Thursday, September 15, 2011

Of Democratic Education as a Result of Federalism Rather Than of Political Advocacy

In democratic education, as much power as possible devolves to the student, which means as little as possible is reserved by those higher up. At the extreme, this would be the situation of the Wild Boy of Aveyron, surely not the ideal we seek; but pursued to its optimal, not its extreme, extent, this should result in proper empowerment for everyone from the President of the United States all the way down to first grade special needs students. 

But this is by no means the exclusive conception of democratic education. A numerous breed at the present time, the progeny of Wendy Kopp's senior thesis at Princeton, are indoctrinated at a suitably malleable age to undergo 5-6 weeks of gruelling summer training, then march off into tough neighborhoods for two years of teaching service for America. Some of these talented, idealistic young people continue teaching; many of the others (too many, I think) go on to law school or some similarly higher status profession, but pledge to "remain involved" in education in some manner, hoping to continue working to change America's very unequal educational system. These latter more or less by definition lack the experience and knowledge to valuably contribute to our education debates, but they remain passionate and fired up, and inexperience doesn't stop them.

A surprisingly large number of these reform-minded young people are able to insert themselves into positions of considerable influence and power, and many of them are now engaged in education advocacy, usually for policy positions consistent with the doctrines underlying Wendy Kopp's original vision. These TFAers are generally talented, enthusiastic, hard-working, and naive, and, because of their relative lack of experience and relevant knowledge, are passionately advocating for ill-founded positions that may be doing more harm than good, as I will proceed to demonstrate in upcoming posts.

I will begin by attacking the proposal that at least 50 percent of a teacher's annual performance evaluation should be based on that teacher's students' performances on required state testing.     

1 comment:

  1. (from John Thompson) At the age of 23, I became a grad student. I did real good work, I became an effective teaching assistant, and I accomplished a lot. I also made a lot of immature judgments. I love my memories of those years in my early twenties. But the idea that my snap judegments formed back then should drive national policy would be absurd.