Challenging Convention

I know I keep talking a good game about this Harry Potter post and then going on about other things instead, but I promise, it’ll show up before 2011 runs its course.


In the meantime: this piece by Diane Ravitch, who should team up with Elizabeth Warren and run for president of the universe, is both angering and inspiring in all the best ways.  Ravitch is reviewing two new books about education – one which seeks to praise the reform movement, with its cast of famous philanthropists, and the other an autobiographical account from a lifelong teacher in the Bronx.


One thing that I’ve been thinking about is the fact that, although the contemporary school reform movement places so much emphasis on data and accountability, precious little data seems to be gathered about teachers themselves, and which tools they find most effective.  This article raised the issue again in my mind, and I did some research – my research skills are fairly strong, but the most comprehensive report I could find was only data gathered from Teach for America, on what their recruits found most or least beneficial.  That information isn’t useless, but growing up in the constant presence of educators, I suspect those responses also aren’t the most helpful – as with any occupation, what one finds beneficial at the outset and over time can differ.  (Moreover, from a purely methodological standpoint, teachers constitute a hugely broad data sample, and to have details on only such a narrow and self-selecting subset is absurd.)


Talking about teacher effectiveness, and enforcing “accountability”, without any (or with very limited) actual input from teachers is dicey business – look no further than Atlanta’s expansive cheating scandal for plain evidence of how current efforts at reform can go terribly, terribly awry.  (And, as Ravitch points out, Atlanta is hardly alone, although it may wind up being the most egregious offender.)


Free-market thought isn’t infallible, although reform efforts are largely predicated on such a belief.  For a truly fascinating discussion of how free-market thought arose in conjunction with an increased centralized security state, I heartily recommend checking out this Q&A over at Harper’s.  We’re all steeped in the ideologies and thought practices of our times, and this is an excellent introduction to how some of those that we swim in in the present day have come about.

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