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Conspiracies,Testing, Utopia & Evolution (warning: long)



Hello All -

I have listened and watched and read with interest the debate that always
simmers behind this list and often rages back and forth, between those who
feel that there are conspiracies afoot in Education - latest blossom being
the call for "Accountability" being the well-bantered phrase championed by
GWB & others, aided and abetted by the widespread implementation of
mandatory standardized testing on children all across the country, the
"terror-forming" of the curriculum as a result. I hear the ensuing cries of
teacher-bashing, parent-bashing, and child abuse. Somewhere between Chicken
Little and Mae West, between cries that "the sky is falling" and "Is that
all there is?" must be a way for all of us to find what must be done.

Recent discussions have affected me so much that I had to sit down at home
and work this through, being a process-oriented person. Apologies in
advance for length and rambling substance. As a couple of days have gone by
and this has flamed even farther, I guess in sending this now I'll just
take the hits as they come. I'm on digest mode at ARN (you folks are
prolific!), so I won't even know til tomorrow what reactions there are
unless you e-mail me off list. If it's all just "sound and fury" to you -
there's always the delete key. I use it quite frequently.

Informationally, some of you know that I work in a college testing center,
that we give the GED to hundreds of students a year, and use a computerized
adaptive placement test for new entering students, which in some cases is a
very high stakes endeavor - and I am a white-knuckle testaphobic kind of guy
who knows intimately the anxiety and panic that can literally change a
person's destiny when it comes to high stakes tests. I also grew up hearing
and speech impaired, so I have a working knowledge of the differently abled,
and the challenges they face in the system as well. I have two teenagers,
as well, one who will narrowly miss the initial cut-off for the infamous
WASL's implementation as a grad. requirement.

Right off, I am not a subscriber to any side other than the safety and
welfare of children. A catcher in the rye, so to speak. Just an ordinary,
though college educated, citizen observer with an opinion to offer up. It's
an honor to participate here - I have learned so very much from this group.
It would be simply unreal to meet many of you.

Re: Conspiracies

Just exactly who is the "enemy" is not always evident. Is it the Evil
Foundation, or individuals of evil intent? Is it the NAB and their henchmen
and puppets now in positions of educational leadership? Is Satan alive and
well and in control of our schools? Or is it just a "what is" inherent in
the economics of our society at this juncture in time? All these things are
just so damn convincing, we get sucked in continually.

Is it wrong for "Society" to want children to grow up to be productive
workers? Why is it so awful if they do, or if do not? Is it such a crime
to learn for the love of knowledge, not for any promise of future
productivity? Can a Society support a student who wants to learn what it
means to be a peacemaker, a lover, someone who is filled with joy and hope?
Can a Society support someone who finds out "what they want to do with their
life" and wants to spend more time on that than the history of the
constitution, or quadratic formulas, or PE, for goodness sake! Do we allow
our taxes to pay the schools money for this? (I'd be saying "Can I go to
that school?") Is that the way it's "s'pozed to be? I agree that the
"rigor" which is being espoused by the "testocrats and standardistos", is
more like regi-mentality, which seems to fit the molding of the worker bee
hypothesis.

Re: The value of work/school: I have spent a good number of years in voc.
ed. and been involved with career counseling for even longer, and never once
have I had anyone who said to me that they wanted to work in the sewers when
they grew up, that their career goal was to work flippin' burgers or mopping
floors. Most have told me they don't want to worry about having enough
food to eat, want a roof over their heads, that they want to have friends,
live a good life, maybe have kids - those goals are so much more powerful in
some ways than many of the academic dreams and aspirations that a much
smaller percentage of our students have. Most everyone wants to be
productive. When push comes to shove - the best and the brightest (and,
interestingly enough, the worst and the rotten) tell me they want the same
things, but they also want something more - to make a difference, a
contribution that is larger and longer lasting than themselves. That's the
motive power that can change the world, and does so, over and over again.
This list is populated by many of such ilk.

If every child in this nation had the guarantee of a warm and comfortable
place to go for six or seven hours a day, where they were fed and clothed
and cared for, supplied with books of all kinds and assisted in their
educational explorations by trained professionals each according to their
capacity for learning, we might have an educational utopia. For some
students, that's actually what we DO have, for others, not so. (I have
worked with teens who's only address was behind a dumpster in the Central
District in Seattle, so I know a little of what life is like - how bad it
can be - for some students. Ask me sometime about one of my students named
Roman) And that's a huge problem.

This educational utopia would abruptly end, of course, at the end of the
school day as students came out of their warm, inviting enclave and entered
"the real world" once again. What world exists outside of school is up to
the adults who live and work to make it what it is. "What it is" is
eloquently described by George Schmidt and other veteran's of the education
wars on this list, who are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone
before them. An ancient Jew said "there will be poor always." I have a hard
time with this one - history is a hard lesson for me. I can't get a handle
on what to do other than to comfort and protect those I can reach.

The bigger question is, "can we re-make the world outside of the schools?"
Whose job is that? Well, it's my belief that the schools truly can be the
"agent of change," and they should be. They should harbor nothing less than
revolutionaries, those who want to "turn the world upside down" like Perchik
told Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. Most every child is thirsty to know
things, once they are no longer so hungry or afraid for their safety they
can't think. At this level, It's simple Piagetian development. Comfort,
Belonging, Meaning. Once children have their basic needs met, and begin to
develop a sense of self, they can begin to see the benefits of belonging,
once they see the benefit of belonging, cooperating and contributing, they
become aware, they see and seek purpose and meaning in life. There's the
utopia. Providing every child with the luxury of being able to understand
what "choice" is, then allowing them to make choices (even a choice to
learn, or not), aye there's the rub. Even if we achieve one, can we
countenance the other? It's the hardest job for a parent (as I'm finding
out).

Even if we manage to make such revolutionary changes behind the school
doors. What then? Still bad people out there? Oh yes, always. Can we
change them? Not hardly - the old saw "they have to want to change" is
operative here. We have to work on the structures from which they operate.
The Dave's S.'s of the world seem to live at this level.

Read Grunch of Giants by R. Buckminster Fuller (why is it so many eloquent
people, at the end of their lives, write such small and powerful tomes to
encapsulate some of what they've learned?). . He also said "It is absolutely
touch and go...any one person could make the difference" The multinational
coroporations, however - often dba as this democratic USA, are far less easy
to spot, yet wealth and power is truly concentrated therein. Individuals
who acquire massive wealth are often simply riding the coattails of these
giants. Reminds me as well of "Network" as someone recently brought that
one up.

I don't work well at this airy level, I'm an "in the trenches" kinda guy -
working one on one to save the world. As a college student I once sat and
listened and conversed for a very, very long evening "is that the sunrise,
omigoodness" with Jonathon Kozol as I began to see the enormity of the
problem in education. As this was a small group of highly idealistic
education students, we talked long and hard about "do-gooders," and the
conversion of the "bleeding hearts" into revolutionaries for saving the
lives of children, in concert with the kind of work Paolo Friere was
espousing. I don't know if I decided then to just touch one person at a
time, but that's certainly what I've dedicated my life to. The same kind of
event happened with Bucky Fuller, though the conversation was decidedly one
sided, but enlightening in the extreme, as his theme centered entirely on
the individual's choice to make a difference.

"A lot of people think or believe or know they feel (experience) -- but
that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling (experiencing). Almost
anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being
can be taught to feel (experience). Why? Because whenever you think or you
believe or you know, you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel
(experience), you're nobody-but-yourself. To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a
world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else --
means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never
stop fighting." -RBF

Bucky would have loved this one. We have a distribution problem. Let's get
the logical minds working on this. We need the same attention paid to
distributing resources for children in schools - enough books, pencils,
paper - as we do for other "bottom line" industrial processes. NO MORE BAKE
SALES! (how's that for a button, Juanita?). I think of all the Gideons
Bibles I've seen in every single motel/hotel I've been in - how hard can it
be? Hey George - when I was in Chicago, each hotel room had both the
Gideon's Bible & a copy of the Koran!

What would it cost for every child in school to have access to the world's
library? Aside from the technology capacity (which in many cases we are
getting, through structural donations e.g. big bad Microsoft), access is
only part of what 's needed. Interest is what's lacking. How do we inspire
interest? Once again I'd be saying "Where can I get my hands on that
curriculum?" (Well, in reality, it's a home study course, asynchronous and
idiosyncratic, locally assessed and often controlled by heterogeneous and
sometimes haphazard genetic pairings, often with little outside training but
often a heckuva lotta love for the students-from the cradle to the grave)
Resource poor but relationship rich. Now to find resources and get them to
where they can be used most effectively.

You know, it's not hard to find those who have less, however, and it's
pretty easy to see who has more.

Those with more need to share with those who have less. It's a hard lesson,
and it flies in the face of economics, but it's not impossible.

There is enough to go around, enough land to produce enough food, enough
space for all to live comfortably, and hopefully enough good will to allow
it. Once again, this flies in the face of Malthusian economics. How do we
get there?

Change of heart is difficult Greed is easy - want more, get more.

Love is tougher - want more, give more.

If the standard of living increases, literacy increases and the population
rate decreases. If literacy increases, poverty decreases and creativity
flourishes - literature, poetry, music - not born solely of individual "pain
and angst" but for joy and love and hope. Some would say that society would
then founder in decadence as Roman Civilization did "once upon a time."
That needn't be so...but likely to happen...unless those who dedicate their
lives to inspiring a change of heart reach some kind of critical mass. As a
segue into

The evolution/creationism debate:

I think often of Teilhard de Chardin, who noted:
"The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and
gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day,
for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered
fire."
or another favorite:
"We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination
and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one.
Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the
shouts." Ray Bradbury
As list contributor Steve Orel always says in closing (now there's someone
I'd like to meet) - warmest peacebuiling greetings to you all!
Mark Kenney
mmkrockaway@msn.com (if you want to contact me directly)
If you really want to go out on the futurist fringe, and can hold onto a
rather long view towards change, read Marshall Savage's "The Millenium
Project - Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps" There are lots of
different solutions to our current ills.

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