Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The real curriculum of “public” education

The article below is a bit on the paranoid side but there is some truth in it -- JR

An article at the privacy rights website Pogo Was Right (“U.S. Schools: Grooming Students for a Surveillance State,” August 28) argues that schools are “grooming youth to passively accept a surveillance state where they have no expectation of privacy anywhere.” Privacy violations include “surveilling students in their bedrooms via webcam … random drug or locker searches, strip-searching … lowering the standard for searching students to ‘reasonable suspicion’ from ‘probable cause,’ [and] disciplining students for conduct outside of school hours …”

“No expectation of privacy anywhere” is becoming literally true. The schools are grooming kids not only for the public surveillance state, but also for the private surveillance states of their employers. By the time the human resources graduate from twelve years of factory processing, they will accept it as normal to be kept under constant surveillance — “for your own safety,” of course — by authority figures. But they won’t just accept it from Homeland Security (“if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear”). They’ll also accept as “normal” a work situation in which an employer can make them pee in cups at any time, without notice, or track their online behavior even when they’re away from work.

This is just part of what rogue educator John Taylor Gatto calls the “real curriculum” of public education (“The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher,” 1992). The real curriculum includes the lesson that the way to advancement, in any area of life, is to find out what will please the authority figure behind the desk, then do it. It includes the lesson that the important tasks in life are those assigned to us by authority figures — the schoolteacher, the college instructor, the boss — and that self-assigned tasks in pursuit of our own goals are to be trivialized as “hobbies” or “recreation.”

“Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. It is the most important lesson, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. … Good people wait for an expert to tell them what to do. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned.”

Or as Ivan Illich put it in “Deschooling Society,” learning is a commodity properly dispensed by qualified professionals in bureaucratic institutions called “schools.”

The real curriculum includes the lesson that everything we say or do will go on a “permanent record,” which — if we display insufficient deference to authority today — will follow us like the mark of Cain for the rest of our lives and cause us to be blacklisted from opportunities for advancement by the authority figures we encounter in the future.

The public schools teach the lesson that tasks do not carry their own internal logic or rhythm. People are not more productive when they can organize their own time around the tasks they’re performing, and pursue the task without interruption until they reach a natural stopping place. Rather, the work day is most efficiently broken up into time blocks of an hour or so, punctuated by meetings and interruptions. This carries with it the lesson of indifference:

“I teach children not to care about anything too much, even though they want to make it appear that they do. … I do it by demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons. … But when the bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we’ve been working on and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of. … Indeed, the lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer important work to do.”

In short, the public schools are charged with the task of producing human resources who are docile, obedient and compliant, ready to be used as inputs by the dominant institutions in our society. Their purpose is to condition human beings to the kinds of behavior that the major centers of power in our society require to function.

The good news is, they’re not very good at it. The quality control department wasn’t working too well in my case, obviously. The people tasked with churning out uncritical and obedient human resources, in most cases, are about as competent as the people running all the other large bureaucratic hierarchies — i.e., not very. The contradiction between what they tell us and what our own lying eyes tell us, between what they tell us this week and next week, is enough to produce endless glitches in the Matrix.


Children learn more quickly if the brightest are prevented from putting their hands up

I would have thought some version of this was normal teaching practice anyway. I know that when I was a kid, teachers would call on me only if nobody else knew the answer. I would just smile and the teacher would know that I knew. Not in mathematics, though. That was the one subject that did not come easily to me. Amusing therefore that my son is a mathematician -- JR

Schoolchildren learn more quickly if the brightest and most confident are prevented from putting up their hands, according to a teaching expert. Those who are less willing to answer teachers' questions rapidly switch off when a minority dominate, according to Professor Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the Institute of Education at London University.

He is pioneering an alternative technique in which all children in a class are made to answer questions, by writing their answers on small white boards they are given. They then reveal their answers simultaneously to the teacher. A variation is to ask all the children to answer a 'yes or no' question posed by a teacher, by holding their thumbs up or down.

Prof Dylan tried out his approach on a class of 13-year-olds at Hertswood school in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.

He will outline his educational theories in two, one-hour BBC2 programmes to be aired later this month, called The Classroom Experiment. He told The Sunday Times that the children and teachers "hated it at the beginning".

He said: "The kids who were used to having a quiet time were rattled at having to do something; the ones who were used to showing off to the teacher were upset."

Prof Dylan also advocates not telling children their marks, but only what they got right and wrong, and holding physical education classes at the start of every day "to get the blood flowing".


Cambridge tops international league table

Cambridge has been named the best university in the world in an international league table. The ancient institution has become the first British university to top the QS World University Rankings which measure research quality, graduate employment and teaching standards.

It was named above Harvard as the American institution was removed from the number one spot for the first time since the league table was published in 2004.

According to figures, four British universities, including University College London, Oxford and Imperial College London, appear in the top 10 and 19 are in the top 100. Only the United States had more top-ranked universities than Britain.

John O’ Leary, executive member of the table’s advisory board, said: “UK universities have had an exceptionally good year. Not only does Cambridge top the ranking for the first time, but there are more UK institutions than ever before in the top 100 and 200.”

For the second year running, UCL was named above Oxford in the league table.

The rankings are created following a survey of 13,000 academics and 5,000 employers. They are also based on the number of international students at each university, faculty sizes and the number of research citations.

A separate university league table – created by Times Higher Education magazine – is released later this month


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