Home > Uncategorized > Koch Brothers Want to Individualize at the expense of Democracy. Only State Legislatures and Local School Boards can Stop Them

Koch Brothers Want to Individualize at the expense of Democracy. Only State Legislatures and Local School Boards can Stop Them

February 2, 2018

From the beginning of my career as an educator, I have been an advocate of individualization as a means of allowing students to progress through subjects at their own rate and to pursue subjects that are especially interesting to them. But my vision for implementing individualization would incorporate self-paced and self-defined learning within a framework where students instruction in social skills, inter- and intra-personal skills, and governance skills would be explicit. The role of teachers would be to monitor and coach students as they proceed through curricula that help them develop hierarchical and factual information and to facilitate dialogue sessions where student learn the skills required to operate in a democracy and make it thrive. A blend of Sal Kahn’s approach to “personalization” of content and the collaborative Harkness method used at Philips Exeter Academy comes closest to the kind of instruction that would achieve this kind of vision. If schools were organized in this fashion age cohorts would gather in groups of 12 to wrestle with age appropriate ethical issues drawn from common readings. The reading need not be complicated or lengthy: Aesop’s fables, for example, could generate in depth dialogue among students no matter what their reading level or their learning pace. From my perspective, the act of gathering around a table to debate and gain an understanding of these issues is the heart of democracy, and absent that kind of opportunity children have no way to learn how to conduct themselves with civility, how to empathize with others, or how to reflect on their own views.

The Koch Brothers, though, have a different view of the ideal education. Where progressive idealists like me want to ensure that students have an opportunity to learn from each other, learn how to collaborate, and learn how to think reflectively, the Koch Brothers view schooling as a sorting machine designed to winnow out the weak and celebrate the strong. “Public Education in Koch Network’s Sights“, Martin Levine’s article in the recent Non-Profit Quarterly offers an unsettling description of the Koch Brothers’ ultimate goal in their effort to change public education. In reading the recent Washington Post article that reported on the Koch Network’s annual meeting, Mr. Levine concluded that democracy itself will be imperiled if the Koch’s vision is adopted across the nation— and sees that as the ultimate end-game for the Koch Network:

The Koch Network’s new strategic focus appears to move beyond debates over school choice, common core curriculums, and testing; instead, they’re working toward longer-term changes in societal thinking. The Network’s vision is one of highly tailored individualized learning, which leaves little space for education to support core democratic values…

In an earlier post on this sameI encouraged local voters to WAKE UP to the Koch Brothers’ stealth funding of political campaigns at ALL levels of government, especially state legislatures and local school boards. A quick read of Mr. Levine’s article makes the alarm more urgent. He concludes his essay with this:

Those who believe public education is a shared responsibility entrusted to local governments will surely want to resist this. Replacing “public” with “individual” is a radical change that could further divide our nation along racial and economic lines as well as serve to undermine notions of equal opportunity. The Koch Network has passion and money to fuel its work. How public school and nonprofit civic advocates respond to these assaults could greatly affect our future.

One thing is clear to me: if “…public school and nonprofit civic advocates” remain on the sidelines we will not only divide our nation along racial and economic lines (and) undermine notions of equal opportunity, we will undermine democracy itself.

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