, he notes, shows that “decision making in education is so far removed from people who have anything to do with kids.” And like many educators, he is suspicious that Murdoch will bring his conservative ideology to his education ventures: “They’d like everything to be privatized.”
Already, Murdoch’s phone-hacking baggage is hurting his bottom line. In late August, New York rejected its plans to contract with Wireless Generation. The reason, according to the state’s comptroller: “vendor responsibility issues involving the parent company of Wireless Generation.”

The Big Picture: Privatizing Education

The Big Picture: Privatizing Education

The  “education reform” sweeping the nation right now isn’t reform at all. It’s privatization and deregulation. This three-part article explains what privatization is and who benefits from it. The forthcoming Part Two will explain the strategy being used, and Part Three will show how the different aspects of  “education reform” work together as a process — and how it can be stopped!

Part One: An Introduction to Privatization
Since the 1800s, public education has been free and available to everyone. It held the promise that allowed people to strive for equal education and equal opportunity for everyone. But there is now a strong push to privatize every element of our public education system, including our schools, teachers, and curriculum. By the time my children graduate high school, will it still be universally available? Will it even be called “public education” any more?

The parents, teachers, and students who support public education can fight privatization through widespread, coordinated, and sustained opposition.

But there’s one big obstacle standing in the way of this opposition: the process is big, complicated, and sneaky. It involves a lot of money going a lot of different places – including but not limited to, lobbying dollars, propaganda in the mass media, and “astroturf”, fake grassroots groups – and supporting a lot of seemingly unrelated education policies.
To fight privatization, we need a holistic understanding of the process. To that end, this article provides a short overview of the privatization efforts currently underway, who’s behind them, and how the privatization process works. The results may surprise you!

What is Privatization?
Privatization is a process of shifting the ownership and management of public services from the public sector (the state or government) to the private sector (businesses that operate for a private profit and privately funded nonprofits). Proponents claim that by encouraging competition, privatization can improve the efficiency of public services. But there can be serious drawbacks. For instance, before fire departments were publicly run, groups of firefighters sometimes set fires just to earn money by putting them out!

Another drawback is that privatization also takes away democratic public control of our public services. If government officials mismanage public services, we can vote them out of office. But when private corporations mismanage them, we can’t. Only the shareholders have the power to fire the CEOs. Even worse, privatization undermines the basic fabric of our democracy for years to come by putting rote learning ahead of critical thinking.

Yet another drawback is that privatization opens the door for deregulation, which is the lifting of restrictions that provide for health, safety, and quality control. Whenever a private corporation runs an industry, it has a strong financial incentive to lobby the government to deregulate. Recent examples include the deregulation of the mortgage industry, which led to our current financial crisis, and the deregulation of the oil industry, which led to the catastrophic Deepwater oil spill.

A final drawback is that privatized and deregulated schools are neither required nor expected to create equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of race, creed, or color. That’s why the UCLA has reported that charter schools are increasing segregation in the United States.

Charter schools can also do an “end run” around requirements to provide special education for high-need students. They can serve a special few while ignoring the greater good.

Despite these drawbacks, the rich and powerful have been pushing for privatization of a wide number of public services, such as public utilities, national parks, universities, and even social security. The push to privatize public education has been going on for decades and includes school choice, vouchers, charter schools, the privatization of curriculum, and more. There are also efforts underway to deregulate schools and teaching, replacing protections with the illusion of quality control through standardized testing.

Who Benefits from Privatization?
The business that takes over the public service benefits directly from privatization. Billionaires and large corporations also benefit, if it means the government will cut taxes for the rich. Politicians and bureaucrats with connections also benefit through kickbacks.

Who’s Pushing for Privatization?
Billionaires (such as the Walton family, the Koch brothers, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Eli and Blythe Broad) and corporations are pushing heavily for the privatization of education and other services, both for financial reasons and ideological ones.
From the point of view of billionaires, the free market is ideal. It made them rich, after all. To the extent that they want to improve education, they want to remake the system in the image of a corporation, with top-down management, competition, decreased spending, and a focus on results. Of course, the view from the top is nothing like the view from the bottom. How can billionaires who have never gone through the public education system have any idea of the challenges that teachers and students actually face?
As for corporations, they don’t “want” anything in particular. They can’t; they’re not human beings. They are essentially machines whose primary goal is to maximize profits. To further that goal, corporations have an interest in lowering taxes. They also have an interest in directly controlling exactly what is taught to tomorrow’s workforce. They do not have a need for equal opportunity in education, because not all workers in tomorrow’s economy need to think for themselves or to read beyond basic literacy.
Finally, there are companies that simply profit off education, taking taxpayer and grant dollars to produce a product. This includes charter schools, teacher preparation programs, online learning systems, standardized tests, and test prep curriculum. Privatization helps them because it creates new markets. Opening a charter school, for instance, means that brand new teachers can be hired and brand new curriculum can be sold. (Of course, this also means that existing teachers must be fired and curriculum thrown away.)

How Do They Get Power?

Billionaires and corporations exert their influence and push for privatization using a myriad of strategies, some obvious and some not. They can directly lobby the state and federal government for change. Through ownership of mass media, they can also put out PR in favor of privatization and deregulation, thereby swaying public officials and voters. Those strategies are fairly obvious.

But some of the ways that billionaires and corporations exert their influence are not so obvious. In fact, they’re deliberately hidden. The rich and powerful use a variety of strategies to influence the government (at the federal, state, local, district, and school level) and the general public. Then they hide those strategies and their influence by acting through a nonprofit or grassroots group, which they have either created out of thin air or manipulated using a grant with strings attached. The nonprofit or grassroots group then manipulates the government and the general public.

Figure 1 shows how this influence works to divert the public from its goal of improving and fully funding schools to the corporate goals of privatizing and deregulating them.

This strategy is as effective as it is despicable, because it takes advantage of our quite reasonable expectation that nonprofits work for the greater good and this influence works to divert the public from its goal of improving and fully funding schools to the corporate goals of privatizing and deregulating them.

How Billionaires and Corporations Influence the Public

Billionaires and corporations direct the activities of nonprofits and grassroots groups through philanthropic foundations. For example, the family that owns WalMart has the Walton Family Foundation, Bill Gates has the Gates Foundation, and the owner of the Gap has the Fisher Foundation. These foundations can then create or fund a nonprofit and then influence that nonprofit by making grants with strings attached or buying a seat on the board of directors. Then they use that nonprofit to push, tax-free, for policy changes. Foundations and nonprofits can also create astroturf (fake grassroots) groups that urge their constituency to lobby for policy changes.

Even worse, foundations and nonprofits contribute to existing, trusted nonprofits and grassroots groups, encouraging the group to participate in one small, innocuous-seeming “Trojan horse” activity that pushes for privatization without the members of that group knowing how the activity contributes to the bigger picture. For instance, a push to deregulate teaching can be sneaked into legitimate efforts to improve teaching.

This isn’t just hypothetical. There is direct evidence that this is currently happening in many different nonprofits and grassroots groups. Through foundations, billionaires and corporations are pushing for privatization and deregulation by:

  • lobbying and making campaign contributions
  • distributing propaganda through mass media and think tanks
  • making grants to federal, state, and local government agencies

A few examples of their activities are:

Taken together, these activities and others like them work together in order to build a larger process of privatization.

How Are the Rich and Powerful Privatizing Education?

The process by which our education system is becoming privatized is fairly complicated and includes a number of different parties acting in different ways and for different reasons. Some are explicitly calling for privatization and underfunding of schools. Others are working toward privatization secretly, and still others have been tricked into working toward privatization. So you can’t always pick one person or organization and say, “They want privatization!” But if we understand privatization as a system, we can look at a particular activity and say, “Yes, that is contributing to privatization.”

The groundwork for privatization was laid decades ago. To get a sense for how privatization works over the long term, let’s go back to Brown vs. the Board of Education. That’s when the Supreme Court said that all Black children could attend the same public schools as white children. Some people celebrated that momentous decision, but others immediately took their children out of the public school system and began advocating for private schools, charter schools, school choice, and vouchers. Right then and there, public education found a potent enemy, one that’s been working against it both openly and secretly ever since.

Now let’s step ahead a couple of decades to the year No Child Left Behind was passed. What was that all about, anyway? Who, besides President Bush, wanted it? And why, if the stated goal was to support struggling students and schools, did it punish them with high-stakes testing and school closures? And why, if the stated goal was to help schools, did Bush cut funding by enacting tax cuts for the rich?

Figure 2 shows how, after desegregation, the rich and powerful have been laying the groundwork for privatized schools. They have used private funding and vouchers to strengthen charter and public schools. At the same time, they have been using tax and funding cuts, as well as No Child Left Behind, to weaken schools.

Figure 2: Laying the Groundwork for Privatized Schools

In the years since the enactment of No Child Left Behind, billionaires and corporations have continued to stack the deck against public schools by underfunding public schools and funding private and charter schools. Some charter schools are heavily showcased and then promoted as charter school successes; but this is a “bait-and-switch” tactic, because such money wouldn’t be available to every school after privatization.

At the same time, billionaires and corporations have been funding propaganda in support of private schools through mass media PR, grants to nonprofits, and faulty think tank research. This propaganda encourages legislation that deregulates schools, allowing charter and public schools to break into new markets.

The number of charter schools in the United States has been increasing, and legislation allowing them has been introduced in most states. Wherever they appear, they begin to drain resources (students and per-student funding) from public schools, gradually replacing public schools. As they become more powerful and gain more public and private funding, they can keep the ball running all by themselves, joining with billionaires to market the concept of charter schools and lobby for charter-friendly legislation.

Add Charters, De-professionalize Teaching, and Impose High-Stakes Testing

But even with the heavy lifting of billionaires and corporations, charter schools can’t compete with public schools unless they’re cheaper or look better. That’s where two other two aspects of privatization come in: the de-professionalization of teaching and the imposition of high-stakes testing. Figure 3 shows how they work together to strengthen each other.

Figure 3 The Big Three: Charters, Testing, De-professionalized Teaching

The de-professionalization of teaching leads to the availability of less expensive teachers who have less power in the workforce. Such teachers can staff charter schools more cheaply and are more willing to “teach to the test.” Teaching to the test also means that charter schools can use prepackaged curriculum that requires no professional input from the teacher. Billionaires and corporations are de-professionalizing teaching in several different ways:

  • Deregulating teaching by attacking National Board certification and proposing “alternative” forms of certification
  • Attacking the rights of teachers to bargain collectively, which reduces their democratic voice in the workplace
  • Attacking teacher seniority.

“Alternative,” or weakened forms of certification, pave the way for poor-quality teacher training programs. More rigorous teacher training programs do exist, but they are showcased in a “bait-and-switch”that justifies legislation allowing alternative certification. This lays the groundwork for teachers who have received as little as five weeks of training, such as Teach for America, to lead a high-need classroom all by themselves.

Charter schools use these fast-track and five-week programs to cut labor costs. This forces public schools to consider them as well. At the same time as competition is established between fast-track and National Board-certified teachers, legislation is introduced that attacks seniority rights and propaganda is introduced that magnifies public frustration with “bad teachers” who are said to be protected by the union. Legislation and propaganda also attacks teacher’s rights to bargain collectively, which for decades has been safeguarding teaching as a profession and giving teachers a democratic voice in the workplace.

As charter schools and fast-track teacher preparation programs have gained ground, they’ve been able to more cheaply educate, or at least warehouse, children. This creates a false impression that schools need less money, which leads to further underfunding of schools. The underfunded schools then look bad in comparison to the charter schools. And when competition is encouraged between schools, public schools lose students and the funding that goes with them.

High-stakes standardized testing adds its own influence to the mix. Since the days of No Child Left Behind, high-stakes standardized testing has been punishing struggling schools and students. Although standardized testing has the potential to identify areas needing improvement, adding a high-stakes component undermines that potential and intensifies competition between schools. Using test scores to measure schools also opens the door for a misuse of statistics.

Race to the Top and various state initiatives go beyond NCLB and punish teachers and principals for student performance. They also provide an excuse to fire experienced, National Board-certified teachers, which opens slots for inexperienced teachers.

Finally, forcing schools and teachers to compete for less and less funding weakens charter schools and public schools alike. But there’s one important difference. When a school is forced to close, billionaires and corporations are ready to step in and support a new charter school. They don’t support new public schools. Sometimes public funding isn’t even provided equally. Thus, competition between schools leads to more and more charter schools. The same is true of teachers. When teachers are fired, underfunded districts have an enormous pressure to hire inexperienced, fast-track teachers. That’s why the number of charter schools and fast-track teachers in the United States has been increasing.

How to Stop Privatization

This article provided an overview of privatization, but that’s only the first step. The framework built here is not meant to be used on its own, but to give some context that will allow a concrete understanding of how real people and organizations are affected, right down to the level of the classroom. That is a project all on its own. The good news is that anybody with a keyboard and a healthy dose of skepticism and a computer can help fill in the blanks.

For starters, whenever a nonprofit or grassroots groups ask you to “help” public education, look at who is funding them and who is on the board of directors. Consider what strings may be attached.

Also watch out for propaganda, especially when it involves “glittering generalities” such as “education reform” or “effective teaching” — terms that may have very different meanings to you than to the person using them.

Finally, watch government activity at the federal, state, local, and district levels. Whenever legislation is introduced and whenever the school district proposes a new policy, could it be used to promote privatization?

It’s helpful for one person to understand privatization in a concrete sense, but it’s not nearly enough. Large numbers of people need to understand it, too. To some extent, people have only gone along with privatization because they’ve been tricked and lied to. And that’s where we can effect change: by informing ourselves and then sharing our knowledge with our friends and neighbors.

Remember: in a democracy, it’s the people who dictate public policy. Simply put, we outnumber billionaires. If we work together as a community, we can stop privatization, reverse course, and head toward the dream of fully funded, democratically controlled schools for all.

The late, George Carlin on “The American Dream”

George Carlin on “The American Dream”

It’s called the American Dream—because you have to be asleep to believe it.

Sometimes, to get a really clear perspective on things, we need to turn to a comedian. Unfortunately, we can’t get updates from the dear, departed George Carlin.
But a lot of his work comes off as if it were written yesterday. Such it is with his 2005 routine, “The American Dream.”


….there’s a reason education SUCKS, and it’s the same reason it will never, ever,  EVER be fixed.

It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it. Be happy with what you’ve got.

Because the owners, the owners of this country, don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now, the BIG owners! The Wealthy… the REAL owners! The big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.

Forget the politicians. They are irrelevant. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice! You have OWNERS! They OWN YOU. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought—and paid for—the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls.

They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying, lobbying, to get what they want.  Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want:

They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests.

That’s right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that!

You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re coming for your Social Security money. They want your retirement money. They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street—and you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later ‘cause they own this fucking place! It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it! You, and I, are not in the big club.

By the way, it’s the same big club they use to beat you over the head with all day long when they tell you what to believe. All day long beating you over the head with their media telling you what to believe, what to think and what to buy. The table has tilted, folks. The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. Good honest hard-working people continue—these are people of modest means—continue to elect these rich cock suckers who don’t give a fuck about you….they don’t give a fuck about you… they don’t give a FUCK about you.

They don’t care about you at all… at all… AT ALL.  And nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. That’s what the owners count on. The fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white and blue dick that’s being jammed up their assholes everyday, because the owners of this country know the truth.

It’s called the American Dream—because you have to be asleep to believe it.

Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow Using Accountability to “Reform” Public Schools to Death


Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow 
Using Accountability to “Reform”
Public Schools to Death

By Alfie Kohn

I just about fell off my desk chair the other day when I came across my own name in an essay by a conservative economist who specializes in educational issues. The reason for my astonishment is that I was described as being “dead set against any fundamental changes in the nation’s schools.” Now having been accused with some regularity of arguing for too damn many fundamental changes in the nation’s schools, I found this new criticism more than a bit puzzling. But then I remembered that, during a TV interview a couple of years ago, another author from a different right-wing think tank had labeled me a “defender of the educational status quo.”

In an earlier age, I might have suggested pistols at dawn as the only fitting response to these calumnies. But of course there’s a lot more going on here than the fact that one writer has had his radical credentials unjustly called into question. The point is that the mantle of school reform has been appropriated by those who oppose the whole idea of public schooling.  Their aim is to paint themselves as bold challengers to the current system and to claim that defenders of public education lack the vision or courage to endorse meaningful change. This rhetorical assault seemed to come out of nowhere, as though a memo had been circulated one day among those on the right: “Attention. Effective immediately, all of our efforts to privatize the schools will be known as ‘reform,’ and any opposition to those efforts will be known as ‘anti-reform.’ That is all.”

Silver-lining hunters may note that this strategy pays a backhanded compliment to the very idea of change. It implicitly acknowledges the inadequacy of conservatism, at least in the original sense of that word. These days everyone insists there’s a problem with the way things are. (On one level, this posture is familiar: Polemicists across the political spectrum frequently try to describe whatever position they’re about to criticize as “fashionable.” The implication is that only the bravest soul – that is, the writer – dares to support an unfashionable view.)  But the word reform is particularly slippery and tendentious. The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting urges journalists to exercise caution about using it, pointing out that “one group’s reform can be another group’s calamity.”(1) At the same time, conservative politicians are being exhorted (for example, by a like-minded New York Times columnist) to embrace the word. “For my money,” David Brooks wrote earlier this year, “the best organizing principle for Republicans centers on the word ‘reform’” – which can give the impression that they want to “promote change, while Democrats remain the churlish defenders of the status quo.”(2)

Of course, this begs the question of what kind of change is actually being promoted, but begging the question is really the whole point, isn’t it? The “reform” of environmental laws has often meant diluting them or simply washing them away. And just ask someone who depends on public assistance what “welfare reform” really implies. The privatizers and deregulators have gone after health care, prisons, banks, airlines, and electric utilities. Now they’re setting their sights on Social Security. I was recently reading about the added misery experienced by desperately poor families in various parts of the world as a result of the privatization of local water supplies. The clarity of language be damned: They come to bury a given institution rather than to improve it, but they describe their mission as “reform.” As Lily Tomlin once remarked, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”(3)


But back to education. People with an animus against public schooling typically set the stage for their demolition plans by proclaiming that there isn’t much there worth saving.  Meanwhile, those who object are portrayed as apologists for every policy in every school. It’s a very clever gambit, you have to admit. Either you’re in favor of privatization or else you are inexplicably satisfied with mediocrity.

Let’s state what should be obvious, then. First, a defense of public education is wholly consistent with a desire for excellence. Second, by most conventional criteria, public schools have done surprisingly well in managing with limited resources to educate an increasingly diverse student population.(4) Third, notwithstanding that assessment, there’s plenty of room for dissatisfaction with the current state of our schools. An awful lot is wrong with them: the way conformity is valued over curiosity and enforced with rewards and punishments, the way children are compelled to compete against one another, the way curriculum so often privileges skills over meaning, the way students are prevented from designing their own learning, the way instruction and assessment are increasingly standardized, the way different avenues of study are rarely integrated, the way educators are systematically deskilled . . .  And I’m just getting warmed up.

Notice, however, that these criticisms are quite different from – in fact, often the exact opposite of – the particulars cited by most proponents of vouchers and similar “reforms.” To that extent, even if privatization worked exactly the way it was supposed to, we shouldn’t expect any of the defects I’ve just listed to be corrected. If anything, the micro-level impact (on teaching and learning) of such a macro-level shift is likely to exacerbate such problems. Making schools resemble businesses often results in a kind of pedagogy that’s not merely conservative but reactionary, turning back the clock on the few changes that have managed to infiltrate and improve classrooms. Consider the stultifyingly scripted lessons and dictatorial discipline that pervade for-profit charter schools. Or have a look at some research from England showing that “when schools have to compete for students, they tend to adopt ‘safe,’ conventional and teacher-centered methods, to stay close to the prescribed curriculum, and to tailor teaching closely to test-taking.”(5) (One more example of the destructive effects of competition.)

This is a point worth emphasizing to the handful of progressive-minded individuals who have made common cause with those on the right by attacking public education. John Taylor Gatto is an example here. In a recent Harper’s magazine essay entitled “Against School,” he asserts that the goal of “mandatory public education in this country” is “a population deliberately dumbed down,” with children turned “into servants.”(6)

In support of this sweeping charge, Gatto names some important men who managed to become well-educated without setting foot in a classroom. (However, he fails to name any defenders of public education who have ever claimed that it’s impossible for people to learn outside of school or to prosper without a degree.) He also cites a few “school as factory” comments from long-dead policymakers, and observes that many of our educational practices originated in Prussia. Here he’s right. Our school system is indeed rooted in efforts to control. But the same indictment could be leveled, with equal justification, at other institutions. The history of newspapers, for example, and the intent of many powerful people associated with them, has much to do with manufacturing consent, marginalizing dissent, and distracting readers. But is that an argument for no newspapers or better newspapers?

Ideally, public schools can enrich lives, nourish curiosity, introduce students to new ways of formulating questions and finding answers. Their existence also has the power to strengthen a democratic society, in part by extending those benefits to vast numbers of people who didn’t fare nearly as well before the great experiment of free public education began.

Granted, “ideally” is a hell of a qualifier. But an attack on schooling as we know it is generally grounded in politics rather than pedagogy, and is most energetically advanced by those who despise not just public schools but all public institutions. The marketplace, which would likely inherit the task of educating our children if Gatto got his way, is (to put it gently) unlikely to honor the ideals that inform his critique. Some folks will benefit from that kind of “reform,” but they certainly won’t be kids.(7)

People who want to strike a blow for individual liberty understandably lash out against the government – and these days they don’t want for examples of undue interference from Washington and state capitals. But in education, as in other arenas of contemporary American life, there is an equal or greater danger from concentrating power in private hands, which is to say in enterprises that aren’t accountable to anyone (except their own stockholders) or for anything (except making a profit).

Worst of all is a situation where public entities remake themselves in the image of private entities, where politicians pass laws to codify corporate ideology and impose it on our schools.(8) Perhaps the two most destructive forces in education these days are the tendency to view children as “investments” (whose ultimate beneficiary is business) and a market-driven credentialism in which discrete individuals struggle for competitive distinctions. To attack the institution of public education is like hollering at the shadows on the wall. The source of the problem is behind you, and it grows larger as you train your rage on the flickering images in front.


I try to imagine myself as a privatizer. How would I proceed? If my objective were to dismantle public schools, I would begin by trying to discredit them. I would probably refer to them as “government” schools, hoping to tap into a vein of libertarian resentment. I would never miss an opportunity to sneer at researchers and teacher educators as out-of-touch “educationists.” Recognizing that it’s politically unwise to attack teachers, I would do so obliquely, bashing the unions to which most of them belong. Most important, if I had the power, I would ratchet up the number and difficulty of standardized tests that students had to take, in order that I could then point to the predictably pitiful results. I would then defy my opponents to defend the schools that had produced students who did so poorly.

How closely does my thought experiment match reality? One way to ascertain the actual motivation behind the widespread use of testing is to watch what happens in the real world when a lot of students manage to do well on a given test. Are schools credited and teachers congratulated? Hardly. The response, from New Jersey to New Mexico, is instead to make the test harder, with the result that many more students subsequently fail. [Addendum 2009: “Math scores are up on Long Island and statewide – enough so that state educational leaders could soon start raising the bar….Meryl Tisch of Manhattan, the new Chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents, said…’What today’s scores tell me is not that we should be celebrating but that New York State needs to raise its standards” (Newsday, June 1, 2009.]

Consider this item from the Boston Globe:

As the first senior class required to pass the MCAS exam prepares for graduation, state education officials are considering raising the passing grade for the exam. State Education Commissioner David Driscoll and Board of Education chairman James Peyser said the passing grade needs to be raised to keep the test challenging, given that a high proportion of students are passing it on the first try. . . . Peyser said as students continue to meet the standard, the state is challenged to make the exam meaningful.(9)

You have to admire the sheer Orwellian chutzpah represented by that last word. By definition, a test is “meaningful” only if large numbers of students (and, by implication, schools) fare poorly on it. What at first seems purely perverse – a mindless acceptance of the premise that harder is always better – reveals itself instead as a strategic move in the service of a very specific objective. Peyser, you see, served for eight years as executive director of the conservative Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank devoted to “the application of free market principles to state and local policy” (in the words of its website).  The man charged with overseeing public education in Massachusetts is critical of the very idea of public education. And how does he choose to pursue his privatizing agenda? By raising the bar until alarming failure(10) is assured.

Of course, tougher standards are usually justified in the name of excellence – or, even more audaciously (given the demographics of most of the victims), equity.  One doesn’t expect to hear people like Peyser casually concede that the real point of this whole standards-and-testing business is to make the schools look bad, the better to justify a free-market alternative. Now and then, however, a revealing comment does slip out. For example, when the School Choice Advocate, the newsletter of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, approvingly described Colorado’s policy of publishing schools’ test scores, a senior education advisor to Republican Governor Bill Owens remarked that the motive behind reporting these results was to “greatly enhance and build pressure for school choice.”(11)

An op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal just before Christmas by William Bennett and Chester Finn underscored the integral relationship between the push for high-stakes testing (which they call “standards”), and the effort to undermine public schooling (which they call “freedom”). The latter bit of spin is interesting in its own right: Vouchers, having been decisively rejected by voters on several occasions, were promptly reintroduced as “school choice” to make them sound more palatable.(12)  But apparently an even more blatant appeal to emotionally charged values is now called for.  In any case, the article notes (correctly, I fear) that “our two political parties . . . can find common ground on testing and accountability,” but then goes on to announce that “what Republicans have going for them in education is freedom.”  They understand this value “because of their business ties”; unlike Democrats, they are “not afraid of freedom.”

Even in an era distinguished by unpleasantly adversarial discourse, Bennett and Finn redefine its lower depths with the charge that freedom is a “domain that few Democrats dare to visit.”  (Their evidence for this charge is that most Democrats exclude private schools from choice plans.) But this nasty little essay, headlined “No Standards Without Freedom,” serves primarily to remind us that the most vocal proponents of accountability – defined, as it usually is these days, in terms of top-down standards and coercive pressure to raise scores on an endless series of standardized tests – have absolutely no interest in improving the schools that struggle to fulfill these requirements. Public education in their view is not something to be made better; it is something from which we need to be freed.


None of this is exactly new. “Standards” have been used to promote “freedom” for some time. But if that picture has been slowly coming into focus as education policies are enacted at the state level, it now attains digital clarity as a result of federal involvement –in particular, the law that some have rechristened No Child Left Untested (or No Corporation Left Behind, or No Child’s Behind Left). Even those observers who missed, or dismissed, the causal relationship up until now are coming to realize that you don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to understand the real purpose of this new law. Indeed, you have to be vision-impaired not to see it.

Jamie McKenzie, a former superintendent, put it this way on his website, “Misrepresented as a reform effort, NCLB is actually a cynical effort to shift public school funding to a host of private schools, religious schools and free-market diploma mills or corporate experiments in education.” The same point has been made by Jerry Bracey, Stan Karp, and a number of others. Lately, even some prominent politicians are catching on. Senator James Jeffords, who chaired the Senate committee that oversees education from 1997 to 2001, has described the law as a back-door maneuver “that will let the private sector take over public education, something the Republicans have wanted for years.”(13)  Former senator Carol Moseley Braun recently made the same point.

Addendum 2008: We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education “saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘blow it up a bit'” (Claudia Wallis, “No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?”, Time, June 8, 2008).

So what is it about NCLB in particular that has led a growing number of people to view it as a stalking horse for privatization? While any test can be, and many tests have been, rigged to create the impression of public school failure, nothing has ever come close to NCLB in this regard. Put aside for a moment the rather important point that higher scores on standardized tests do not necessarily reflect meaningful improvement in teaching or learning — and may even indicate the opposite.(14) Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that better performance on these tests was a good sign. This law’s criteria for being judged successful – how fast the scores must rise, and how high, and for how many subgroups of students — are nothing short of ludicrous. NCLB requires every single student to score at or above the proficient level by 2014, something that has never been done before and that few unmedicated observers believe is possible.(15)

As Monty Neill of FairTest explained in these pages not long ago, even the criteria for making “adequate yearly progress” toward that goal are such that “virtually no schools serving large numbers of low-income children will clear these arbitrary hurdles.”  Consequently, he adds, “many successful schools will be declared ‘failing’ and may be forced to drop practices that work well. Already, highly regarded schools have been put on the ‘failing’ list.”(16)  Schools that do manage to jump through these hoops, which include a 95-percent participation rate in the testing, must then contend with comparable hurdles involving the qualifications of its teachers.

The party line, of course, is that all these requirements are meant to make public schools improve, and that forcing every state to test every student every year (from third through eighth grades and then again in high school) is intended to identify troubled schools in order to “determine who needs extra help,” as President Bush put it recently.(17) To anyone who makes this claim with a straight face, we might respond by asking three questions.

1. How many schools will NCLB-required testing reveal to be troubled that were not previously identified as such? For the last year or so, I have challenged defenders of the law to name a single school anywhere in the country whose inadequacy was a secret until yet another wave of standardized test results was released. So far I have had no takers.

2. Of the many schools and districts that are obviously struggling, how many have received the resources they need, at least without a court order? If conservatives are sincere in saying they want more testing in order to determine where help is needed, what has their track record been in providing that help? The answer is painfully obvious, of course: Many of the same people who justify more standardized tests for information-gathering purposes have also claimed that more money doesn’t produce improvement. The Bush administration’s proposed budgets have fallen far short of what states would need just to implement NCLB itself, and those who point this out are dismissed as malcontents. (Thus Bennett and Finn: “Democrats are now saying that Republicans are not spending enough. But that is what they always say – enough is never sufficient for them when it comes to education spending.”)

3. What have the results been of high-stakes testing to this point? To the best of my knowledge, no positive effects have ever been demonstrated, unless you count higher scores on these same tests. More low-income and minority students are dropping out, more teachers (often the best ones) are leaving the profession, and more mind-numbing test preparation is displacing genuine instruction. Why should anyone believe that annual do-or-die testing mandated by the federal government will lead to anything different? Moreover, the engine of this legislation is punishment. NCLB is designed to humiliate and hurt the schools that, according to its own warped standards, most need help. Families at those schools are given a green light to abandon them – and, specifically, to transfer to other schools that don’t want them and probably can’t handle them. This, it quickly becomes clear, is an excellent way to sandbag the “successful” schools, too.

So who will be left undisturbed and sitting pretty?  Private schools and companies hoping to take over public schools. In the meantime, various corporations are already benefiting. The day after Bennett and Finn’s rousing defense of freedom appeared on its op-ed page, the Wall Street Journal published a news story that began as follows: “Teachers, parents, and principals may have their doubts about No Child Left Behind. But business loves it.” Apart from the obvious bonanza for the giant companies that design and score standardized tests, “hundreds of ‘supplemental service providers’ have already lined up to offer tutoring, including Sylvan, Kaplan Inc. and Princeton Review Inc. … Kaplan says revenue for its elementary- and secondary-school division has doubled since No Child Left Behind passed.”(18)


Ultimately, any attempt to demonstrate the commitment to privatization lurking behind NCLB doesn’t require judgments about the probability that its requirements can be fulfilled, or speculation about the significance of which companies find it profitable. That commitment is a matter of public record. As originally proposed by the Bush Administration, the legislation would have used federal funds to provide private school vouchers to students in Title I schools with lagging test results. This provision was dropped only when it threatened to torpedo the whole bill; instead, the stick used to beat schools into raising their scores was limited to the threat that students could transfer to other public schools.

Since then, Bush’s Department of Education has taken other steps to pursue its agenda, such as allocating money hand over fist to private groups that share its agenda. A few months ago, People for the American Way reported that the administration has funneled more than $75 million in taxpayer funds to pro-voucher groups and miscellaneous for-profit entities. Among them is William Bennett’s latest gamble, known as K12 — a company specializing in on-line education for homeschoolers. (Finn sits on the board of directors). “Standards” plus “freedom” may eventually add up to considerable revenue, then. In the meantime, the Department of Education is happy to ease the transition: A school choice pilot program in Arkansas received $11.5 million to buy a curriculum from Bennett’s outfit, and a virtual charter school in Pennsylvania affiliated with K12 got $2.5 million.(19)

At the center of the conservative network receiving public funds to pursue what is arguably an antipublic agenda is the Education Leaders Council, which was created in 1995 as a more conservative alternative to the Council of Chief State School Officers (which itself is not all that progressive). One of its founders was Eugene W. Hickok, formerly Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education and now the second-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Education.   Hickok brushes off the charge that DOE is promoting and funding privatization.  If there‘s any favoritism reflected in these grants, he says, it’s only in that “we support those organizations that support No Child Left Behind.”(20)

But that’s exactly the point. A hefty proportion of those who support vouchers also support NCLB, in large part because the latter is a means to the former. Take Lisa Graham Keegan, who was Arizona’s school superintendent and is now ELC’s executive director. She was a bit more forthcoming about the grants than Hickok, telling a reporter that it’s only natural for the Bush administration to want to correct a “liberal bias” in American education by giving grants to groups that share its philosophy.  “It is necessary to be ideological in education these days if you want to promote academic standards, school choice, and new routes to certifying teachers.’”(21) Notice again the juxtaposition of “standards” and “choice,” this time joined by another element of the conservatives’ agenda: an initiative, undertaken jointly by the ELC and a group set up by Finn’s Thomas B. Fordham Foundation – and, again, publicly funded thanks to DOE — to create a new quasi-private route to teacher credentialing.

For that matter, take Education Secretary Rod Paige, who appeared at an ELC conference to assure its members that they were “doing God’s work” and has been quoted as saying that “the worst thing that can happen to urban and minority kids is that they are not tested.”(22) Indeed, Paige spent his years as superintendent in Houston doing anything and everything to raise test scores (or, rather, as it turns out, to give the appearance of raising test scores). At the same time, his “tenure as superintendent was marked by efforts to privatize or contract out not only custodial, payroll, and food services, but also educational services like ‘alternative schools’ for students with ‘discipline problems.’”(23)

Just this past January, Paige made his way around the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol to speak at the conservative Heritage Foundation, whose headquarters stand about a dozen blocks from the Department of Education.  His purpose was twofold: to laud NCLB for injecting “competition into the public school system” and to point out that vouchers – which he called “opportunity scholarships” — are the next logical step in offering “educational emancipation” from “the chains of bureaucracy.”

The arguments and rhetoric his speechwriters employed on that occasion are instructive. For example, he explained that the way we improve education is “one child at a time” — a phrase both more substantive and more dangerous than it may seem at first hearing. And he demanded to know how anyone could oppose vouchers in light of the fact that the GI Bill was “the greatest voucher program in history.” Paige was particularly enthusiastic about the newly passed legislation that earmarks $14 million in public funds – federal funds, for the first time — for religious and private schools in Washington, D.C., which he hoped would turn out to be “a model program for the nation.” (However, “this isn’t a covert plan to finance private, especially Catholic, schools,” he assured his audience. The proof? “Many of the students in Catholic schools are not Catholic.”)

Paige couldn’t restrain himself from gloating over how the passage of this law represented a triumph over “special interests” – that is, those who just “ask for more money” and want “to keep children in schools in need of improvement.” These critics are “the real enemies of public schools.”  In fact, they put him in mind of France’s determined opposition to the Bush Administration’s efforts to secure UN approval for an invasion of Iraq.(24) (At another gathering, a few weeks later, he compared opponents of the law to terrorists.)(25)

Notice that Paige chose to deliver these remarks at the Heritage Foundation, which publishes “No Excuses” apologias for high-stakes testing while simultaneously pushing vouchers and “a competitive market” for education. (Among its other reports: “Why More Money Will Not Solve America’s Education Crisis.”) Nina Shokraii Rees, a key education analyst at Heritage who helped draft the blueprint for NCLB and pressed for it to include annual high-stakes testing, is now working for Paige, implementing the plans that she and her group helped to formulate. So it goes for the Hoover Institution in California, the Manhattan Institute in New York, the Center for Education Reform in Washington, and other right-wing think tanks. All of them demand higher standards and more testing, and all of them look for ways to turn education over to the marketplace where it will be beyond the reach of democratic control. Over and over again, accountability and privatization appear as conjoined twins.

To point out this correlation is not to deny that there are exceptions to it. To be sure, some proponents of public schooling have, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, hitched a ride on the Accountability Express. In fact, I’ve even heard one or two people argue that testing requirements in general – and NCLB in particular – represent our last chance to save public education, to redeem schools in the public’s mind by insisting that they be held to high standards.

But the idea that we should scramble to feed the accountability beast is based on the rather desperate hope that we can satisfy its appetite by providing sufficient evidence of excellence. This is a fool’s errand. It overlooks the fact that the whole movement is rooted in a top-down, ideologically driven contempt for public institutions, not in a grassroots loss of faith in neighborhood schools. The demand for accountability didn’t start in living rooms; it started in places like the Heritage Foundation. After a time, it’s true, even parents who think their own children’s school is just fine may swallow the generalizations they’ve been fed about the inadequacy of public education in general. But do we really think that the people who have cultivated this distrust, who holler about the need for more testing, who brush off structural barriers like poverty and racism as mere “excuses” for failure, will be satisfied once we agree to let them turn our schools into test-prep factories?


In any event, if we did so we’d be destroying the village in order to save it. No, scratch the conditional tense there: The devastation is already underway.  Every few days there is fresh evidence of how teaching is being narrowed and dumbed down, standardized and scripted – with poor and minority students getting the worst of the deal as usual. I have an overstuffed file of evidence detailing what we’re sacrificing on the altar of accountability, from developmentally appropriate education for little children to rich, project-based learning for older ones, from music to field trips to class discussions.(26)

Lately, it has become clear that piling NCLB on top of the state testing that was already assuming nightmarish proportions is producing still other sorts of collateral damage. For example, there is now increasing pressure to:

* segregate schools by ethnicity. A new California study confirms what other scholars had predicted: NCLB contains a “diversity penalty” such that the more subgroups of students that attend a given school, the lower the chance that it will be able to satisfy all the federally imposed requirements for adequate progress.(27)

* segregate classes by ability. While there are no hard data yet, it appears that schools may be doing more grouping and tracking in order to maximize test-prep efficiency.(28) All children lose out from less heterogeneity, but none more than those at the bottom – yet another example of how vulnerable students suffer the most from the shrill demands for accountability.

* segregate classes by age. Multiage education is reportedly becoming less common now – not because its benefits haven’t been supported by research and experience (they have), but because of “grade-by-grade academic standards and the consequences tied to not meeting those targets as measured by state tests.”(29)

* criminalize misbehavior. “In cities and suburbs around the country, schools are increasingly sending students into the juvenile justice systems for the sort of adolescent misbehavior that used to be handled by school administrators.”(30)  There are many explanations for this deeply disturbing trend, including the loss of school-based mental health services due to budget cuts. But Augustina Reyes of the University of Houston observes, “If teachers are told, ‘Your scores go down, you lose your job,’ all of a sudden your values shift very quickly. Teachers think, ‘With bad kids in my class, I’ll have lower achievement on my tests, so I’ll use discretion and remove that kid.’”(31) Moreover, attempts to deal with the kinds of problems for which children are now being hauled off by the police – programs to promote conflict resolution and to address bullying and other sorts of violence — are being eliminated because educators and students are themselves being bullied into focusing on test scores to the exclusion of everything else.(32)

* retain students in grade. The same get-tough sensibility that has loosed an avalanche of testing has led to a self-congratulatory war on “social promotion” that consists of forcing students to repeat a grade. The preponderance of evidence indicates that this is just about the worst course of action to take with struggling children in terms of both its academic and social-psychological effects. And the evidence uniformly demonstrates that retention increases the chance that a student will leave school; in fact, it’s an even stronger predictor of dropping out than is socioeconomic status.(33)

If flunking kids is a terrible idea, flunking them solely on the basis of their standardized test scores is even worse.  But that’s precisely what Chicago, Baltimore, and now the state of Florida are doing, harming tens of thousands of elementary-school children in each case. And even that isn’t the whole story.  Some students are being forced to repeat a grade not because this is believed (however inaccurately) to be in their best interest, but because pressure for schools to show improved test results induces administrators to hold back potentially low-scoring children the year before a key exam is administered. That way, students in, say, tenth grade will be a year older, with another year of test prep under their belts, before they sit down to start bubbling in ovals.

Across the U.S., according to calculations by Walt Haney and his colleagues at Boston College, there were 13 percent more students in ninth grade in 2000 than there were in eighth grade in 1999. Retention rates are particularly high in states like Texas and North Carolina, which helps to explain their apparently impressive NAEP scores.(34) The impact on the students involved, most of whom end up dropping out, is incalculable, but it makes schools and states look good in an age where accountability trumps all other considerations. Moreover, Haney predicts, “senseless provisions of NCLB likely will lead to a further increase of 5 percent or more in grade nine retention. And of those who are flunked,” he adds, “70 to 75 percent will not persist to high school graduation.”(35)


Take a step back and consider these examples of what I’m calling collateral damage from high-stakes testing: a more traditional, back-to-basics curriculum; more homogeneity; a retreat from innovations like multiage classrooms; more tracking and retention and harsher discipline. What’s striking about these ostensibly accidental by-products of policies designed to ensure accountability is that, they, themselves, are on the wish list of many of the same people who push for more testing – and, often, for vouchers.

In fact, we can add one more gift to the right: By virtue of its definition of a qualified teacher, NCLB helps to cement the idea that education consists of pouring knowledge into empty receptacles. We don’t need people who know how to help students become proficient learners (a skill that they might be helped to acquire in a school of education); we just need people who know a lot of stuff (a distinction that might simply be certified by a quasi-private entity – using, naturally, a standardized test).  Or, as Bennett and Finn explain things to the readers of the Wall Street Journal, “A principal choosing teachers will make better informed decisions if she has access to comparable information about how much history or math or science each candidate knows.”  This nicely rounds out the “reform” agenda, by locking into place a model that not only deprofessionalizes teachers but confuses teaching with the transmission of facts.

The upshot of all this is that the right has constructed a single puzzle of interlocking parts.  They are hoping that some people outside their circle will be persuaded to endorse some of those parts (specific, uniform curriculum standards, for example, or annual testing) without understanding how they are integrally connected to the others (for example, the incremental dissolution of public schooling and the diminution of the very idea that education is a public good).

They are succeeding largely because decent educators are playing into their hands. That’s why we must quit confining our complaints about NCLB to peripheral problems of implementation or funding. Too many people give the impression that there would be nothing to object to if only their own school had been certified as making adequate progress, or if only Washington were more generous in paying for this assault on local autonomy. We have got to stop prefacing our objections by saying that, while the execution of this legislation is faulty, we agree with its laudable objectives. No. What we agree with is some of the rhetoric used to sell it, invocations of ideals like excellence and fairness.  NCLB is not a step in the right direction. It is a deeply damaging, mostly ill-intentioned law, and no one genuinely committed to improving public schools (or to advancing the interests of those who have suffered from decades of neglect and oppression) would want to have anything to do with it.

Ultimately, we must decide whether we will obediently play our assigned role in helping to punish children and teachers. Every in-service session, every article, every memo from the central office that offers what amounts to an instruction manual for capitulation slides us further in the wrong direction until finally we become a nation at risk of abandoning public education altogether. Rather than scrambling to comply with its provisions, our obligation is to figure out how best to resist.

The beginning of this article was adapted from the introduction to Kohn’s book, What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies, published by Beacon Press in 2004.


1. The AP Guide is cited in Jan Freeman, “Reform School,” Boston Globe, January 11, 2004, p. L3.

2. David Brooks, “Running on Reform,” New York Times, January 3, 2004, p. 15.

3. To be precise, those who decry these semantic misrepresentations should be described as “skeptical” or “critical.” It’s those responsible for them who are more accurately described as cynical. (And while we’re being precise, the line I’ve quoted, like much of Tomlin’s material, was actually written by Jane Wagner.)

4. See David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995); Richard Rothstein, The Way We Were?: The Myths and Realities of America’s Student Achievement (New York: Century Foundation Press, 1998); and the collected works of Gerald Bracey.

5. Kari Delhi, “Shopping for Schools,” Orbit [published by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto], vol. 25, no. 1, 1998, p. 32. The author cites three studies from the UK in support of this conclusion.

6. John Taylor Gatto, “Against School,” Harper’s, September 2003, pp. 33-38.

7. After I made some of these points in a letter to the editor that appeared in Harper’s, Gatto wrote to tell me I had missed the point of his essay because he actually doesn’t support “the elimination of public education.” However, he does “hope to undermine centralized institutional schooling which uses the police power of the state to impose habits, attitudes, etc.” I can only assume that he is using the word public in a way I don’t understand. In any case, his furious attack on “mandatory” education – on universal schooling that is supported by the public treasury and administered by elected authorities – is one that has been warmly received by those on the right. Indeed, Gatto was one of the first endorsers of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, which repudiates the idea of a “common school” and calls for “the end of federal, state, and local involvement with schooling.” (A conference sponsored by the Alliance “featured a wide variety of conservative speakers, including John Taylor Gatto,” according to a newsletter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.) Elsewhere, Gatto has written that he is “deeply depressed by Jonathan Kozol’s contention that money would improve the schools of the poor.  It would not.”

8. For more, see my article “The 500-Pound Gorilla,” Phi Delta Kappan, October 2002, pp. 113-19; and various chapters in the anthology that I edited with Patrick Shannon: Education, Inc.: Turning Learning into a Business, rev. ed. (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002).

9. C. Kalimah Redd, “Raising of MCAS Bar Is Weighed,” Boston Globe, April 30, 2003, p. B2.

10. Alarming failure, not universal failure. As education policy makers across the country have learned, there are political costs to having too many students flunk the tests, particularly if an unseemly number of them are white and relatively affluent. At that point, politically potent parents – and, eventually, even education reporters — may begin to ask inconvenient questions about the test itself. Fortunately, by tinkering with the construction of items on the exam and adjusting the cut score, it is possible to ensure virtually any outcome long before the tests are scored or even administered. For the officials in charge, the enterprise of standardized testing is reminiscent of shooting an arrow into a wall and then drawing the target around it.

11. “In the Spotlight: Colorado,” The School Choice Advocate, December 2001, p. 7. Available at

12. For an account of the carefully coordinated decision to stop using the V word, see Darcia Harris Bowman, “Republicans Prefer to Back Vouchers by Any Other Name,” Education Week, January 31, 2001.

13. The McKenzie quotation is from “The NCLB Wrecking Ball,” an essay first posted on in November 2003. The Jeffords quotation is from Sally West Johnson, “Mathis Rips Feds Over School Act,” Rutland  [Vermont] Herald, February 5, 2003.

14. See, for example, my book The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2000).

15. See, for example, the 2003 Presidential Address to the American Educational Research Association by Robert L. Linn, entitled “Accountability: Responsibility and Reasonable Expectations,” available at

16. Monty Neill, “Leaving Children Behind,” Phi Delta Kappan, November 2003, pp. 225-26.

17. Bush is quoted in Eric W. Robelen, “Bush Marks School Law’s 2nd Anniversary,” Education Week, January 14, 2004, p. 20.

18. June Kronholz, “Education Companies See Dollars in Bush School-Boost Law,” Wall Street Journal, December 24, 2003, p. B-1.

19. The report by People for the American Way is entitled “Funding a Movement.”

20. Michael Dobbs, “Critics Say Education Dept. Is Favoring Political Right,” Washington Post, January 2, 2004, p. A-19.

21. Ibid.

22. The ELC quote is from Joetta L. Sack, “ELC Receives Grant to Craft Tests to Evaluate Teachers,” Education Week, October 10, 2001. The testing quote is from Robert C. Johnston, “Urban Leaders See Paige as ‘Our Own,’” Education Week, February 7, 2001.

23. Stan Karp, “Paige Leads Dubious Cast of Education Advisors,” Rethinking Schools, Spring 2001, p. 4.

24.  Paige’s January 28, 2004 speech, “A Time for Choice,” is available at

25. Here Paige was referring to the National Educational Association, which he likened to “a terrorist organization” because it opposes some provisions of NCLB. He apologized, under pressure, for a poor choice of words but then immediately resumed his virulent criticisms of the union. See Robert Pear, “Education Chief Calls Union ‘Terrorist,’ Then Recants,” New York Times, February 24, 2004, p. A20.

26. Among many other sources, see M. Gail Jones, Brett D. Jones, and Tracy Hargrove, The Unintended Consequences of High-Stakes Testing (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); and the examples cited at

27. See John R. Novak and Bruce Fuller, Penalizing Diverse Schools (University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University, Policy Analysis for California Education, December 2003). Available at:

28. “The federal No Child Left Behind Act demands that schools show proficient test scores for every student. One approach to achieve that, some argue, is to tailor instruction in groups of similarly skilled students.” See Laura Pappano, “Grouping Students Undergoes Revival,” Boston Globe, December 14, 2003.

29. Linda Jacobson, “Once-Popular ‘Multiage Grouping’ Loses Steam,” Education Week, September 10, 2003, pp. 1, 15.

30. Sara Rimer, “Unruly Students Facing Arrest, Not Detention,” New York Times, January 4, 2004, p. 1.

31. That explanation also makes sense to Mark Soler of the Youth Law Center, a public interest group that protects at-risk children: “Now zero tolerance is fed less by fear of crime and more by high-stakes testing. Principals want to get rid of kids they perceive as trouble.” Both Reyes and Soler are quoted in Annette Fuentes, “Discipline and Punish,” The Nation, December 15, 2003, pp. 17-20.

32. Scott Poland, a school psychologist and expert in crisis intervention, writes: “School principals have told me that they would like to devote curriculum time to topics such as managing anger, violence prevention and learning to get along with others regardless of race and ethnicity, but . . . [they are] under tremendous pressure to raise academic scores on the state accountability test.” (See “The Non-Hardware Side of School Safety,” NASP [National Association of School Psychologists] Communique, vol. 28, no. 6, March 2000.) Poland made the same point while testifying at a Congressional hearing on school violence in March 1999 – a month before the shootings at Columbine.

33. See, for example, the studies cited in Jay P. Heubert, “First, Do No Harm,” Educational Leadership, December 2002 / January 2003, p. 27.

34. That’s triple the rate for the disparity between ninth and eighth grade during the 1970s. See Walt Haney et al., The Education Pipeline in the United States, 1970-2000. Boston: National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy, January 2004. Available at:

35. Walt Haney, personal communication, January 15, 2004. Haney’s study also found that there was a substantial drop in high school graduation rates, beginning, as a reporter noticed, “just as President Bill Clinton and Congress ushered in the school accountability measures [that were later] strengthened in the No Child Left Behind Act.” Haney is quoted in that same article as saying, “The benign explanation is that this whole standards and reform movement was implemented in an ill-conceived manner.” (See Diana Jean Schemo, “As Testing Rises, 9th Grade Becomes Pivotal,” New York Times, January 18, 2004, p. 23.) This, of course, invites us to consider explanations that are less benign.

Why are they famous?

“Why does it seem like we live in a fractured throwaway society that celebrates hyper-individualism?” “Do we now reside in a place that is completely based on consumption, and hold to the idea that ending is better than mending?” “All one has to do is take a look at the menagerie of no talent celebrities that have recently risen to stardom.” “Overnight sensations who appear to appeal to the moronic and misunderstood.” “Their overwhelming popularity can’t help but make me think that society is regressing into a perpetual state of devolution.” “How is it that any of the individuals that are pictured below ever became famous?”

    Donald Trump                Sarah Palin                      Steven Seagal
Kim Kardashian                   Dr. Phil McGraw             Nichole “Snookie” Polizzi       
    George Hamilton                     Paris Hilton                         Charlie Sheen   

Those Who Can’t Teach?

Those Who Can’t Teach” This is something that was first uttered in 1903
by George Bernard Shaw, author of Man and Superman  “Maxims for Revolutionists.”

The actual quote goes something like this:

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

There are many different variations of Shaw’s quote,
but I think the one I like best is as follows:

Those who can, do.
Those who can’t, teach.
Those who can’t teach, administrate.

Those of you who have taught in public school, probably
can really relate to the last line of this quote. Working as
an educator, one learns pretty quickly that if you’re going
to survive, you have to know how to juggle a lot of responsibilities.
I’m not sure that I can say the same for someone working in
administration. Administrators in the public school system,
tend to delegate responsibilities to others, which one might say
is sort of like passing the buck. Administrators are very good at
conjuring up unnecessary remedial tasks. These are the types
of activities that they use to validate their own positions. Supposedly,
words of wisdom for those of us who are fighting in the trenches.
When the passing bell rings each and every morning, teachers
can rest assure that administration has their backs.

On another note, Writer/Actor/Director, Woody Allen also revised
Shaw’s quote in 1977 when he said…

“Those who can’t do, teach.
Those who can’t teach, teach gym”.

The Gym Teacher part might actually be
accurate. Oddly enough, I can’t tell you how
many Administrators that I’ve met throughout
my career that were former Gym Teachers.

Is there any validity to “Those Who Can’t Teach”
or is this just a way for critics of public education
to add insult to injury?