“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, September 21, 2006

in other news from the idiot front -- William Bennett!

LI is going to get to our pacifism post this weekend, we hope.

In the meantime, readers are urged to peruse, rapidly, holding their noses, the noxious op ed by William Bennett and Rod Paige, urging – as is the wont of big government conservatives – the takeover of local educational standards by a D.C. corps of test-centric whackos. For Bennett, the man responsible for increasing the tempo of drug related crimes in the U.S. in the 80s, this is standard stuff. Just as he had no clue about how markets work, and so, making the black markets more violent in the 80s, mistook that violence as a sign that he should continue a truly brainless drug policy, so, here, he takes the unmistakable signs that the No Child Left Behind act is a farce, turning American schools into test taking factories, and draws… the wrong conclusions:

“But there's a problem. Out of respect for federalism and mistrust of Washington, much of the GOP has expected individual states to set their own academic standards and devise their own tests and accountability systems. That was the approach of the No Child Left Behind Act -- which moved as boldly as it could while still achieving bipartisan support. It sounds good, but it is working badly. A new Fordham Foundation report shows that most states have deployed mediocre standards, and there's increasing evidence that some are playing games with their tests and accountability systems.

Take Tennessee, for example. It reports to its residents that a whopping 87 percent of its fourth-graders are "proficient" in reading. Yet the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that the number is more like 27 percent. That's a big difference. Or consider Oklahoma. In one year the number of schools on its "needs improvement" list dropped by 85 percent -- not because they improved or their students learned more but because a bureaucrat in the state education department changed the way Oklahoma calculates "adequate yearly progress" under the federal law.”

So – a law that produces unexpected and terrible results just needs to be tightened even more. Federalized even more. This kind of thinking has crept over conservatism like poison ivy taking over a barren back yard – which is why the right now simply produces sound and fury, going through either an intellectual decline or an actual extinction event. Has the right had an actual idea in the last twenty five years? I mean a real one, not a fake generated to support Exxon Mobile's oil business.

LI has a simple educational cure-all: abolish the test culture. Burn the national tests. Or – since rationality must be mixed with superstition in order to become policy – change standardized testing so a large part of it is collaborative. That’s right. Kids not only should get info from other kids, but the ways of getting info should be taught and tested. The last time it was necessary to equip an individual with a world of information for himself alone as he headed out for the territories was probably around 1800. Most people at the moment do not work in monk like solitude. LI does, of course, so that you don’t have to! The real reason we individuate tests and etc is not to educate children, but to sort them – so that we can give a leg up to the richest, and call it a meritocracy. That is the sole and only function of the test system.
Now, the test superstition, via Bennett and Bush, is an evangelical meme. Just as Evangelicals are attached to the literal words in the good book, they are attached to another image from another book – Robinson Crusoe. They want their kids educated like it was 1799.
It ain’t. Get over it. Overthrow pedagogical idiocy. And wonder about a media that gives a forum to such disasters as Bennett.

Meanwhile, talking about the meritocracy, we meant to link to Michael Wolff's astonishing review of a book "investigating" Harvard in the NYT Book review section Sunday. We loved it. And noticed that it got very little comment around the blogosphere. I suppose that is because Wolff dispatches sacred cows with a little too much casualness. The blogs just don't know how to deal with that kind of thing.


Brian MIller said...

I'm not a parent, so I shouldn't comment, but. I would add to your lovely diatribe a critique of the "organized activities" mania-wherein upper middle class parents ferry their upwardly bound children from one organized, resume-building event to another. No time to be alone with friends, to be independent (or learn independence). Sad, imo.

roger said...

I don't have kids -- more is the pity for poor LI -- but I live within a block of a big high school, and kid culture is all around in Central Austin. Not too much seems changed from my own high school days -- I mean, in general outline. But the Round Rock upper m.'s, so I hear, are more protective.

Protection is so uneven, actually. A decade ago, there was a famous robbery murder in Austin. Three teens were murdered at a Yogurt Shop. In the aftermath of that, there was a lot of talk about businesses leaving working teens alone. I believe the oldest in the Yogurt Shop was sixteen. There were a lot of pledges to regulate against this, blah blah blah. Ten years later - I could easily go down South Lamar and find four or five fast food places manned entirely by teenagers. Or at least, entirely run by teens on enough numbers of shifts that they are vulnerable. Where kids are protected and where they aren't seems so random.