Archive | July, 2014

Education Caste System

12 Jul

In 1999, motivated by idealistic impulses, I quit working on the next greatest hard drive to become a teacher. Like most people, I knew public education was in bad shape with bad teachers and poor administration. I hoped to advance the American promise that anyone’s child could become a captain of industry or even the president of the United States. America is supposed to be a meritocracy with equal opportunity for all.

I heard about “Nation at Risk” and I knew “Johnny” never could read. I was confident that a person with a successful engineering career under his belt could make significant contributions to public education. So it was off to the new masters of education program at University of California San Diego and my crusade to save public education.

These past 15 years have been enlightening. I soon learned what I knew about the state of public education was absolute baloney. The experienced teachers were amazing and once I got past the initial arrogance that blinded me to that fact, I realized that I had a lot to learn about teaching. I was not going to school the existing teachers; they were highly skilled and effective. My first two years in the classroom, I literally did not encounter any bad teachers who were not motivated to do a good job. The schools in San Diego were much better than the ones I attended 30 plus years earlier and the students were far more accomplished than my peers.

Concurrent with my entering the class room the bi-partisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was adopted. It soon became clear that education for working and middle class students was becoming more skills oriented with lessened creativity and minimal independent thought. The new education reform was based on standards and accountability for standardized testing results. This new theory of good pedagogy ignored the advice educators like Dewey and Herbart and adopted what Alfie Kohn mockingly dubbed the “longer stronger meaner” theory of education. This kind of pedagogy diminishes thought and creativity. It implies that thinking is for the children of wealthy people in private schools who are the natural leaders of society. The other students have utilitarian purposes but thinking undermines that value. It is all driven by an ancient and evil ideology that posits it is OK to use lesser human beings for the purposes of social elites.

El Puente founder, Frances Lucerna, has a similar observation:

“In the public schools now it’s basically all about standardized testing, and mechanical literacy. This is resulting in dumbing down, watering down, the experience that young people have in school. It is equivalent to telling students that they are not to go deep within themselves and think in complex ways about things, but that they need to go back to memorizing and stuffing their heads with knowledge that has nothing to do with their experience and their world. This is not by accident: there is a reason that this is happening, why it’s happening in public schools and not in private schools and other places. This is an education for followers, not for leaders. And that’s why I think a movement for change has to arise, and the arts are fundamental in this.” (Muses Go to School, Page 58)

In 1973 David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission produced “The Crisis of Democracy” a report in which they indicate that too much education for common people is a threat to democracy. On page 115 on the report they conclude, “The vulnerability of democratic government in the United States thus comes not primarily from external threats, though such threats are real, nor from internal subversion from the left or the right, although both possibilities could exist, but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society.” In other words, don’t teach common people to think, to have philosophy, or develop their own ideas – the elites of society will take care of that. It is not in the interest of the upper class to have too much education – too much democracy.

Of course, this elitism or classism is not new. I recently studied a lecture on an event that occurred in 1279. Twenty peasant farmers living in Atsuhara (present-day Fuji City, Japan) were arrested and falsely accused of stealing rice from a local priest. When the second most powerful figure in Japan questioned them, he did not ask about the charges. He offered clemency if they would just renounce their religious beliefs and join the approved Buddhist sect. Surprisingly, all twenty farmers refused the free pass. Three of them were executed and the other seventeen were exiled to remote regions of Japan.

Known as the “Atsuhara persecution” this event is significant in the history common people. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Schools said, “Set in 13th-century feudal Japan, this was truly a pioneering struggle for human rights that will shine forever in history.” In the same lecture Ikeda commented,

“…the devilish nature of authority fears the awakening of the people. To those in power who forget to serve the people and instead exploit them, wielding authority for self-serving ends, the presence of individuals who discern their true insidious nature and are determined to take a stand against them is a hindrance and inconvenience. That’s why the powerful do everything they can to crush them.” (July 2014, Living Buddhism)

Another struggle for rights that shines eternally in history is the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson penned these famous lines:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

As a boy growing up in rural Idaho, I was thrilled by these words. The precept that all men are created equal and have the right to seek an equal station based on merit excited my idealistic yearnings. For me, America was “that shining city on the hill.” It was some time before I started coming to grips with the contradictions that inhered from the beginning. Jefferson was a slave owner; women were denied human dignity and if you were not a member of the land owning class, the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God did not entitle you to equal station. But the ideas were pregnant with idealism and the potential for human advancement. It still gives me hope.

In our country, over the past more than two centuries there have been many advances in human rights, but the ugly side of human nature that wants to use others for personal purposes has not been conquered. It has merely transformed to forms which use less obvious and possibly more insidious methodology. Doctor Ikeda spoke directly to this point in a speech he delivered at Harvard University in 1993:

“I propose that self-motivation is what will open the way to the era of soft power. While systems depending on hard power have succeeded by using established tools of coercion to move people toward certain goals, the success of soft power is based on volition. It is an internally generated energy of will created through consensus and understanding among people. The processes of soft power unleash the inner energies of the individual. Rooted in the spirituality and religious nature of human beings, this kind of energy has traditionally been considered in philosophical themes. But without the support of a philosophical foundation to strengthen and mobilize the spiritual resources of the individual, the use of soft power would become nothing more that ‘fascism with a smile’, In such a society information and knowledge would be abundant, but subject to manipulation by those in power. A citizenry without wisdom would fall easy prey to authority with self-serving goals. For these reasons, the burden of sustaining and accelerating the trend toward soft power lies with philosophy.” (New Humanism page 189)

In the 1930’s the philosopher historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his masterpiece, A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.” In his deep study of more than three-thousand years of human history, Toynbee saw this pattern repeat.

Toynbee also saw a pattern that gave him pause about the future of our civilization. He wrote:

“We must ask whether, as we look back over the ground we have traversed, we can discern any master tendency at work, and we do in fact unmistakably decry a tendency towards standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is correlative and opposite of the tendency towards differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.” (A study of History page 555)

As I read the words of great men of character and think about my own observations, I am convinced this is a time of opportunity and peril. We must fight against the arrogance of elitism which looks down on common people as mere pawns and considers their own good fortune a matter of birth right or superiority. We must fight against the whole concept of Teach for America (TFA) and its untrained student teachers from elite schools which reeks of this kind of stinking thinking. The fraudulent charter school movement is the shoal of sharks rising from the depths to devour the children’s bread. Standardized education; standardized testing and common core standards seem to exactly match Toynbee’s description of the trends in decaying societies.

A witch’s brew of arrogance, greed and elitism is poisoning public education in America. Eli Broad (a billionaire home builder) did not think experience in education was valuable for administrators who run educational institutions, so he created his own non-certified institution that trains non-educators to lead the schools of common people. Bill Gates does not think class size matters. He sees no problem with classes of 50 students, but he sends his children to a private school in Seattle that has class sizes of 12 to 15. Michael Bloomberg does not think teacher education and experience is important. So he worked to privatize New York City’s schools so he does not need to waste money on experience and training. These attitudes would be indefensible if they were not promoted by extremely wealth elites.

We do not need to accept a society dominate by self-appointed elites who inherited their wealth and position or were able to unscrupulously bend financial law to their advantage. As educators we must educate the public and arm them against charlatans like: Jeb Bush; Arne Duncan; Democrats for Education Reform; Joel Klein; Michelle Rhee; Bill Gates; Andrew Cuomo; Daniel Malloy; Eli Broad; Bill Gates; the Walton family; etc.. We must give them the knowledge and wisdom to see the foolishness of these people. We need to make the nature and identity of the enemies of common people clear to all so no one is deceived by them. It is time to end the caste system in America and achieve the promise of meritocracy and opportunity for all.