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PORTSIDE  May 2011, Week 4

PORTSIDE May 2011, Week 4

Subject:

The Service of Democratic Education

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Date:

Mon, 23 May 2011 21:42:21 -0400

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The Service of Democratic Education 

Linda Darling-Hammond | May 21, 2011

Published on The Nation (http://www.thenation.com)
URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/160850/service-democratic-education


At the commencement ceremony for Columbia University's
Teachers College on May 18, Stanford education
professor Linda Darling-Hammond--a nationally renowned
leader in education reform and former education adviser
to Barack Obama's presidential campaign--was awarded the
Teachers College medal for distinguished service.
Professor Darling-Hammond marked the occasion by
delivering the following address:

I could not be more honored than to be awarded this
recognition from Teachers College, one of the places of
all those I know in the world that holds the tightest
grip on my heart and best represents my values and
beliefs. Thank you for this recognition--and, more
important, thank you, Teachers College faculty,
trustees, students and graduates, for who and what you
are.

My first real glimpse of what Teachers College is and
does occurred not in New York City but in a school in
Washington, DC, where one of my children had
transferred into a first grade classroom to avoid the
truly terrible teaching that was literally undermining
her health in another school. In her new school,
Elena's teacher, Miss Leslie, had created a wonderland
of stimulating opportunities for learning: children
experimenting and investigating in the classroom and
the community, designing and conducting projects,
writing and publishing their own little stories (one
that my daughter wrote after the birth of her little
brother was entitled "Send Him Back"). This teacher--who
was in her very first year of practice--not only had
created a classroom that any mother would want to send
her child to, but she also had the skillful eye and
knowledge base to figure out within weeks that Elena
was severely dyslexic, to teach her to read without her
ever being labeled or stigmatized, and to instill in my
daughter a lifelong love of books and learning that has
led to her being a literacy teacher working with
special needs students today.

One day, I asked Miss Leslie how she had learned to do
this miraculous work as a brand-new teacher. And she
told me that she had learned to be this kind of teacher
at Teachers College, Columbia University. She listed
the courses she took in the Curriculum and Teaching
department and the Special Education program that built
her knowledge base and described what she learned with
intensive supervision in a carefully designed clinical
placement. It was then that I knew that a profession of
teaching was possible, and I learned much more about
what is possible in building a profession from my
colleagues here and in our partner schools when I later
came to teach at TC. I became persuaded that
policy-makers needed to understand how to enable all
educators to acquire the knowledge and skills that
could truly allow all children to learn--rather than to
try, as so many have, to manage teaching through
mind-numbing, and ultimately futile, prescriptions for
practice.

Teachers College has, for more than a century,
represented the heartbeat of the education profession
in the United States and our deepest aspirations for a
democratic system of education. When TC was founded by
Grace Dodge in 1887 as the New York School for the
Training of Teachers, it was intended to provide a new
kind of schooling for the teachers of the poor in New
York City, one that combined a humanitarian concern for
helping others with a scientific approach to human
development and learning. At that time, when most
teachers had little more than a high school education
(and were frequently taught primarily to follow
scripted textbooks that were popular at the time), TC
teachers--a group of extraordinary women and men of all
races, who came from all parts of the country--were
earning masters degrees and were prepared for a
research-based practice that was informed by the
educational research also planted in the college: in
psychology and sociology, in the content areas and in
pedagogy. They, along with administrators and
researchers in training, were also expected to develop
a deep understanding of the history, philosophy and
purposes of education and to be grounded in a set of
strong values and ethics that guide all professionals.

Then, as now, the creation of truly professional
educators was subversive business. As scientific
managers were looking to make schools "efficient" in
the early twentieth century--to manage schools with more
tightly prescribed curriculum, more teacher-proof
texts, more extensive testing, and more rules and
regulations--they consciously sought to hire less
well-educated teachers who would work for low wages and
would go along with the new regime of prescribed
lessons and pacing schedules without protest. In a book
widely used for teacher training at that time, the need
for "unquestioned obedience" was stressed as the "first
rule of efficient service" for teachers.

No wonder that obedience was prized, when the
scientific managers' time and motion studies resulted
in findings like the fact that some eighth grade
classes did addition "at the rate of 35 combinations
per minute" while others could "add at an average rate
of 105 combinations per minute"--thus schools were to
set the standard at 65 combinations per minute at 94
percent accuracy. One speaker at an NEA meeting in 1914
observed that there were "so many efficiency engineers
running hand cars through the school houses in most
large cities that the grade school teachers can hardly
turn around in their rooms without butting into two or
three of them."

During that decade, precisely 100 years ago, nationally
distributed tests of arithmetic, handwriting and
English were put into use. Their results were used to
compare students, teachers and schools; to report to
the public; and even to award merit pay--a short-lived
innovation due to the many problems it caused.

Does any of this sound familiar?

In the view of these brilliant managerial engineers,
professionally trained teachers were considered
troublesome, because they had their own ideas about
education and frequently didn't go along meekly with
the plan.

As one such teacher wrote in The American Teacher in
1912:

We have yielded to the arrogance of "big business men"
and have accepted their criteria of efficiency at their
own valuation, without question. We have consented to
measure the results of educational efforts in terms of
price and product--the terms that prevail in the factory
and the department store. But education, since it deals
in the first place with human organisms, and in the
second place with individualities, is not analogous to
a standardizable manufacturing process. Education must
measure its efficiency not in terms of so many
promotions per dollar of expenditure, nor even in terms
of so many student-hours per dollar of salary; it must
measure its efficiency in terms of increased humanism,
increased power to do, increased capacity to
appreciate.

Sounds suspiciously like John Dewey and Maxine Greene,
doesn't it?

While the scientific managers' foolishness was creating
a stranglehold on schools under the banner of education
reform, TC teachers, school leaders and professors
(ranging from John Dewey to William Heard Kilpatrick to
George Counts and more) were creating progressive
schools in which students engaged in intellectual
inquiry, hands-on projects and activity-based
curriculum--guided by an understanding of child
development, the new sciences of learning and emerging
practices of pedagogy. These schools practiced
democracy in action and provided a counterpoint to the
factory model schooling that Dewey called "mechanical,
dull, uninteresting, and hardly educative in any
meaningful sense."

Then as now, TC graduates set the standard. Highly
educated and deeply committed, you and your colleagues
have gone out to plant the ideals of democratic,
progressive education as leaders in schools, colleges
and governments all around the world. TC has always
represented what a profession is meant to foster: 1) a
strong ethical commitment to serve clients well--in the
case of education, to make decisions based on what is
best for students, not what is cheapest, easiest or
most expedient; 2) mastery of a common body of
knowledge and skills--and a commitment to always seek
more and better knowledge to meet students' needs (and
oh, how I love that magical moment at TC when the doors
fly open at around 4 pm and thousands of dedicated
educators from all over New York, and even New Jersey
and Connecticut, swarm into the building with such a
thirst for professional knowledge to serve their
students more fully); and 3) a commitment to define,
transmit and enforce standards of practice--a community
that pledges to work together to "do the right thing,"
as Spike Lee put it.

That commitment is more important now than ever before.
We live in a nation that is on the verge of forgetting
its children. The United States now has a far higher
poverty rate for children than any other industrialized
country (25 percent, nearly double what it was thirty
years ago); a more tattered safety net--more who are
homeless, without healthcare and without food security;
a more segregated and inequitable system of public
education (a 10:1 ratio in spending across the
country); a larger and more costly system of
incarceration than any country in the world, including
China (5 percent of the world's population and 25
percent of its inmates), one that is now directly
cutting into the money we should be spending on
education; a defense budget larger than that of the
next twenty countries combined; and greater disparities
in wealth than any other leading country (the
wealthiest 1 percent of individuals control 25 percent
of the resources in the country; in New York City, the
wealthiest 1 percent control 46 percent of the wealth
and are taxed at a lower level than in the last sixty
years). Our leaders do not talk about these things.
They simply say of poor children, "Let them eat tests."

And while there is lots of talk of international test
score comparisons, there is too little talk about what
high-performing countries actually do: fund schools
equitably; invest in high-quality preparation,
mentoring and professional development for teachers and
leaders, completely at government expense; organize a
curriculum around problem-solving and critical-thinking
skills; and test students rarely--and never with
multiple-choice tests.(Indeed, the top-performing
nations increasingly rely on school-based assessments
of learning that include challenging projects,
investigations and performances, much like what leading
educators have created here in the many innovative New
York public schools.)

Meanwhile, the profession of teaching and our system of
public education are under siege from another wave of
scientific managers, who have forgotten that education
is about opening minds to inquiry and imagination, not
stuffing them like so many dead turkeys--that teaching
is about enabling students to make sense of their
experience, to use knowledge for their own ends, and to
learn to learn, rather than to spend their childhoods
bubbling in Scantron sheets to feed the voracious data
banks that govern ever more decisions from the bowels
of the bureaucracy.

These new scientific managers, like those of a century
ago, prefer teachers with little training--who will come
and go quickly, without costing much money, without
vesting in the pension system and without raising many
questions about an increasingly prescriptive system of
testing and teaching that lines the pockets of private
entrepreneurs (who provide teacher-proofed materials
deemed necessary, by the way, in part because there are
so many underprepared novices who leave before they
learn to teach). Curriculum mandates and pacing guides
that would "choke a horse," as one teacher put it,
threaten to replace the opportunities for teachable
moments that expert teachers know how to create with
their students.

The new scientific managers, like the Franklin Bobbitts
before them, like to rank and sort students, teachers
and schools--rewarding those at the top and punishing
those at the bottom, something that the
highest-achieving countries not only don't do but often
forbid. The present-day Bobbitts would create
"efficiencies" by firing teachers and closing schools,
while issuing multimillion-dollar contracts for testing
and data systems to create more graphs, charts and
report cards on which to rank and sort... well, just
about everything.

And the new scientific managers cleverly construct
systems that solve the problem of the poor by blaming
the teachers and schools that seek to serve them,
calling the deepening levels of severe poverty an
"excuse," rewarding schools that keep out and push out
the highest-need students, and threatening those who
work with new immigrant students still learning English
and the growing number of those who are homeless,
without healthcare or food security. Are there lower
scores in under-resourced schools with high-need
students? Fire the teachers and the principals. Close
the schools. Don't look for supports for their families
and communities, equitable funding for public schools
or investments in professional learning. Don't worry
about the fact that the next schools are--as researchers
have documented--likely to do no better. This is the
equivalent of deciding that if the banks are failing,
we should fire the tellers. (And whatever you do, pay
no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

But public education has a secret weapon--a Trojan
horse, if you will: the members of the profession like
yourselves who have mastered a strong body of
professional knowledge, who hold a strong ethic of care
and who are determined to transmit this knowledge and
this commitment to others throughout the education
system.

At Teachers College are those who are leading the fight
for more equitable funding for public schools (and who
won a major victory in New York state); there are those
who are leading the efforts to create more thoughtful
and creative curriculum and instructional strategies;
and who are developing more effective teacher and
leadership education and professional development.

Among those of you who are graduating are many who have
created and will create more exciting and empowering
schools for children; more useful and appropriate
assessments of learning; and more just and humane
policies to guide a system focused on learning, not
selecting and sorting, rewarding and punishing. You
will do this in the strong professional communities you
have created here at TC and in your work in the field.
You will carry on the work of building a profession
that serves democratic education--one that provides for
all children what the best and wisest parent wants for
his or her child, as John Dewey put it.

Many of you have arrived here today with significant
debt and at considerable personal sacrifice. But you
are here because of the work to which you have
committed your lives, and because you know that it is
the right thing to do.

And doing the right thing--meeting that professional
commitment--is not easy. Whether it is standing up for a
child who is mistreated, or finding the energy to go
that extra mile to reach out to a troubled parent, or
taking up a challenging issue in the research, or
taking on a difficult concern in the public discourse,
doing the right thing is often hard. As King reminded
us:

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question "Is it
safe?" Expediency asks the question "Is it politic?"
And Vanity comes along and asks the question "Is it
popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it
right?" And there comes a time when one must take a
position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor
popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him
it is right.

Take heart in knowing that the arc of history is long,
as King noted, but it bends toward justice. Take
courage in knowing that where a community of hands
comes together to work toward justice, a freedom seed
will grow. And take pride in knowing, when the work is
challenging and setbacks come--as they must when
anything important is happening--that you are building a
better future for every child and family and community
you touch. And remember, as Robert F. Kennedy observed:

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and
belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person
stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of
others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends
forth a tiny ripple of hope.

Thank you for each and every time you do what is right
for our children and for each ripple of hope you
create. Thank you for your courage and your commitment.
And thank you for spreading the spirit of Teachers
College. Keep your hand on the plow.... Hold on! Source

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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