The next generation

Last weekend, I went to a board retreat for our kids school where I sit on the board.  We do this yearly, roughly at the same time, in the city on a Saturday morning from 830-230.  The topics change annually but are chosen with the thought that the board will think bigger about the institution.

This year, Joel Westheimer, came in to speak to us about Educating the "Good" Citizen:  The Politics of Teaching Democracy.  Joel is an incredible speaker.  Articulate, knowledgeable and passionate about this topic.  He is a professor at the University of Ottawa and research Chair of Democracy in Education. He grew up in New York and taught at NYU for many years.  Joel has written a variety of books but the one that we were really discussing was his latest, Pledging Allegiance, the Politics of Democracy in America's Schools.

I have been thinking about the conversations we had all week.  Watching the markets crash this past week made me think even more about our discussions. 

Basically, we are at odds in education.  In the last 7 years, through the policies of the Bush administration such as No Child Left Behind, many states have passed laws that have stopped promoting critical thinking, conversation and discussion.  Teachers have been suspended when kids in their classroom were asked to give an analysis and opinion about the war in Iraq, kids have been suspended for being anti-war.  A political discourse has run into the education system.  That is the public education system.  There is a believe that our public school teachers should be teaching math, English and only one perspective of history that is based on fact, science is still being debated in regards to evolution.  In essence, no multiple perspectives which give no foundation for critical thinking.  Pushing our children not to learn, think or question but just take in what is predetermined by the educators or the politicians. 

It was many hours of conversation which is difficult to compress into a paragraph but in essence I believe that this sort of direction is bad for our country on so many levels.  How does this type of education ( that would be without the arts, music and little phys ed) create the next Jasper Johns, the next Einstein, the next Jesse Owens, the next Martin Luther King.  Have we been so blinded that we have allowed this administration to create a Totalitarian Government? 

What we are creating is a bigger divide between the rich and the not rich.  Children in private schools, such as ours, which is a very progressive independent thinking school that embraces critical thinking, embraces kids that question authority ( in a respectful manner ).  That type of critical thinking allows for teachable moments. 

The lack of controls and accountability the Bush administration has given to the Banks and Insurance companies is the polar opposite of schools.  Heads of the supposed blue chip institutions of our country have gone bankrupt.  The leaders of these companies have taken huge salaries regardless of the poor decisions they have made.  Bad investments, poor decisions and a serious lack of leadership has gone on.  Corporate America at its worst. 

Let's fast forward 20 years from now.  Who will be running these companies?  If our public education system is creating laws so that teachers are not allowed to teach social justice, create room for encouraging creative discussions, not allowing for multiple perspectives of thought, not embracing dialogues for any subject and essentially creating a structural impediment what will America's future look like? 

Are we creating a country of people on cruise control?  Look at what has happened over the past week.  Why on earth would our Government want to control what is being taught in the class with the lesson it is my way or the highway type of learning.  This sort of teaching doesn't necessarily happen in private schools because they are not publicly funded and don't have to follow the formats that have been handed to them to make sure they get money. 

I just don't get the Bush administration.  Let the companies run free, spend all our money abroad not at home, structure our education system to the point where there is no room for multiple perspectives.  This Totalitarian way of thinking in a democracy creates havoc in the long run because people in the US can only stay in power for 8 years.  Although certainly the Supreme Court judges can be long lasting but educating our children is eternal.  What these laws are doing is creating an even broader separation between the wealthy and not wealthy, public and the private.

This whole week has shown us yet again how much of our financial industry relies on people feeling secure.  The heads of corporate America have raped the American public.  There is no confidence.  Separating our country from the haves and have-nots in education will make America weaker not stronger.  

Education is the key to life.  Education which embraces free thinkers is even more important.  Without that, who will be our leaders of tomorrow?  Will America just become a place where the leaders only end up being kids who grew up in the private school system?  Is that the type of America we want our kids to have?  It isn't the type of America I want to live in.  I want to live in a place where we can agree to disagree at at least have the wherewithal to debate through critical thinking. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Chris Ceppi

    Wow – you just blew my mind – seriously. Putting the GOP policies towards business and education side by side really tells the story. Our institutions are all being gamed – not for ideological reasons – but simply to benefit the smallest percentage of people at the top. The resulting inequality is a long term blight on our country. Between killer BBQ recipes and this type of social/political insight, your blog is a unique pleasure. Thank you.

  2. Geoff

    An excellent post and oh so dispiriting – you are quite correct, critical thinking skills are essential. Here in the UK schools have become sausage factories. Totally obsessed in learning the National Curriculum and passing tests & exams – no place for independent thought or learning real life skills.

  3. Matt

    The Federal govt has very little influence on education in this country. Most funds are controlled and spent at the local level. The real tragedy in education and one of the root causes of the issue is that local politicians (yes Joanne, usually Democrats) consistently block options for school choice so that poor kids get trapped poor in performing schools. Teachers unions resist accountability and competition, the two things we need the most. More and more money gets spent and we have little to show for it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I am not a fan of unions. Agreed, they hold a lot back. Yes laws are being passed at the State level but ideas and expectations (no child left behind) comes directly from the top which is the Federal Government. Walk in any company and the heads set the tone and environment. The Bush administration has set the tone for how they expect education to be taught in our country which is without conversation and free thinking. Just learn to test. If the scores are good then we have done our job. I couldn’t disagree more.joanne [email protected]

      1. Matt

        I do not understand the comment on tone setting. I know how it works in companies. I think you are giving too much credit to the role of the federal government in this case. I’m sure we’ll continue to disagree.How would you propose measuring education? Are you against national standards and measurement of any sort?Remember that many failing schools have and had zero effectiveness in teaching anything. For these schools, strict performance measurement is fitting and appropriate.If we had more choice in schools, parents themselves could decide to send their children to schools who employ methods and emphasize results with which they agree.One more comment. Research has shown that differences in education performance can be attributed to four variables (there may be fifth, but I always forget it):- Whether or not there are two parents in the home- The quantity of reading by parents- The quantity of homework- The quantity of reading done by the kidsThe federal govt is not a factor in these (nor should it be)

        1. Jonathan

          My perspective is that we have two children, each have been enrolled in both NYC public and private schools (and currently have one in each). The movement toward a testing culture and standardized curriculum is a reaction to the better test scores that kids in so many other countries get. Our math scores stink vs the Japanese or Chinese or Koreans. Our reading scores are worse than [fill in the blank]. Blah, blah, blah. Teaching to the test is a natural reaction. When my 4th grader took a test which determined which Public Middle School she could go to, we were thankful that the school (PS6 in Manhattan – one of the most highly regarded schools in the City) prepared the kids. We liked the rigor and organization that came with preparing them for the test. It was the right approach for that child. Public school kids have to pass certain Regents tests to graduate high school, so the “teach to the test” probably extends throughout high school in most schools (to say nothing of Federal mandates on testing).I agree that this kind of system is not encouraging the sort of learning that promotes innovation or critical thinking. It doesn’t encourage learning for the sake of learning. Rote memorization is good for a drivers permit test, but pretty bad training for adult life. I am reminded of the story my older daughter told me about when, as a 10th grader, she was in an exchange program in Paris for two weeks. One teacher, in what is considered one of the best schools in Paris, sat at a desk reading material out loud. When she finished, the teacher then repeated what she had done. Students transcribed every word. No questions. No discussion. Nada (other than periodic memory-driven tests). Amazed and depressed, my daughter asked a friend if this was typical. It was. This is an extreme, but is the direction we, as a country, are heading.Is the logical conclusion that to train critical thinkers you need to go to progressive private schools? I certainly hope not. Will local control of public schools allow the flexibility that is necessary? When everyone is expected to perform to the same test, will there really be any choice except to fall into the “teach to the test” trap? I think the public school our younger child goes to marches to a different drummer and is an extraordinarily creative place, but time will tell.One more thing…Matt: take a look at… . I think it speaks for itself.

  4. bonny

    Once again, you are dead on! Thanks for voicing this unfortunate reality so eloquently. I also opted for private schools for our two boys. Thank goodness that is a choice that we are able to pursue. Many are not so fortunate.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It is the not so fortunate I worry about it. What type of world will it befor children that are fortunate to not have the opportunity to meet anddebate and compete with kids that have a very different set of lifeexperiences and visa versa. That is what makes our country great.

  5. Slave Revolt

    I think your heart is in the right place, but you haven’t even explored the rudiments of your subject matter–education and the public good in the United States.As essential, I would recommend John Taylor Gatto’s “Underground History of American Education”. Gatto was teacher of the year for New York state, and you can download the entire book free online. So there is no excuse for wallowing in your own ignorance.First off, you have to understand that social/politcal elites don’ t want poor people to use education to challenge the status quo. This is on the level of truism anywhere in the world.All this talk about ‘choice’ in the contexts of huge disparities in resources is quite hypocritical and points up the depth to which critical thinking skills have been retarded in the US.Lastly, the fact that you don’t support Unions implicates you in a massive brainwashing directed at the population of the US on behalf of the people that would configure you into a life of wage-slavery. Really, what are you saying and advocating when you don’t want workers to have a voice in the conditions of their work? This is the slave-mentality that is bringing to US down to the level of thrid-world squalor.There is no use even having a discussion when your general ignorance on these issues cannot be challenged. Read Gatto’s book, then engage a community in a deeper discussion–then get off your ass and do something about what you see as wrong. But this would require sacrifice, changing your behavior, and no solely blaming others for the dire situation that you are concerned about.

    1. rachel

      I think accusing someone of believing in slavery because they don’t support unions is a bit harsh and absurd. Of course the GG thinks people should have a voice in the “conditions” of their work, but there are many groups of people who effectively have a voice and are treated well without unions.

      1. Gotham Gal

        Thanks Rachael. Appreciate the support. I believe that unions have their place in history but they have destroyed the airline and automobile industries in our country. Not sure what the answer is but the desire of the unions to “keep” jobs and “income” at a level doesn’t work as we have become a global economy and need to compete at a certain price. The inflation of these incomes and keeping people who are not productive because the union protects them isn’t good for the global economy. On the other hand, what happens to these people who can’t support their families? I don’t know the answer but perhaps without the unions (at this point of our history) other businesses would been able to grow.joanne [email protected]

    2. Gotham Gal

      I have been involved in education for over 10 years in a wonderfulorganization called MOUSE. http://www.mouse.orgStarted out wiring schools and now we are in over 150 schools in NYC, 10states and 25 countries.

  6. New West Living

    You realize that in America you have Capitalism not democracy. The staunch supporter of this system, Milton Friedman, didn’t believe in democracy; he believed in Capitalism. He believed in killing innocent people in socialist countries so America can change their governments into a capitalist society. Chile comes to mind.Capitalism kills; Capitalism goes to war; Capitalism pollutes, Capitalism discriminates, Capitalism ignores international laws; Capitalism allows the underprivelidged to die; Capitalism is the biggest threat to human civilazation.Capitalism creates failed states.So stop whining. This is what you signed up for: UNABASHED CAPITALISM.

    1. Sethop

      Dissent is not “whining”. Dissent and debate are signs of a healthy democracy. America should have more of it, not less.Capitalism and Democracy come in many flavors. Some are worse than others. They are certainly not mutually exclusive. Your comment that GG “signed up” for something simply by virtue of where she lives makes it sound like you come from a totalitarian nation. Maybe you should focus on reforming your own government, because totalitarianism is far more destructive than capitalism.

      1. New West Living

        It’s ironic that this post is about education and you use Bill O’Reily tactics i.e. ad hominem when you miserably fail to understand the very basic permise of capitalism. Perhaps you should read before you talk/post?You have 60 million uninsured in your beloved country. In civilized nations we call this totalitarianism, a direct result of capitalism.In the meantime, enjoy the theatre of absurd called McCain vs Obama (Coke vs Pepsi) campaign. Change sure is coming.

        1. Sethop

          1) “O’Reilly” has two l’s. 2) “Ad hominem” would be me leading my previous comment with “you score a big fat FAIL in Critical Thinking 101, buddy”. 3) “Ironic” is that I originally *did* lead with that, but took it out because I felt like being constructive, and then you accused me of ad-hominem anyway! 4) If McCain vs Obama is Coke vs Pepsi then why do you say change is coming? Or was that a lame attempt at sarcasm? FWIW, you have utterly failed to grok the big O. He rocks. 5) I don’t live in the USA. I live in a nation where they teach sufficient critical thinking skills such that we can still tell the difference between totalitarianism, capitalism, and a lack of socialized healthcare (and for the record, I approve of socialized healthcare).

          1. New West Living

            He rocks?Dude you need to think really hard about your kool -aid addiction.”I don’t live in the USA. I live in a nation where they teach sufficient critical thinking skills”That’s oxymoron? don’t believe me? look in the mirror.

          2. Sethop

            Obama has the best Kool-aid going.But given that you appear to be using non-standard definitions for simple words like capitalism, totalitarianism, irony and ad-hominem, and that I’m really not much of an English teacher, there seems little point in continuing this banter.

          3. New West Living

            “Obama has the best Kool-aid going. “A Kool aid is a kool aid, dude.”I’m really not much of an English teacher”You’re really not much of a logical thinker either. Another failure of American education system. Sad really.

          4. Sethop

            As we discussed about 24 hours ago, in this very thread, I don’t live in America, and was not educated there. Since you can’t seem to read, understand, or remember anything I say, there really is no point talking to you. Goodbye.

          5. New West Living

            Didn’t you say “Obama has the best Kool-aid going? “And I said, kool aid is a kool aid.The very fact that you are proud of being a kool aid drinker is very telling.

          6. New West Living

            1) “O’Reilly” has two l’s.The depth of your critical thinking skills. Good luck with that.