By Mark Naison
As teachers and parents look, in amazement, at policies emanating from the US Department of Education that mandate the meticulous scripting of “student learning” beginning as early as age 3, and which require testing of “student outcomes” to evaluate their classroom performance, it is important to highlight the underlying logic behind such a program.
It is not that proponents of such policies are anxious to take the US down the path to Educational Totalitarianism, albeit what they are doing is definitely a step in that direction, it is that they believes that families are in such a state of stress and collapse, especially in the nation’s poor and working class communities, that the school must take on the historic responsibility of the the family if the society is to survive.
They are not entirely wrong in such an assessment. Not only has the percentage of single parent families grown enormously, along with the number of families headed by grandparents, but because of declining wages, and a shortage of affordable housing, large numbers of people in all kinds of families are working two or three jobs to pay the rent or the mortgage and have almost no time to spend with their children.
Given family disintegration and stress, more and more education policymakers have concluded that schools must step into the breach and become a family substitute, providing discipline, and socialization as well as the skills needed to create productive citizens. Instead of working through families and soliciting parental input, schools more and more create highly disciplined, meticulously planned and evaluated learning spaces, which teachers are required to operate and police, and parents are required to accept.
The problem is- what kind of society erases family and teacher input this way? Is erasing family influence and silencing teacher voices consistent with Democracy in any way shape or form.
Wouldn’t it be better to encourage policies which strengthen families and remove family stress rather than turn schools into places where children are socialized to a rigid, standardized learning environment that promotes conformity and in the process destroys the teaching profession?
There is another path. Imagine if we adopted policies aimed at raising wages and expanding the supply of affordable housing? How many more families would then have more time to spend with their children and get involved with their school experience. There are ways to do this that we haven’t even tried, one of which involves beginning to create paths for people to occupy the 13 million homes and apartments which now stand abandoned, in a nation where many families are living doubled and tripled up.
Using schools as a family substitute is a bad solution to what is fundamentally a wage and housing crisis.
We need a REAL anti-poverty program in the United States, not a program of universal testing to avoid dealing with poverty.