I watched Moyers & Company this afternoon. Dr. Henry Giroux spoke about education and the social contract. He called the prevailing American social and political attitude “savage”. It is savage. Education is fundamental to a healthy society. Yet, rather than promoting creativity, intellectualism and informed critical thought, elementary and secondary education in the United States is a training system for future workers. In 1992 Marc Tucker, a pretentious opportunist, wrote his infamous “Dear Hillary” letter, which is a chilling record of his capitalist view of public education’s function. In 1994 his plan for producing workers was implemented. It is of great significance to note that Mr. Tucker is founder and CEO of NCEE, National Center on Education and the Economy, which is a not-for-profit entity influencing US education policy, while enjoying the benefits of non-profit tax status, as our kids suffer from abysmal education aptitude rankings compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Mr. Tucker has contributed more than anyone else, I can think of, to robbing our children of imagination and creativity. The Obama Administration has championed Race to the Top which is nothing more than a Dive to the Bottom, demoralizing teachers and causing despair through standardized testing. Standardized testing doesn’t foster creativity and imagination. It incites panic and results in kids who are taught test material but not creativity and imagination.
I am the product of a family of educators. My mother taught kids in elementary and secondary school for over 30 years. She was an artist and would be happy to know that I met one of her former students last week who remembered her as the “art teacher!” The bulk of her career was dedicated to Special Ed., learning disabled as well as gifted students. I digress. Mum used to say that society would pay a heavy price for under funding the arts in school. That chicken has come home to roost.
Dr. Giroux remembered the neighborhood intellectuals from his childhood and youth. I remember those people from my youth as well. Neighborhoods used to be full of front stoop philosophers, working class people with big dreams and even bigger passions, ordinary people who were well read and informed, people who could quote any number of sources to support their ideas because, back then, people had big ideas. Big ideas were encouraged in school where kids were taught they could grow up to be anything they wanted to be.
Here we are. Many young people think it’s appropriate to accumulate debt for things they do not need. They aren’t concerned by the fact that people in their neighborhoods are struggling to eat because funding for food stamps has been cut. It doesn’t occur to them that the problems facing their communities will someday be their problems. They don’t worry that the world’s population will grow but safe food production may not keep pace. It doesn’t concern them that deferred student loan debt continues to accumulate interest while they make minimum monthly payments on credit cards they don’t need. No one has taught them how to think. They’ve only been taught to shop. Popular culture is full of acquisition; more is everything, except it isn’t. Big ideas are everything. Big ideas create solutions to problems. In order to have one you have to have imagination. Imagination isn’t part of education. How do the teachers stand it?