How Centralized Education Could Turn Ugly
Right now, public education is such an expensive catastrophe that top-down imposition of standards and reasonable organizational principles is an attractive option. But there’s a very dark side to the impulse, hints of which can be found here:
Governors and education leaders on Wednesday proposed sweeping new school standards that could lead to students across the country using the same math and English textbooks and taking the same tests, replacing a patchwork of state and local systems in an attempt to raise student achievement nationwide. …
The stakes could be high. President Barack Obama told the nation’s governors last month that he wants to make money from Title I – the federal government’s biggest school aid program – contingent on adoption of college- and career-ready reading and math standards.
We tend to think of textbooks and standards as sort of pure and objective vessels for knowledge, but they do a lot of cultural work. Perhaps you recall the overt political correctness of word problems in math. In English, the studied texts inherently use the tools of language to construct arguments and convey sensibilities. Controlling textbooks, in other words, brings with it an opportunity to define common understanding, to associate political ideology with “clear thinking,” or at least “good writing.”
And students of history will surely see the probability that standards will not long be left with the single mandate of educating Americans. A review of the book The Science on Women and Science — which is a collection of essays on the application of Title IX equity rules to scientific education — brings home the point. Title IX has wreaked havoc in athletics and transferred to classroom curricula, the movement could leverage standards in pursuit of equal representation, in a field, as opposed to academic excellence.
As with all consolidations of power, the justifications have their appeal, and the people acquiesce with the understanding that there’s consensus about the proper focus and scope of that power’s usage. Once it’s pooled, though, power attracts a different sort of animal (or allows those present to shed their disguises).