Tag Archives: behaviorism

Soka Education and Reform

4 Jul

Soka Education is an education reform movement advanced by the Buddhist lay organization, Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.” For more than a century, reform education advocates such as John Dewey have proposed a humanistic approach to education. Although they have shown considerable success in demonstration classrooms, there has been little general implementation of their ideas.

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, `constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.”1 The philosophy of constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike.

Ellen Lagemann, an education historian, writes, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”2 The same general situation in education appears to exist throughout the world. Behaviorist authoritarian models of education dominate.

It could be that the Soka Education movement is the first large scale, long term and determined effort to utilize reform or humanistic student-centered education in the world.

At the Dawn of the 20th century, the father of Soka Education, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an elementary school teacher and principal in Tokyo, developed a theory of education that he called “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He also gained a reputation for causing trouble of some sort wherever assigned. Mr. Makiguchi’s problems were rooted in the prevailing educational theories of his day.

The closing decades of the 19th century witnessed Japan going through huge social change. It changed from nearly seven hundred years of military rule by the samurai classes back to Imperial rule and embarked on a mad dash toward industrialization. It changed from four hundred years of self-imposed isolation to a path of international engagement.

Education policy became a debate between the forces that felt the purpose of education was to build citizens who were self-assured and of independent minds and those that advocated the development of obedient and loyal subjects for the Meiji government. Historian Dayle M. Bethel tells us that “the latter group won the debate.”3 Bethel says, “Makiguchi’s entire educational career was a protest against the production of subjects.”4

In 1928, Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Buddhism and was soon convinced that Nichiren Buddhism and his philosophy of “Value Creating Pedagogy” were synergistic. In 1930, he started an organization for educational reform called Soka Kyoiku Gakkai or “Value Creating Educators Society” based not only on his theories of education but also on Nichiren Buddhism. This organization became more and more about religion than educational reform as militarism and state sponsored Shinto enveloped Japan.

Japanese society was completely devastated during World War II. Makiguchi and all of the leaders of the “Value Creating Educators Society” were imprisoned as thought criminals in 1943. Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. After being released from prison in 1945, Makiguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda, rebuilt the organization as a Buddhist laymen’s society and renamed it Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.”

Today, Soka Gakkai is the world’s largest Buddhist sect and the largest religious movement in Japan. In the 1960’s, the Soka Gakkai returned to its roots as an educator’s society and began constructing an education system based on Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy.”

Dayle M. Bethel wrote of Makiguchi: “Out of his battles with Japanese educational structures of his time and his association with a few like-minded colleagues there emerged pedagogical views and ideas that are worthy of study by English-speaking scholars, worthy in their own right and also because these views and ideas seem likely to have significant impact on Japanese society during the years ahead.”5

Today, the leader of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and Soka Education is Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. In a 1996 speech at Teachers College, Columbia University, he said, “Greatly influenced by the views of Dewey, Makiguchi asserted that the purpose of education must be the lifelong happiness of learners. He further believed that true happiness is to be found in a life of value creation.”6

Bethel writes, “With reference to Western scholars there is scarcely a single major figure in the fields of education and social science, from the time of Plato to the early decades of the twentieth century, to whose work he did not make some reference.”7 Makiguchi was very aware of and appreciated Western ideas about education, but he did not just accept these ideas. Makiguchi believed in the acid test of experience. Those ideas that proved of merit in actual practice were to be accepted and those that did not were to be discarded.

Although an admirer of Dewey’s ideas on education, Makiguchi perceived a flaw in the formulation of Pragmatism and offered his own refinement based on a corrected philosophy of value.

Makiguchi specified the central importance of value in pedagogy: “The object of ‘The System of Value-creating Pedagogy’ lies in searching for the law of cause and effect in guiding the life of the students. Needless to say, the object of life lies in the pursuit of value.”8

The components of value that Makiguchi postulated were good, gain and beauty as opposed to those of good, beauty and truth postulated by the neo-Kantian Pragmatists of his era. Makiguchi’s formulation replaced the Kant school’s value triad component – truth – with gain. Makiguchi asserted, “Truth is that which is expressed exactly as an object is, through observing it objectively and determining its invariable elements as its intrinsic nature. On the other hand, value is that which is produced by the relationship between object and subject, and if either of the two should change, the value will vary accordingly.”9 He stated that truth was not evaluative in nature because it was either truth or not truth.

From this, he made the point that truth was a cognitive outcome or objective and value was an emotional outcome or subjective. Therefore, a great error in understanding occurs when people mistake cognition for evaluation. Makiguchi declared, “Considering the aspect of the present world, I believe nothing is as evil as the confusion of cognition and evaluation, since the mixing of the two makes it hard for a person to understand and causes him to assume an uncertain attitude toward his choice and decision.”10

Based on his own philosophical view, Makiguchi used his experience as a classroom teacher and elementary school principal to create practical guidance for educators to use in implementing his system of “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He proposed ideas that were congruent with many of Dewey’s:

 “In-school education should be closely connected in practice with actual social life so that it can transform unconscious living into fully conscious participation in the life of society. Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”11

 Makiguchi opposed the type of education that emphasized cramming knowledge into the student. He advocated an experiential based learning process. He opposed high stakes testing. He said that students and teachers should be cooperative partners in a community of learners.

Looking at the development of education in the United States through the lens of Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy” gives a fresh view of American education.

As an aside, the word soka is a neologism created by Makaguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda. It is a combination of the Japanese words sozo (creation) and kachi (value).12

The most influential figure in the early development of education in the United States was Thomas Jefferson. He viewed education as necessary for personal happiness and the wise selection of governmental leaders in a democracy.

He believed that people in general had the innate wisdom required for a representative democracy to succeed and that education was the means by which to tap that ability. He reasoned that the creator must have endowed us with a “moral sense of conscience” which “is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. In a greater or less degree it may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body.”13

Jefferson believed education was the mechanism by which moral virtue could be made manifest. With his Aristotelian view that happiness was attainable only if the rational part of one’s nature governed the appetites,14 he, like Makiguchi, saw the purpose of education as seeking value.

About the French Revolution, Jefferson wrote, “it has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.”15

Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing from common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson averred, “The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”16

In Jefferson’s era, the United States was an agrarian society with large estates in the south employing slave labor and small self-sufficient family farms in the north. Farming accounted for 90% of American economic activity.17

Into this environment, Jefferson proposed a four-tiered model of universal public education. Tier one was to be a state supported three-year elementary school for “all free children male and female.” Tier two was to be a grammar school for boys selected by merit from elementary school and kept in boarding school at state expense. These boys were to be the future leaders of society. Jefferson saw them as the “natural aristocracy” based on “virtue and talent.” Tier three was to be the university, which was to focus on liberal arts and develop cognitive skills as opposed to vocational skills. Tier four called for life-long self-education for which Jefferson proposed public libraries.18

If we examine Jefferson’s proposals from the viewpoint of Soka Pedagogy, we find general agreement. For example, Dr. Ikeda recently stated, “I believe that a liberal arts education should be the core element of the first half of every university degree course, as it provides a general understanding of humanity.”19

Certainly Makiguchi would have agreed enthusiastically with universal education. Speaking of his students who were not from upper-class families, Makiguchi protested, “Even though they may be covered with dust or dirt, the brilliant light of life shines from their soiled clothes. Why does no one try to see this?”20

Makiguchi parts ways with the proposal to use school as a sorting device for picking a “natural aristocracy.” Makiguchi was completely egalitarian and he opposed “cutthroat competition” and “examination hell.”21 Today, Makiguchi’s heirs are actively promoting education as a valuable lifelong pursuit.

Jefferson considered his successful campaign against the union of church and state as one of his major victories for intellectual freedom. Ironically, he believed in a very authoritarian form of pedagogy and he left no record of objection to the religious content and authoritarian nature of the instruction practiced in the colonial schools.

Jefferson’s view of pedagogy would later to be known as faculty psychology. It contended that the mind had distinct “faculties” that must be strengthened through exercise. Researchers tell us, “… he conceived the mind as an empty vessel to be ‘filled’ with useful facts.”22 Children of that era were required to memorize religious pieces like the Lord’s Prayer and recite them. They were encouraged to learn numbers because it would help them reference material in the Bible. The messages of their learning materials were both moral and Protestant.23 These views of education are antithetical to Soka Pedagogy.

During Jefferson’s lifetime, few of his proposals for education were actually adopted, but his ideals of universal education, intellectual freedom and the benefit of an enlightened citizenry reverberate into today’s discussions of education. Following in Jefferson’s footsteps, the next great development in American education was the common school movement championed most notably by Horace Mann.

Concurrent with the beginning of the 19th century, four shifts in social structure started to dominate in American society. People began to move from farms to urban centers. Many new immigrants began to arrive from Europe and they were not just coming from England. They were from Ireland, Italy and other places. Many of them were Catholic and many did not speak English. Slaves from the south began to migrate to the northeast.

There was also a general population migration from the Northeast to the Midwest. Most political leaders viewed all these social forces with foreboding. Social reformers advanced the common school as the solution to these strains and claimed that the need for common schools was no less than the very survival of the nation.24

With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being the instrument of social integration.25

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Joel Spring observes, “The combination of moral and political instruction meant that the student leaving the common school would share with fellow students a set of moral and political beliefs; the result would be the creation of a society with a consensus of political and moral values.”26

Common schools were to be supported by state taxes and to be free to all. Rich and poor children would learn to live together. They would learn to see wealth as an outward sign of inner salvation and the rich would learn the value of charity.27

It is this use of education for other purposes than intellectual development that Makiguchi and the heirs to his legacy would object. In an essay Dr. Ikeda wrote:

 “Learning is the very purpose of human life, the primary factor in the development of personality, that which makes human beings truly human. Nevertheless, development of personality has consistently been reduced to a subordinate position and viewed as a means to other ends. This view has prevailed worldwide throughout modern history, particularly in the twentieth century.

The educational system has therefore been reduced to a mere mechanism that serves national objectives, be they political, military, economic or ideological. A certain type of personality, not the full development of personality, has been sought, as if casting individuals from a uniform mold. Treating education as a means rather that an end reinforces a utilitarian view of human life itself.”28

 The most famous text of the common school system was the McGuffey Reader. The goals of the stories in this text were to teach reading and to impart moral lessons. One interesting moral lesson explicitly taught in the McGuffey Readers of 1843 is the spirit of charity. Five of the 29 stories dealing with boys’ character had a theme of charity.29

A researcher, Richard Mosier, summarized the dominant attitude of the McGuffey Readers: “It was argued that the poor would always be with us, that the best for them was charity and benevolence, but that no one need be poor. There are, argued the apostles of acquisition, numerous avenues to success that stand open for the sober, and frugal, the thrifty, and the energetic.”30

Americans heard echoes of those moral messages in President George W. Bush’s call for faith based and private charitable organizations to take a more active role in solving America’s social problems.

As Joel Spring noted, “Catholics objected to the use in school of the King James Version of the Bible and of textbooks that contained anti-Catholic statements.”31 Former slaves were not welcome in most common schools.

In addition, stratified cognitive theory supported stratified schooling. For example, Native Americans were sent to separate boarding schools.32 Ironically, the common school itself became a force for segregation. Social conditions and events undermined the common school principal of a single unifying common education.

Political ideology also had an effect on the common school. Democrats viewed centralized control of the schools as an attempt to promote and protect special privileges for the upper class. They preferred local control of schools to centralized state bureaucracies that characterized common schools.

The McGuffey Readers reflected the political view of the common school proponents who were politically aligned with the Whigs. Whigs believed in government intervention in public affairs and in central control. Spring observes, “To a certain extent, the struggle between Whigs and Democrats was a struggle between incipient bureaucracy and democratic localism.”33 Workingmen’s groups wanted the schools to teach how to exercise political power not just basic principles of government and a common republican creed.34

This type of partisan political struggle over education is strongly opposed by the Soka movement. Dr. Ikeda calls for a paradigm shift in our view of education to rid it of the deleterious effects of political interference.

He quotes Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University’s answer to the question: How do you view the role of education in society? Professor Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be: What is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life.”35

In the 1920’s and 30’s, Makiguchi and his successor Toda both campaigned at the risk of their lives against the nationalistic education that was pushing Japan toward war. Today, Ikeda calls for giving “education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.”36

At the end of the nineteenth century, America experienced an era of dynamic change. David Tyack reports, “In 1860, the United States lagged behind England, France, and Germany in its industrial output: by 1894 it led the world and produced almost as much in value as those three nations combined.

Schools also expanded in size and complexity in those years to a point where America also surpassed other nations in its educational output.”37 Schools took on a new technical role. They began preparing the new work force and sorting them by ability for the positions in the factories of this new industrial age.

William T. Harris was an intellectual leader in the development of American Education philosophy during the late nineteenth century. He served as the U.S. Commissioner of Education and was for several years the superintendent of schools in Saint Louis. He declared, “The first requisite of the school is Order: each pupil must be taught first and foremost to conform his behavior to a general standard.”

He pointed out that a modern industrial society requires, “conformity to the time of the train, to the starting of work in the manufactory.”38 Researcher David Tyack says, “In the view of most urban school-men of the late nineteenth century, schools should inculcate obedience to bureaucratic norms overtly and with zest.”39

The schools became a “rational sorting device.”40 The rational used for sorting students into positions in the new industrial society was the merit displayed by the student. In the late nineteenth century in Chicago, newspapers referred to the annual examinations to get into high school as the “Olympic Games” and education administrators boasted about how the examinations fostered useful competition.41

From the days of the McGuffey Reader, Americans have been convinced that the way one gets ahead is by applying the good-old Protestant ethic of hard work. Success is seen as being completely up to the individual and it is individual accomplishment that is lionized. This is the “achievement ideology” in America and it is pervasive.42

Princeton Sociologists, Davis and Moore, observed that, “Social inequality is … an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons.”43 School has become the implement by which America stratifies itself.

Ralph Turner has defined the system of stratification in America as “contest mobility.” He defines “contest mobility” as “a system in which elite status is the prize in an open contest and is taken by the aspirants’ own efforts.”44

The objective of this system is to give elite status to those who earn it rather than by ascription for some innate trait. This method accords nicely with the American “achievement ideology.” It logically follows that if one failed to reach a desired position, one would blame themselves. Moreover, one would recognize that the position went to the person who earned it.

“Achievement ideology” and “contest mobility” are organizing folk norms in America. Turner explains, “organizing folk norms are reflected in specific value judgements…irrespective of the logic expressed.”45 He also says, “Under contest mobility in the United States, education is valued as a means of getting ahead, but the contents of education are not highly valued in their own right.”46 One reason for textbooks being the central source of information in American Schools is that the system wide exams focus on that material in them.47 This implies that the contest is more important than the content.

Many researchers think the “achievement ideology” in America has undermined intellectual curiosity. For example, Alfie Kohn the noted education authority from Harvard University said, “Surprising as it may seem, the evidence suggests that our long-term goals for children and schools are less likely to be realized when teachers, parents, and the students themselves become preoccupied with standards and achievement.”48

He says a student “may persevere at a task when they’ve been told they have to do well. But a genuine interest in the task – or excitement about the whole idea of learning – often begins to evaporate as soon as achievement becomes the main point.”49 In 1959, Talcott Parsons, one of Kohn’s predecessors at Harvard, made a similar observation: “I think that an important part of the anti-intellectualism in American youth culture stems for the importance of the selective process through the educational system…”50

Makiguchi was very critical of the use of examinations to sort children. Bethel says, “The cramming of useless, soon-to-be-forgotten information in order to pass tests was to him the height of folly and represented in acute form the deeper sickness of the whole educational system.”51

In the foreword to The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy Makiguchi wrote: “I am driven by the intense desire to prevent the present deplorable situation – ten million of our children and students forced to endure the agonies of cutthroat competition, the difficulty of getting into good schools, the examination hell and the struggle for jobs after graduation – from afflicting the next generation.”52

At approximately the same time that Makiguchi was working to reform education in Japan, his contemporary, John Dewey, was fighting a similar battle in the United States. Discovery learning and child-centered learning are themes associated with Dewey’s methods of education. Although Makiguchi found fault with Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy, the two were in deep agreement about the need for humanistic and student-centered education to inform the industrial era.

Unfortunately, neither of these educators’ views prevailed and today we see the same sort of authoritarian factory-modeled education that they were trying to reform in practice virtually everywhere in the world.

In 1982, Kathleen Wilcox did a comparative ethnographic study of a classroom in a lower-middle-class neighborhood and an upper-middle-class neighborhood classroom. The classrooms studied were less than fifteen miles apart, were first-grade level and were in a major metropolitan area in California.

An ethnographic study looks closely at the culture of the subjects being observed on an intimate level. In this case, the expectations and responses of teachers and students in the two different environments were compared in detail. One of Wilcox’s conclusions was: “A vast array of cultural clues cue the teacher as to the child’s likely future position in the work hierarchy, and the teacher in turn behaves in such a way as to socialize the child for and encourage the child toward this position.”53 This view of education is called reproduction theory.

If this is indeed the reality, possibly the root of the problem is that the goal of education is wrong or has been obscured. Makiguchi wrote, “What is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to assure that this child will be able to lead the happiest life possible?”54

In the late 1950s, Erich Fromm wrote, “Few parents have the courage and independence to care more for their children’s happiness than for their ‘success.’”55 In the 1990’s, education researcher David Labaree claimed that financial success has become the driving force of American education above happiness, humanistic goals or public rationales.56

In 1983, the Reagan administration sponsored the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which produced a document entitled “A Nation at Risk.” Interestingly, there were few professional educators involved in the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

The opening paragraph of this non-peer reviewed article said in part: “We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”57

This document had a huge political impact and has led to many attempts at education reform throughout America. The main thrust of this document was a call for better teachers and an increased emphasis on the basics. The document called on the students to be given more homework and longer instructional time. Dr. Kohn would characterize this call for education reform as saying, “what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.”58

From the viewpoint of Makiguchi or Dewey or Kohn or Fromm or Ikeda or Socrates or Thurman or the great preponderance of education thinkers, the fundamental purpose of education presented by this reform proposal is wrong. The National Commission on Excellence in Education states in “A Nation at Risk:”

 “If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all – old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the “information age” we are entering.”59

 In other words, according to The National Commission on Excellence in Education, education is foremost about economics and economic development – education is foremost about the needs of the nation. This is antithetical to the thinking of the world’s great educators.

Teaching processes are cultural products. Stiegler and Hiebert did video studies of classrooms in Germany, the United States and Japan and noticed education practices that were unique to each culture, but did not cross cultures. They wrote, “Teaching, like other cultural activities, is learned through informal participation over long periods of time. It is something one learns to do more by growing up in a culture that by studying it formally.”60

Although, most education philosophers would have significant problems with some of the conclusions of “A Nation at Risk,” they would all agree that teachers are a vital key to accomplishing positive education reform. Improving teaching means changing not only the culture of education but also changing the culture of the society at large.

In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda, was inaugurated as president of Soka Gakkai and under his leadership the organization started expanding its orientation beyond religious propagation to include peace work, cultural advancement and education reform. The organization continued its tremendous growth in Japan and started growing internationally.

On the anniversary of his inauguration, May 3, 1961, Ikeda announced the creation of a new Cultural Bureau with departments of Economics, Politics, Education and Speech. Later an Arts Department was added to the Cultural Bureau. This purposeful entry into secular life sets the Soka Gakkai apart from the other new religious movements that appeared in Japan following World War II. Dr. Bethel speculates:

  “It is my conclusion that much of the philosophical rationale for this secular emphasis, as well as the pedagogical means for implementing it, has grown out of Ikeda’s study of Makiguchi’s work. Study and analysis of Makiguchi’s and Ikeda’s writings reveal in both a central concern for the welfare of the individual in a mass society. Out of this concern for the individual there emerges in both Makiguchi and Ikeda a common model for social reform that sees education as the key factor in the reform process.”61

 In 1968, the Soka Gakkai began the Soka School System by opening a boys’ junior and senior high school in Tokyo. Bethel believes that Makiguchi’s education “proposals are not greatly different than those of Dewey or from a number of today’s educators who are making similar proposals. Makiguchi’s primary claim to uniqueness lies in the fact that Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai are now attempting to implement his proposals, as Murata puts it, ‘on a grand scale.’”62

The table below lists some of the landmark events since the development of the Soka School System started.

Table 1: Soka System Development Dates
1968 Soka Junior/ Senior High Schools open as boys’ school (Tokyo).

1971

Soka University opens.

1973

Kansai Soka Junior and Senior High Schools open as girls’ school.

1976

Sapporo Soka Kindergarten opens.

1978

Tokyo Soka Elementary School opens.

1982

Soka High Schools in Kansai and Tokyo become coeducational.

1982

Kansai Soka Elementary School opens.

1985

Soka Women’s College is established.

1987

Soka University of America – Los Angeles. (Graduate School)

1988

The Study Centers of Wild Birds are established

1992

Hong Kong Soka Kindergarten opens.

1993

Singapore Soka Kindergarten opens.

1995

Malaysia Soka Kindergarten opens.

1997

The Institute of Soka Education opened.

2001

Soka University of America’s (SUA) Aliso Viejo campus opens.

2001

Brazil Soka Kindergarten opens Sao Paulo, Brazil.

2002

Brazil Soka Elementary School opens Sao Paulo Brazil

2005

SUA accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges

2007

Graduate school transferred to SUA campus

2008

Soka Happiness Kindergarten Seoul, Korea

2011

Soka Performing Art Center Opened at SUA

2014

SUA-Education Leadership and Societal Change Masters Program

As Table 1 shows, the Soka School System is continuing to expand. Now, there is a yearly graduation of thousands of students from Soka School facilities. Since opening in 1971, the Kansai Soka High School has graduated more than 20,000 students and now continuously graduates a class of about 500 students. Tokyo Soka High School graduates about 400 students per year.

Soka University Japan has a total enrollment of about 9000 students. The Soka University of America graduate school in Los Angeles, which opened in 1987, offers a Masters of Arts in English as a Second Language Education and has an average graduating class of about thirty students a year. It was moved to the Soka University of America campus in 2007.

The Soka University of America, which opened in 2001, in Orange County California offers a liberal arts undergraduate curriculum. The schools web site reports:

 

“Soka University (SUA), a private, four-year liberal arts college and graduate school located in Aliso Viejo, CA, has been consistently appearing in the top national rankings for Best Value Colleges and Most Diverse Colleges. US News & World Report’s “Best Colleges 2016” ranked SUA in the Top Five in both Best Value and Ethnic Diversity among National Liberal Arts Colleges and #1 in Foreign Student Factor (highest percentage of International Students.)

“Soka offers an 8:1 student/faculty ratio and study abroad for every undergraduate student.  About 60% of Soka University’s students come from the US and 40% have come from more than 40 other countries.  Admitted students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less may be eligible for Soka Opportunity Scholarships which cover full tuition.  Additional scholarship opportunities are available for higher income levels.”63

 

In addition to these institutions there are approximately 1000 elementary and eight hundred junior high students going to Soka schools in Tokyo and Osaka.64 There are also a number of children attending a Soka Elementary school in Brazil and Soka Kindergarten schools in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

Interviews with teachers and students who are veterans of the Soka system helped bring the actual functioning of the schools into focus. The big difference that the eight teachers and students interviewed all commented on about the experience in Soka Schools compared with other schools was the family feeling generated. Students see their teachers as friends and the teachers are involved with the lives of each student.

One student told of going from elementary school through Soka Women’s College before coming to the United States to continue her education. She attended Glendale Community College in the Los Angeles area and then completed her degree in microbiology at University of California San Diego. The biggest difference in school for her in the United States was not feeling protected. Unlike at the Soka Schools, in America, she felt completely on her own.

There is a spirit of egalitarianism at the Soka Schools. At the Soka High School in Tokyo, the teachers meet for fifteen minutes every morning to make final communications before the teaching day starts. They meet in the large one room office that all of the teachers and administrators share. The students have free access to the office and to any teacher or administrator in the office.

Soka High Schools employ a version of tracking in which all of the students are put into one of eight academic tracks. The tracks are generally assigned according to the students’ interest, however, tracks 7 and 8 are advanced science and math tracks in which students that want to go to one of the prestigious public universities are groomed. These students get a different type of academic preparation and normally take courses in “cram school” as well.

From elementary school through high school, most classes have about forty students in them. This would conform to the class size of other schools in Japan. Stigler and Hiebert reported that the average eighth grade classroom size was “thirty-seven in Japan.”65

John Koepke, who attended Soka University in Tokyo and then taught for four years at Soka High School believes that Soka High School’s size is being held to 1200 students to ensure good communication between faculty and students. He said the school was smaller than similar schools in the neighborhood.

Alfie Kohn’s writes, “Interestingly, some prominent educators, including Deborah Meier, Thomas Sergiovanni, and the late John Holt have argued that the size of each class is less important that the size of the school.”66 Of course, this was Bill Gates first big reform idea. However, the structure of the classrooms in the Japanese Soka Schools may have more to do with the dictates of the Ministry of Education than it does with reform education.

It is easy for students going through that Soka School system to get into the next level of school. The only requirement is passing the previous grade and going to an interview at the next level of school with their parents. Students from Soka High School are almost automatically accepted at Soka University, but students from outside of the Soka System go through a rigorous exam process to get into the Soka System.

In addition, the incoming student’s grades from high school are heavily factored into the acceptance formulas at Soka University and Soka Women’s College. Therefore, at Soka High School only the track 7 and 8 students who want to go to one of the famous public universities take cram school to prepare for the national exams.

During interviews, the Soka educators pointed out that in Japan the Ministry of Education controls all aspects of education including textbooks. If a school is going to be accredited, it can only use the textbooks that are prescribed. It is a difficult and time consuming process to get a change approved. If a College wants to offer a new field of study, it must get approval from the Ministry of Education.

In the years leading to the opening of Soka University of America (SUA), Dr. Ikeda put special emphasis on the importance of the creation of this institution. As an example he said, “As its founder, I am committed to bold experimentation and full implementation of the ideals of value-creating education.”67 This comment seems to indicate that Dr. Ikeda expects value-creating pedagogy to be advanced to new levels at SUA.

Dr. Alfred Balitzer, the first Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Political Science at SUA, suggested in an interview that there is enhanced political freedom for schools to experiment with education in the United States, but he felt that Dr. Ikeda has more reasons than that for his expectations of SUA. He said that Dr. Ikeda wants an International student body and that the United States is the best location for that purpose. One of the stated purposes of SUA is the development of global citizens.68 He also mentioned that Dr. Ikeda feels in the United States that all issues can be discussed with a kind of openness that does not exist in Japan.

SUA students are required to participate in a study or intern program outside of the United States before they graduate. The SUA classes are small seminar style classes with the teachers taking the role of mentor. Students and teachers are encouraged to develop close relationships in which the students feel free to ask questions.

The leaders of Soka Education are implementing humanistic student-centered education on an unprecedented scale. Alfie Kohn says, “It would seem that traditional education sometimes provides students with basic skills but rarely with a penetrating understanding of what lies behind those skills, how they’re connected, or how they can be thoughtfully applied.”69 Makiguchi and his successor Daisaku Ikeda would agree. Dr. Ikeda defines what it means to be well educated:

 

“Those who may be considered truly well-educated people possess their own clear system of values, their own clear beliefs and opinions, not borrowed from someone else. They base their lives on their own firm convictions, and they do not simply follow convention. They refuse to be led astray by others, and they are armed with broad knowledge and a sharp intelligence with which to penetrate the essence of life and society. These are the qualities of a well-educated person.”70

Soka Education is striving to show a way to create this kind of well-educated person and reform-minded educators should observe this experiment with hope.

 

Notes:

1) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 5.

2) Ibid., Page 7 (Langemann quote in Kohn).

3) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 29.

4) Ibid.

5) Ibid., Page 18.

6) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Education Toward Global Civilization.” speech at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. June 13, 1996 in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 100.

7) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 43.

8) Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964. Page ix. (Originally published in Japanese in 1930).

9) Ibid., Page 24.

10) Ibid., Page 15.

11) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 18.

12) Ibid.

13) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 29.

14) Ibid.

15) Ibid., Page 30

16) Ibid., Page 30

17) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

18) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

19) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 90.

20) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 11.

21) Ibid. Page 7.

22) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 36.

23) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

24) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

25) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

26) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 87.

27) Ibid.

28) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

29) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 142.

30) Mossier, Richard. Quoted in Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 144.

31) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 102.

32) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

33) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 100.

34) Ibid.

35) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

36) Ibid., Page 78

37) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 29.

38) Haris, William T. quoted in Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 43.

39) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 40.

40) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

41) Ibid., Page 57.

42) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

43) Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. “Some Principals of Stratification.” American Sociological Review Volume 10, number 2. 1945. Page 243.

44) Turner, Ralph. “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System.” American Sociological Review. 1959. Page 856.

45) Ibid., Page 857.

46) Ibid., Page 863.

47) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974.

48) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 27.

49) Ibid., Page 28.

50) Parsons, Talcott. “The School Class as a Social System: Some of Its Functions in American Society.” Harvard Education Review – Volume 29 – Number 4. Fall 1959. Page 312.

51) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 75.

52) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 9.

53) Wilcox, Kathleen “Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.” from Spindler, George (ed.). Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982. Page 304.

54) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 10.

55) Fromm, Erich. Foreword to Summerhill by A.S. Neill. New York: Hart. 1960.

56) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 119.

57) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 595.

58) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 16.

59) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 596.

60) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 86.

61) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 98.

62) Ibid., Page 149.

63) Soka University of America. http://www.soka.edu/about_soka/default.aspx, accessed July, 2016.

64) Soka Gakkuen. “History of Soka Schools.”  http://www.kansai.soka.ed.jp/. 2002.

65) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 28.

66) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 156.

67) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 89.

68) Ibid.

69) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 233.

70) Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 187.

 

List of Works Cited:

Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994.

Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. “Some Principals of Stratification.” American Sociological Review Volume 10, number 2. 1945.

Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001.

Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999.

Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983.

Neil A.S. Summerhill. New York: Hart. 1960.

Soka Gakkuen. “History of Soka Schools.”  http://www.kansai.soka.ed.jp/. 2002.

Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986.

Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Turner, Ralph. “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System.” American Sociological Review. 1959.

Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974.

Wilcox, Kathleen “Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.” from Spindler, George (ed.). Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982.

Standardized Control

24 Sep

“He had been educated only in that innocent and ineffectual way in which the Catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man but kept a child.” [1] Henry David Thoreau’s description of his visitor at Walden’s pond seems a likely description of the result of standards based education and testing. Known derisively as “test and punish” education, standards based education is a behaviorist theory. This is a philosophy that is antithetical to human growth and development; to the development of capable actors in a democratic society.

Education is a social science. Societies are so complex that cause and effect relationships are obscured. Therefore, education theories are not provable in the same way as physics theories. Our beliefs about education are necessarily driven more by philosophy than experimental result. Of course skilled social scientists observe pedagogy in action and share their observations, but it’s still only good guidance and not a proven principle like buoyancy.

During graduate school at UCSD, my chemistry buddy and I would marvel at the kind of weak evidence that was offered as proof for education theories. In my previous career, I had seen theories with substantial evidence supporting them – obliterated. There used to be a theory that the paramagnetic limit for the amount of information that could be magnetically stored was 20 gigabits in a square inch. I was on a team that demonstrated 78 gigabits in a square inch. That breakthrough has led to today’s cheap terabyte hard-drives and the abandonment of a popular theory. In social science, theories are never so clearly defeated.

Today, education is rife with unproven assertions which are often not tested at all. Such as: standards based education is good, a national curriculum is needed, common core standards are internationally bench-marked, college and career readiness standards must be implemented, international testing is producing important data proving the failure of US schools, standards based testing is meaningful, teacher evaluations should include value added measures, no-excuses charter schools are good pedagogy, public schools are failing, private business can do education better and cheaper, teachers and their unions are the biggest obstacles to improved education. The list of assertions without proof in education is seemingly endless.

It is how we think about human value that is the prism by which we must construct our education programs. Last year, two German writers, Sija Graupe and Jochen Krautz, wrote an article about the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “From Yardstick to Hegemony.” They tell us that “ the OECD which – as initiator of the PISA assessment process – has since the 1960s and on its own account “become central, providing indicators of educational performance that not only evaluate but also help shape public policy.”

Gaupe and Krautz make their point through quoting OECD documents:

“The OECD program has declared war on the established plurality of educational goals and discourses (which have consistently reflected and renewed these goals) in order to replace it with a single novel concept: ‘Schools should lay the very foundation for the attitudes, desires and expectations motivating a nation to pursue progress and to think and act economically.’

“The OECD Conference documentation of 1961 declares unequivocally: ‘It goes without saying that the educational system must be an aggregate of the economy, it is just as necessary to prepare people for the economy as real assets and machines. The educational system is now equal to highways, steel works and chemical fertilizers”. Thus the claim can be made “without blushing and with good economic conscience that the accumulation of intellectual capital is comparable to the accumulation of real capital – and in the long range may outmatch it.'”

The OECD has it philosophically backward and that leads directly to behaviorism and dehumanized education. The OECD views citizens as state assets instead of seeing the state as existing for the benefit of its citizens. From Yardstick to Hegemony contains this clear analysis of the situation:

“The environment to which pupils and students are to adapt is not the economy of real experience but rather a mere ideal concept generated by mainstream economists, particularly those of the Chicago School of Economics who, in their pursuit of ‘economic imperialism’, have applied it to education: Its concept of a market is a purely abstract super-conscious price and coordination mechanism according to which all human activity must be aligned. What this unrealistic worldview setting in turn impedes is any critique or will to change because rather than being understood by the public as a theoretical construct it is, according to the neoliberal economist August Hayek, accepted by most as an immediately evident truth. Whether they are true or false, economic theories and all assessments based on these (such as PISA) determine reality. Those who choose criteria as a yardstick for everything else establish an arbitrary point of standardization where verification need not be feared. These ungrounded criteria then become – untested and without further thought – the defining norm for all further actions. As long as people believe having more PISA points is better than less in order to be successful economically they will, of course, do everything they can to acquire more. Education is then forced to uncritically yield to the pressure of comparative assessment, even if it is based on pure assertion.

In 1891, the National Education Association met in Toronto, Canada. It was at this meeting that James H. Baker’s committee made its report on the need for standardizing education. It’s a natural tendency that as a movement matures people will appear who want to standardize it. The main argument for needed standardization was the difficulty high schools were having creating classes that prepared students for entry requirements at Universities because the requirements were so varied. The Baker Committee report led to the establishment of the Committee of Ten and the first curricular standards in the United States in 1894.

I wanted to read the Baker Report myself and while looking for it I found a wonderful essay called “The School of the Future” by Francis W. Parker from the Cook County Normal School, Chicago, Illinois. He was writing about the common school movement (page 82):

“It was the inspired conviction of our forefathers that common education is as essential to democratic government and growth as air is to life. Our forefathers had an inspiration and a belief; they had no prescribed plan, or no precedent for that plan. They did not have the least conception of the mighty growth of the seed which they planted.

“The common school furnishes the essential principles in the development and perpetuation of a democracy, and its growth and progress has been purely democratic; it has been and is, “of the people, for the people, and by the people.” The common school had its birth in the New England school district; and the New England school district with the town is the root from which sprung all the democratic forms of government which have developed in our country. In a word, the spirit and nourishment of the common-school system has always depended, and depends today, entirely upon the will of the majority. State and national officials are given little more than advisory influences.

“There has been no active attempt at centralization. It is exceedingly difficult for our foreign friends and critics to understand our so-called school system. They are accustomed to look upon public schools from the standpoint of centralization, which produces uniformity, conformity and evenness, so that the endless variety, the total lack of uniformity, the innumerable differences which our schools present, is to them almost incomprehensible.

“Each and every school district has a pronounced individuality. Every state and stage of progress, from the early nebulous formative period to the highest products of Oswego and Bridgewater, may now be found in adjoining districts.

“The soul seeking peace and comfort under the dominance and permanence of fixed ideals shrinks with dismay from the inevitable blunders, stupidity, ignorance and calamities that invariably accompany all democratic growth. The short road of centralization seems to reach in a day that which takes years to accomplish under the patient waiting for that slow dawning of intelligence which leads to right action on the part of democratic communities.

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. That which has its birth in the desires and intelligences of the people, and is applied by the will of the people, becomes an organic, permanent factor in the progress of civilization of that people. It is rooted and grounded upon the people-‘Vox populi. Vox dei.’ But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.

“Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.”

The renowned historian, Arnold Toynbee established criteria for judging whether a civilization was in a stage of growth or decline. 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.”[2]

I believe there is a superior way. Both John Dewey and the Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi counseled against standardized education. Dewey stated “Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.”[3] And Makiguchi theorized that “Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”[4]

In 1894, when the Committee of Ten was doing its work, very few teachers were well educated. Many only had high school diplomas. It is understandable that education leaders felt the need to provide teachers with detailed curricular guidance. Today that is not the case.

Salesmen trying to advance their charter schools might claim that they are innovative but they are not. The no-excuses charter schools are little more than behaviorist test preparation institutions. It is regressive education that borders on child abuse. The charter school movement which was originally viewed as an innovation incubator, but it has devolved into a blatant scheme to enhance corporate profits at the expense of tax payers.

There is an alternative. In 2015, there is scarcely a school district that does not have multiple professionals in education with doctorates and masters degrees on staff. Our public schools are perfectly positioned to lead American education to new heights and they do not need imposed standards. We have the intellectual and human resources needed for unlimited advancement, but they are being stymied by politicians and billionaire dilettantes that have no understanding of what good education is.

Stop all this imposing standards and testing baloney and allow our highly educated, dedicated and skillful national teaching corps to once again dazzle the world. Preserve our amazing public education system and protect it from voracious profiteers and their schemes to steal public funding for education.

  1. Thoreau Henry David, Walden, Thomas Y. Crowell Company (Apollo Edition, 1966) © 1961. Page 196
  2. Arnold Toynbee (DC Somervell), “A study of History” abridgement Volume 1 – VI, Oxford University Press, 1946, page 555
  3. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916. Page 203
  4. Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001 Page 18

New ESEA Continues “Reign of Error”

16 Aug

In September both the house and senate versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) are scheduled for a conference committee. Since 1965, title I of this law has provided money to schools with children living in poverty. That provision is beneficial, but it has unfortunately become the lever that congress uses to wrestle control of schools away from local communities and parents. Both proposed versions of this rewrite do exactly that.

The new ESEA should be blown up in conference and any legislator who supports the federalization of public schools should be thrown from office.

Many people I agree with most of the time say about the new ESEA proposal, “It is not perfect but it is an improvement over NCLB and it limits the power of the secretary of education.” That is all true but the proposed law still arrogates unwarranted power to the federal government; putting curricular choice and education theory in the hands of politicians and their patrons.

We already have a generation of teachers that have never seen education without standards and what Peter Greene calls the “Big Test.” This legislation ordering testing and standards will continue the real damage being done to our schools and children.

My title that says the new ESEA continues the “Reign of Error” is a tip of the hat to Diane Ravitch’s latest book. In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane recounts her journey from being an architect of standards based education and accountability as Assistant Secretary of Education in the George H. W. Bush administration to her present strong opposition to these ideas.

Diane tells of reviewing 20 years of work materials and coming to a new understanding. On page 13, she says:

“Before long, I found that I was reverting to my once familiar pattern as a friend and supporter of public education. Over time, my doubts about accountability and choice deepened as I saw the negative consequences of their implementation.”

Now, Diane’s old boss, former Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, is the chairman of the senate education committee. He is still very much enamored with standards and accountability. His version of the new ESEA states the purpose of title I:

“The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equitable, and significant opportunity to receive a high-quality education that prepares them for postsecondary education or the workforce, without the need for postsecondary remediation, and to close educational achievement gaps.”

Sounds wonderful but then the senators threaten to take away all federal money to schools with children at or below the poverty line unless they adopt the senate’s edicts on education. The house does the same.

Since more than 20% of children in the US live at or below the federal guidelines for poverty, state education budgets will be devastated if they do not comply with federal authority. States became dependent on these monies when it was originally offered in 1965 without the federal mandates about how to teach, what to teach and how to evaluate teaching.

The meat of federal control in the senate version of the new ESEA starts in section 1111. Here, senators transform local school boards into tax collectors who enact authoritarian mandates from federal and state bureaucrats. Parents and educators no longer have significant input into their own school’s policies.

From the senate bill:

Section 1111 paragraph “(B) describes how the State will implement evidence-based strategies for improving student achievement under this title and disseminate that information to local educational agencies.”

“(1) CHALLENGING STATE ACADEMIC STANDARDS.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—Each State shall provide an assurance that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards (referred to in this Act as ‘challenging State academic standards’), which achievement standards shall include not less than 3 levels of achievement, that will be used by the State, its local educational agencies, and its schools to carry out this part. A State shall not be required to submit such challenging State academic standards to the Secretary.

(C) SUBJECTS.—The State shall have such standards in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science, and any other subjects as determined by the State, which shall include the same knowledge, skills, and levels of achievement expected of all public school students in the State.”

“(2) ACADEMIC ASSESSMENTS.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—Each State plan shall demonstrate that the State educational agency, in consultation with local educational agencies, has implemented a set of high-quality statewide academic assessments that—
(i) includes, at a minimum, academic statewide assessments in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science; and”

This language that mandates standardized education held accountable by testing goes on for many pages. Then section 1114 describes mandated intervention strategies for schools that do poorly on the “Big Test.”

The ESEA rewrite in both houses of congress orders a behaviorist approach to education driven by the terrible pedagogical theory known as standards based education. It is a mechanized approach. The problem is that young humans are not mechanisms.

Even if standards were to be adopted they should be adopted by the local communities not amateur educators serving in the United States congress who have the power to impose their will on local communities that they have never seen.

Federal control of schools by forced testing is based on the belief that the “Big Test” accurately identifies learning or teaching. It absolutely does no such thing. The “Big Test” does reflect the condition of the neighborhood from which a school’s students are drawn; however, these conditions completely mask any test derived information about the quality of the school or its teachers.

Jessica Holloway-Libell and Audrey Amrein-Beardsley released a meta-study this July which cites overwhelming evidence that schemes like Value Added Measures (VAM) are completely unsupported by research. It is the latest paper in a long string of papers that show that evaluating schools and teachers by standards based testing is folly. It does not give any information about the quality of education. The “Big Test” is USELESS as a tool to evaluate teacher or school performance.

I recently wrote a response to my congressman, Scott Peters about his involvement in the house version of the ESEA rewrite. I wrote:

“The best school accountability is performed by regional accrediting agencies which send in teams of current educators who spend a week or more evaluating each school. They interview; administrators, teachers, students, non-certified staff and parents. They visit every class room and analyze all school documents including action plans. Finally they give useful feedback with a clear idea of what they expect in the way of improvement going forward.”

The path of success in American education which has led to our great democratic social success and world leadership in: science, mathematics, literature, the arts and economics is local control. If education theories are good they will propagate. If they are bogus theories like accountability and standards which have never been adopted without coercion, they will die a natural death.

Authoritarian models always fail because they eventually adopt bogus theories by compulsion. The US congress cannot succeed as school board of America. Reject the new ESEA and its unwise usurpation of local school governance.

“Is TFA a CULT?”

12 May

By T. Ultican 5/12/2015

This question arose from the audience at a recent NPE (Network for Public Education) colloquium on the TFA (Teach for America) – my answer, “no, TFA is not a cult.” However, the question is not without merit. Cynical actors are taking advantage of sincere young people for personal power and profit. In the same way that military organizations take undisciplined and timid youths, isolate them, stress them and indoctrinate them with a certain ethic.

TFA indoctrinates its new corps members with a behaviorist and market based education ideology. It is not the Peoples Temple in Guyana but it is in the words of Chad Sommer it is “an incubator for transforming social justice minded youths into advocates for Koch-brothers style education policies.”

NPE held its 2015 convention two blocks up the street from Lake Michigan in the historic Drake Hotel. Sunday morning, I went from breakfast with hundreds of BATs, teachers, and parents, who believe public education is important enough to fight for, to a session focused on the TFA. On my way, I passed by a large open room with thirty or so well appointed tables just off the lobby. Since the construction of the Drake in 1920, high tea has been served there every day.

I recalled the story a teacher from Minnesota told me. In 1947, a public school teacher from a poverty stricken rural community not far from Minneapolis had driven her five eighth-graders to Chicago and treated them to high tea at the Drake. My new friend from Minnesota said that her eighty-year-old mother still counts that among the greatest memories of her life.

The expert panel at the TFA session:

Moderator: Julian Vasquez Heilig, Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program at Sacramento State University and a founding board member of the NPE.

Professor, Terica Butler earned her Doctoral degree from the Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership at University of Memphis in May 2014. Her research emphasis was on alternative paths to teacher credentialing which included researching the training of TFA corps members.

Annie Tan, is currently a special education teacher in Chicago public schools with a master degree in special education. She was a member of TFA corps class of 2011 placed in a Chicago charter school.

Chad Sommer, with a degree in marketing, became a member of the TFA corps class of 2011 placed in Chicago public elementary school.

 Jameson Brewer, Ph.D. student in Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana was a member of TFA corps class of 2010 placed at Carver High School in Atlanta, Georgia.

Katie Osgood is a special education teacher in Chicago currently working at a psychiatric hospital. She also taught special education in the Chicago Public Schools. She holds a Masters in Elementary and Special Education from DePaul University.

It may be possible to criticize the quality of some of this panel’s judgments, but one point is clear, their research and advocacy will not pave the way to personal profit or power in the same way that being pro-TFA could.

A path to political power and prestige is available to corps members and researchers who support these three positions: (1) Education outcomes are the responsibility of teachers and there are no excuses for teachers who fail to raise test scores. (2) Authoritarian leadership is required in both the classroom and in the administration of schools. (3) Market based principles are the path to scholastic improvement and standardized testing is the only reliable measurement of that improvement. Each of the panel members pushed back against these market-based “reform” positions that are profoundly embedded within TFA.

Professor Heilig opened the proceedings with a few brief personal remarks. He told us of his own experience at forums to discuss TFA and facing rooms packed by TFA corps members and supporters. He also mentioned that TFA with the backing of large private funding from organizations like the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations pays staffers on Ed-committees in Washington DC for both the Democrats and the Republicans.

TFA is an organization that is both willing and able to play power politics to get its agenda enacted.

Professor Butler observed that the summer five week training course did not equip the corps members for a full time teaching schedule in the fall. Summer-school students are only in class for four hours a day and there were normally four corps members assigned to each class. That meant that the TFA corps member student taught by sharing a class and only taught for 1 hour a day. Then in the fall they were hit with six hours a day in a classroom by themselves.

Jameson Brewer and Annie Tan were unusual corps members. They studied education in school and joined TFA to get a job when they could not find a full time teaching position. Somehow even during the height of the depression TFA was able to place its corps members in classrooms across America.

Jameson who went through a university credentialing program prior to TFA told us that he became an example of how well TFA teachers perform in the classroom. He also shared the following table of data with us comparing TFA preparation with preparation by a typical teacher education program.

Student teaching Methods Observations
TFA 16-18 hour 125 hours 2
Typical TEP 630 hours 496 80

Chad Sommer was more typical of the TFA experience. He has written that I was “naively seduced by TFA’s do-gooder marketing pitch. I charged ahead on a mission to close the academic ‘achievement gap’ that TFA blames on incompetent (read unionized) teachers.” With a marketing degree in hand and five weeks of training which included a heavy dose of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion (part of the TFA recipe for teaching), Chad became a new elementary school teacher at a public school in Chicago.

All three former TFA corps members agree that they were taking jobs that would otherwise have gone to a trained educator and Jameson Brewer says he directly replaced an experienced certificated teacher much to the chagrin of the principal that was forced to hire him.

The fundamental messages these corps members received during training were that public schools in America are failing and the cause is bad teaching. Social conditions are just an excuse. Great teachers can overcome “achievement gaps” and not raising test scores means that the teacher is a failure. These failing teacher are sait to have succumbed to “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The sole arbiter of success in a classroom is test scores. This was all part of the TFA academic impact model.

Teach for America and the ‘education entrepreneurs’ who developed the “no excuses” charter school movement (mostly TFA alums) believe that America’s schools are failing and that they have a mission to save our country’s future. People like Doug Lemov, Stacey Boyd and John King, with no substantial background in education (which they see as a strength), started schools.

They Derided education theories taught by university professors. It was clear to them that the first item to fix in schools was discipline so they put children in uniforms, made many rules about everything the children did and enforced those rules harshly. It reminds professional educators of 19th century pedagogy.

Based on behaviorist theory, the “no excuses” model is completely authoritarian and autocratic. While a really skilled practitioners might raise test scores employing these harsh tactics, there are terrible side effects. Students learn to hate learning and creativity is sundered. To use professor Zhao’s metaphor – Rudolph the red-nosed reigndeer will be killed.

I met Annie Tan at breakfast on Saturday morning. As I was headed into lunch after the morning sessions I encountered Annie again. Being a friendly engaging person, she invited me to go with her to find a table. We walked to the front of the giant room accommodating at least 35 tables for 12 and sat down with Jose Vilson, the well-known blogger from New York, Peter Greene AKA Curmudgucation, Jennifer Berkshire AKA EduShyster, and Adell Cothorne, the principle who blew the whistle on Michelle Rhee. Also at the table was Peter Greene’s wife. It was an amazing hour and I discovered that Peter, his wife and Jose are trombone player like myself. Later, I learned that Peter and his wife met through their participation in a community orchestra.

Annie Tan graduated from Columbia University with an emphasis in special education. When she could not get a job, she joined the TFA and was sent to Chicago. Annie was assigned as a special education teacher at a charter school in Chicago. She was the only special education teacher on staff for grades K-4.

The only support she received was during her monthly TFA advisory visits. The school was led by a TFA alum and most of the staff was current or former TFA corps members. Few staff member had more than three years’ experience. In February, Annie’s TFA supervisor (not the principal) informed her she was failing as a teacher by not moving her students fast enough towards success on standardized testing and may be fired.

At the end of the year, she was fired. Four years later, she has a master’s degree in special education and is succeeding as a teacher in the Chicago Public School system.

I know from my personal experience that being labeled a failure is psychically devastating. Primary tenets of corporate inspired “reform” include disruption, labeling a certain percentage of people failures and firing them as a warning to those left behind.

During my first year of teaching, I worked under the Alan Bersin administration in San Diego. Diane Ravitch tells the story of Bersin and the corporate “reform” piloting done by San Diego Unified School District in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I was fired for not moving my students toward achieving standards even though my classes scored extremely well on the district end of course exams.

I had a credential in math, a credential in physics and high test scores but that was all trumped by the requirement to let go a certain number of first year teachers. I was a fifty year-old and that is probably the reason I was targeted. Even though I felt certain the firing had very little to do with my actual performance in the classroom, I was bothered by self-doubt about my abilities as an educator for the next decade.

I am guessing the Annie still believes in some corner of her mind that she failed at her first teaching job and that thought still undermines her confidence. Authoritarianism is a horrible creed and especially horrible when applied to an education environment.

A great warrior for public education, Katie Osgood, made these three assertions: “TFA is a cult; its corps members are exhausted, isolated and only have TFA to attach to.” “TFA is destroying communities of color: they drive out teachers of color.” And “Tenure is a children’s right.” While I quibble with her use of the term cult, I recognize she is the psychiatric professional and I certainly agree that they do use the techniques she describes to change youthful idealistic minds toward a market based ideology.

Her last two claims are unvarnished truth. Katy has been identified by TFA as the number one opponent of TFA on social media. She is relentless and impassioned. I am glad she is on my side. In her “An Open Letter to Teach for America Recruits” Katie writes:

“Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement; that is the message TFA sells so well. But TFA is not progressive. The data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education reform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas.”

And

“Ask yourself: Since when did billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall Street begin to care about the education of poor black and brown children in America? If you follow the money, you will see the potential for mass profit through privatization, new construction, union-busting, and educational service industries. Why would a group dedicated to educational justice partner with these forces?”

On further reflection, I think TFA just might be a cult.

Faux Education Reform or Improved Education (Both are NOT Possible!)

22 Nov

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts about education policy with Congresswomen, Susan Davis (Democrat CA-53). Like many high government office holders, Davis got her start in the 1980’s as a member of the local school board. I immediately launched into my heartfelt belief that standardized testing was destroying public education and leading to the privatizing of public schools. She almost immediately asked me what I find a peculiar and telling question, “How are we going to monitor schools without testing?” This question implies that standards and standardized testing do indeed present a way of evaluating quality of teaching or schools. They do not. It also implies that monitoring schools is the job of the federal government. It is not. And for someone that had almost a decade working with schools not to know what a good job accrediting organizations do monitoring and guiding schools is significant. It demonstrates why it is so important to promote professionalism in the operation of our schools. Politicians and rich businesspeople are not well enough informed about the intricacies and variables involved in education to run schools and dictate policy. We respect the opinions of professionals in other arts such as the medical field when we make policy because they are experts in a complicated field, likewise we should respect professionalism in education because it is an even more complicated field. The bottom line is that since the passage of NCLB the education of children in how to think has atrophied. Like Diane Ravitch prophesized, “And so we may find that we obtained a paradoxical and terrible outcome: higher test scores and worse education.”1 Higher test scores because we made that the ultimate goal of our pedagogy and worse education because children are taught discrete pieces of information to recite but get no practice in using that information to reason and create.

While writing about how standardized testing and mechanical literacy are undermining the experience in school, Francis Lucerna, the co-founder of La Puente, observed, “This is not by accident; there is a reason this is happening and why it’s happening in public schools and not in private schools and other places. This is the education for followers, not for leaders.”2 In other words this type of education reform is the kind of class based reform that John Dewey warned against in 1916, “His own purpose will direct his actions. Otherwise, his seeming attention, his docility, his memorizing and reproductions will partake of intellectual servility. Such a condition of intellectual subjugation is needed for fitting the masses into a society where the many are not expected to have aims or ideas of their own, but to take orders from the few set in authority. It is not adapted to a society which intends to be democratic.”3 In a similar vein, Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the constructivist oriented Soka Education system states, “Learning that has forgotten creativity is a servant of authority. If learning is to serve people, it must continue to create value.”4 For more than a century great education philosophers have warned us about how standards based and behaviorist education vitiates pedagogy; yet here we are in the second decade of the 21st century bringing this kind of injury to the public education system.

How did we get here? Recently I read a book by the renowned educator; cognitive and computer scientist, Roger Schank called Teaching Minds. In a discussion of scripts he writes, “Scripts tell us what will happen next in the aspects of the world that repeat frequently. Anyone who goes to a restaurant knows that when you order food, someone will bring it to you and later you will be expected to pay for it. … People who have scripts often generalize them so that in their own mind they are experts on things they have never experienced. This is what stupid looks like.”5 This seems to be a real cogent explanation of modern education reform led by the likes of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan and the endless list of education reformers with no personal experience either studying or practicing education yet they went to school so they think they are experts. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute wrote about the Race to the Top (RttT) reforms brought to us by the non-educator education reformers that joined the Obama administration from the NewSchools Venture Fund. He observed that they have “published a list of 19 of its best ideas, few of which are truly ‘evidence-based,’ regardless of what President Obama says, and told states to adopt as many of them as possible if they want to get the money. It’s as if a bunch of do-gooders sat together at the NewSchools Venture Fund summit and brainstormed a list of popular reform ideas, and are now going to force them upon the states. (Wait, I think that is how this list got developed.)”6

Almost One hundred years ago John Dewey wrote Democracy and Education, in which he made many cogent and insightful statements about education. Here are a few:

(Page 46) “Why it is that teaching by pouring in and learning by passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so entrenched in practice? That education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process, is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory.”

(Page 122) “An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

(Page 158) “Translated into details, it means the act of learning or studying is artificial and ineffective in the degree in which pupils are merely presented with a lesson to be learned.”

(Page 177) “While all thinking results in knowledge, ultimately the value of knowledge is subordinate to its use in thinking.”

(Page 203) “Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.”

(Page 207) “Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less that a revolution in teaching would be worked.”

(Page 303) “Narrow modes of skill cannot be made useful beyond themselves; any mode of skill which is achieved with deepening of knowledge and perfecting of judgment is readily put to use in new situations and is under personal control.”

(Page 417) “Discipline, culture, social efficiency, personal refinement, improvement of character are but phases of the growth of capacity nobly to share in such a balanced experience. And education is not a mere means to such a life. Education is such a life. To maintain capacity for such education is the essence of morals. For conscious life is a continual beginning afresh.”7

John Dewey may have been America’s greatest thinker about teaching and learning and yet our modern reformers completely ignore him. I suspect many of them have never actually studied education philosophy and many others of them have other motives that have little to do with improving public education. Dewey is hardly the only person to have these same observations about good pedagogy. Roger Shank humorously made the point by stating, “Math and science are not important subjects. There, I said it. Start the lynching. One can live a happy life without ever having taken a physics course or knowing what a logarithm is. … But being able to reason on the basis of evidence is important.”8 Tsunesaburo Makiguchi the insightful Japanese philosopher-educator was fighting against an education philosophy based on producing subjects for the emperor at the same time that John Dewey was fighting against a behaviorist philosophy of education in the United States. Makiguchi wrote, “In-school education should be closely connected in practice with actual social life so that it can transform unconscious living into fully conscious participation in the life of society. Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”9

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, ‘constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.” The philosophy of “constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike. Howard Gardner, the creator of the theory of multiple intelligences, writes, “Piaget’s account of the passage from sensori-motor actions to concrete to formal operations is the best worked-out trajectory of growth in all of developmental psychology.”10 In addition to Piaget’s work, the Russian developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, observed that children have a “zone of proximal development.” “Vygotsky and other educational professionals believed education’s role was to give children experiences that were within their zones of proximal development, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning.”11 This approach to “constructivism” has lead to the idea of scaffolding. The teacher identifies the student’s needs and helps them through the zone of proximal development by questioning or other means until the student not longer needs the aide for constructing understanding. These brilliant insights into how people develop and learn are completely vitiated by standards based education and high stakes testing.

For the past thirty years, educators have been making pilgrimages to the Italian town of Reggio Emilia to observe what may be the best preschool education in the world. The traveling exhibit, “The 100 Languages of Children” was startling to educators in 1991 when it came to the United States and they saw the amazing work of these 4 and 5 year-old students. The heart, soul and educational theorist for the Reggio schools was a remarkable educator name Loris Malaguzzi, a confirmed constructivist. He once stated, “No, our schools have not had, nor do they have, a planned curriculum with units and subunits (lesson plans) as the behaviorists would like. These would push our school toward teaching without learning; we would humiliate the schools and the children by entrusting them to forms, dittos, and handbooks of which publishers are generous distributors.”12 He did not mean there was no planning and reflection but that the Reggio educators were constantly ready to modify their plans depending on how the students engaged. Unfortunately, Reggio Emilia is one of the few places in the world where constructivist education is practiced. Ellen Lagemann, an education historian, writes, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”13 The same general situation in education appears to exist throughout the world.

I conclude after reviewing the observations about how people learn from the best educational minds on four continents that modern education reform in the United States is based on bad philosophy. The KIPP schools which Bill Gates holds up as a model for how education should be done are very behaviorist in their education orientation. Eli Broad completely defies reason when he promotes non-educators with business backgrounds as the best people to hire as education leaders. The Broad approach appears to institutionalize “what stupidity looks like.”  Barak Obama hires a non-educator as the top educator in the country. Together, they promulgate policies that undermine professionalism in education, lionize high stakes testing and make the future of public education vulnerable. As for Congressman Davis’s concern about monitoring schools, there are wonderful professionally based organizations that have been monitoring schools for decades. For example, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) does a great job of looking deeply into the operation and professionalism of schools in the western United States. WASC sends a team of educators from a different region into a school for a weeklong visit in which they review curriculum, school site plans, community involvement and visit many classrooms in progress. These teams are normally lead by a current school principal and are made up of current teachers who all know exactly what a well run school should look like and based on the evidence they gather give the schools valuable feedback. Schools that fail these inspections truly are failures and face the possibility of losing accreditation. If legislators think they need more, then the answer is to add resources to these accrediting agencies that make informed judgments about schools. Standardized testing is an unreliable methodology for evaluating teaching or schools and fuels the impulse toward behaviorism. The one consistent finding about the results of standardized testing is they are most influenced by the financial condition of the neighborhood. Using this unreliable method for evaluating teachers and schools is foolhardy and has lead to great schools being closed and great teachers being unjustly labeled failures.

As the new millennium started, I decided to leave my position as a researcher in Silicon Valley to become an educator. I sought a master’s degree in education at University of California San Diego (UCSD) where I met two amazing educators and thinkers; Professor of Sociology, Hugh ‘Bud’ Mehan and Professor of Mathematics, Guershon Harel.  From Dr. Mehan, the founder of the Pruess School, I learned about the history, politics and theory of effective education. From Dr. Harel, the founder of the Algebraic Thinking Institute, I learned about his amazing theory of education, Duality, Necessity, and Repeated Reasoning (DNR). Dr. Harel taught us about the subtle difference between the ways of thinking and ways of understanding. He presented us with evidence showing that poor teaching methods hurt students’ abilities to understand and their desires to learn. In 2001, all of us in my cadre at UCSD were thrilled to be studying with these great educators and with the idea that we could bring this kind of pedagogy to public schools. But, in 2002, the federal government mandated behaviorism through requiring standards and testing. In the past 10 years, this benighted reform has led to more and more money leaving the classroom to commercial pockets and to schools becoming a more and more onerous places. Now we have Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which are accelerating money out of the classroom to consultants and testing companies and undermining professionalism in education. This week I am presenting a lesson and an assessment on quadratic functions developed by a corporation hired to help us prepare for CCSS. The lesson is not bad but not really remarkable for anything other than more money left my classroom of 40 math students to pay for it. This kind of reform is faux reform which is worse than no reform. We can survive a budget crisis but bad philosophy of education is deeply destructive. Let us have real reform led by professional educators or faux reform led by businessmen and politicians will continue to engender ever degenerating education in America!

1. Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Page 219.

2. Kohl, Herbert and Tom Oppenheim, ed. The Muses Go to School. New York: The New Press. 2012. Page 58

3. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916. Page 356.

4. Ikeda, Daisaku, The New Human Revolution Volume 15. Santa Monica, California: The World Tribune Press. 2008. (Page 189)

5. Shank, Roger. Teaching Minds. New York: Teachers College Press. 2011. Page 101.

6. Petrilli, Michael. “The Race to the Top: The Carrot That Feels Like a Stick,” Flypaper blog, July 23, 2009. http://www.educationgadfly.net/flypaper/2009/07/the-race-to-the-top-the-carrot-that-feels-like-a-stick/

7. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

8. Shank, Roger. Teaching Minds. New York: Teachers College Press. 2011. Page 83.

9. Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001 Page 18

10. Garner, Howard. Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books. 1993. (Page 133)

11. Berk, L and Winsler, A. (1995). “Vygotsky: His life and works” and “Vygotsky’s approach to development”. In Scaffolding children’s learning: Vygotsky and early childhood learning. Natl. Assoc for Educ. Of Young Children. p. 24

12. Edwards, Caroline, Gandini Lella and George Forman, ed. The Hundred Languages of Children 2nd Edition. Westport, Connecticut:, Ablex Publishing, 1998

13. Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 7.