Education historian Diane Ravitch and others often point out the long-running disagreement over the goals of education that exists between parents and those who’ve taken control of the U.S. public education establishment.
Here in Nevada, this conflict remains unresolved—which reveals why nearly all of the reform efforts coming from elected policy makers at state and school-district levels never really succeed.
While parents want schooling that, first and foremost, equips their children with the basic intellectual skills and a broad fund of knowledge, pseudo-professional educationists in our tax-supported teacher-training colleges scorn such bourgeois goals. Being at bottom Progressive ideologues rather than authentic educators, they insist that enforcement of leftist social goals like “multicultural diversity” and “social justice” must receive top priority.
This is how one gets, for example, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education’s obsessive focus on teacher “dispositions”—i.e., teacher attitudes about “multicultural diversity” and “social justice”—dominating five of the six NCATE criteria for teacher-training evaluation used at University of Nevada-Las Vegas and University of Nevada-Reno. NCATE multicultural guru G. Pritchy Smith candidly asserts the objective: “We need to reconstruct identities, values, beliefs, and lifestyles” … Social justice is the way to close the achievement gap. This should be the central ‘disposition.’”
Accentuating this conflict between parents and educationists is the fact that the latter—convinced they have privileged access to educational truth—believe that they should be exempt from public and parental accountability. Ravitch documents this doctrine in great detail, tracing it from the famed educationist psychologist of the first half of the twentieth century, Edward L. Thorndike of Teachers College, Columbia University, who hoped to demonstrate through his experiments with chickens, cats and rats that education could become an exact science.
“Like other Progressives of his time,” writes Ravitch, “[Thorndike] believed that education was a function of the state and that its administration should be a professional matter in which public oversight was strictly limited. His work on testing, therefore, was intended to strengthen the profession, leaving noneducators with little reason to become involved in the operation of public schools.”
Thus our educationists—who, like socialists everywhere, believe their schemes should be funded by monies coerced by government out of the public—live in a permanent and unresolved tension with elected policymakers. While the latter often want to make public education reflect the priorities of parents and common sense, the educationists believe themselves entitled to do their own thing with public money, entirely independent of “bourgeois” oversight.
So how does this conflict get resolved? In fact, at the basic level, it usually does not. Instead, notes Ravitch, “American education … continue[s] to be driven by the two paradigms: the professional education paradigm, which deeply believes that the profession should be insulated from public pressure for accountability and which is deeply suspicious of the intervention of policymakers, and the policymaker paradigm, which insists that the public school system be subject to incentives and sanctions based on its performance.”
Yet, if this ongoing conflict gets no fundamentally resolution today in Nevada (or elsewhere), how is it that the educationists manage to keep evading accountability, notwithstanding elected policymakers’ oft-proclaimed goals?
One important answer: camouflage. The journal Science last year reported on a newly discovered squid that, as it forages for food at night, shines a faint light from its underside. Scientists theorize that the light evolved because it confuses meal-minded critters lying on the sand below. As they look up, the squid above them blend seamlessly into the faintly moonlit sea, effectively invisible.
Similarly, after many years facing public impatience with the often-fatuous Progressivist agenda, educationists have evolved their own set of squid-like stratagems to confuse and mislead. With them, the public’s money continues to flow—for priorities that the public does not support.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education is a prime example. It ballyhooed its year-2000 revision of standards as “groundbreaking,” because “performance-based.” To the average ear that sounds like trainee teachers will be evaluated on the basis of how well they perform as teachers. In fact, within the NCATE lexicon, it refers to how well they perform as instruments of NCATE’s PC agenda. The actual successful learning of students—the whole point of teaching—is not even measured.
Before Nevada lawmakers, both UNR and UNLV wave their NCATE accreditations as though they were magic totems, able to assure both policymakers and Silver State voters that all is well.
In actuality, the accreditations themselves are cause for genuine public worry.
Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.