Archive for February, 2019

My Comment on the Green New Deal Editorial

February 25, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday I read a NYTimes editorial on the so called Green New Deal that I found troubling because it reinforced the idea that we cannot accomplish anything big in this country. Here’s the comment I wrote, which, I believe, can be understood without reading the article itself:

One reason that Ms Pelosi and scores of voters are unable to enumerate the contents of the Green New Deal is that the media use their limited space to chastise progressive and inexperienced legislators like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for their errors in framing the debate over climate change instead of emphasizing the actual contents of the Green New Deal.

This editorial, for example, uses 150 words to elaborate on the “poorly written talking points” developed by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s staff and 72 words to describe “the actual resolution” which “seems more measured”…. and the details on the ACTUAL resolution appear AFTER the details on the gaffes by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’ staff. The Times and most media outlets have not provided readers and voters with a concise explanation of the elements of a Green New Deal. Instead, coverage has focussed on the wholly predictable political dynamics and the “impossibility” of accomplishing the ambitious goals in the plan.

I am old enough to remember when a President put forth a plan to put a man on the moon within a decade— a goal that seemed technologically daunting at the time. Thankfully, the press didn’t waste ink space telling readers about the political implications or the “impossibility” of such a task.

NYTimes Asks “Can America Still Build Big?” The Answer Is Yes…. IF

February 25, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an article by Thomas Fuller, Jennifer Medina and Conor Dougherty that suggests the days of huge infrastructure investments are over in our country. Why? Here’s one answer: we’ve bought into the Reagan notion that government is the problem and subsequently lost confidence in government in general:

“California built the world’s greatest water conveyance system, one of the great highway systems, a great university system,” said Dan Richard, who stepped down as chairman of the rail project’s board of directors on Tuesday. “When did we lose our confidence in our ability to do this stuff?”

And here’s another answer: we’ve invested in too much in projects that require too many logistical challenges which, in turn, leads to too many opportunities for lawsuits which, in turn. protracts the time required to complete the projects thereby adding to their costs. The project that Fuller, Medina, and Dougherty focus on is the high speed rail project in California… a project that required land acquisition, environmental waivers, and lots of planning by lots of bureaucrats. The sad reality is that had this money been used to build sold farms on empty lots or on rooftops in economically depressed cities like Fresno it could have generated lots of cheap electrical power which, in turn, could have attracted businesses and promoted the use of electric cars. Or the money could have been spent to make it possible to use existing highways to operate electric powered driverless trucks and buses.

And since this blog is primarily about education, here’s another idea: the money could have been used to refurbish or replace the scores of dilapidated public schools in the state that need repairs, money that could have been readily spent to good ends.

I believe we CAN continue to think big… but we need to do so by accepting the reality that there are many big projects that do not require complicated plans, plans that invariably result in NIMBY protests that “prove” that government can’t work.

Betsy DeVos’ Advocacy for Vocational Focus Leads Me to Think: MAYBE We Need to Restore Public Education’s ORIGINAL Mission

February 23, 2019 Comments off

A recent New Republic article about Betsy DeVos’ misunderstanding of the history of public schools written by Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, got me thinking that maybe we should restore the original mission of public education. In the article, titled “Betsy DeVos Is Fabricating History to Sell a Bad Education Policy“, Mr. Schneider asserts that Ms. DeVos is either unknowingly or intentionally misrepresenting the true history of education to satisfy her intent to narrow its mission to vocational training. He writes: 

Over the past several years, DeVos…  has argued, (that schools) were modeled after factories, and “students were trained for the assembly line.” But as the economy shifted over time, schools failed to keep pace. As she has repeatedly insisted, schools remain “stuck in a mode” from 100 years ago.

The solution, then, is seemingly quite simple. Schools need to be overhauled so that they focus on preparing young people for the jobs of the future. According to DeVos, “You have to think differently about what the role of education and preparation is.”

But as Mr. Schneider accurately notes, the factory school was a construct that emerged in response to Taylorism that swept the nation at the turn of the 20th Century, a construct that altered the original purpose of public education. And what was that purpose?

As historian Ethan Hutt told me, “Early advocates of public education were generally unconcerned with what we would think of as workplace training. Their priorities were social and political in nature.”

State constitutions enshrined public education as a right in the nineteenth century, yet they hardly mention vocational instruction. The most common educational aim described in these documents is the “general diffusion of knowledge” for the “preservation of rights and liberties.” Many of these constitutions go so far as to confirm the value of education for its own sake. Tennessee’s, for instance, “recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support.” Montana’s states that public schools should “develop the educational potential of each person.” And the Illinois constitution supports “the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.” Only six states make any mention of training for work.

So the progressive ideals of John Dewey are enshrined in laws and constitutions written well before his time while the ideals of efficiency and training advocated by the Robber Barons are embodied in today’s schools. And Ms. DeVos wants to focus more on the training and less on learning for learning’s sake. Based on historic precedent, Mr. Schneider doubts that this change is focus will occur:

Jobs certainly matter, and the future labor productivity of today’s students will impact the entire economy. Yet even if schools could be reoriented to focus effectively on job training, the result would hardly be an unqualified good. Any shift in the present orientation of schools will come at the expense of school activities organized around the preservation of rights and liberties, as well as the inherent value of education. By and large, Americans of the past were unwilling to make that trade-off. If they’re aware of what’s happening, Americans of the present may be no different.

I share Mr. Schnieder’s broad optimism… but fear that too many of the recent graduates of public education never experienced “education for the sake of education”; they only experienced “education for the sake of passing tests” and, consequently, are comfortable with the notion that “test scores” are a proxy for “merit” and, consequently, are the desired end of education.