28 July 2008

Imposing Educational Outcomes

Originally posted at American Thinker.

Two articles in the last week indicate just how far some attitudes about education have shifted away from something students work for and toward it being a birthright, an entitlement. Somewhat paradoxically, education is often portrayed as something which can be imposed upon a student; the student is the passive object of the transitive verb "educate".

The first example comes from The Schott Foundation for Public Education's study of graduation rates among student racial sub-populations. According to Ednews, the study "documents that states and most districts with large Black enrollments educate their White, non-Hispanic children, but do not similarly educate the majority of their Black male students." The executive summary of the report cites various bits of statistical evidence and claims these represent "a school-age population that is substantively denied an opportunity to learn". Nowhere in the executive summary are student or parent attitudes concerning the value and importance of education mentioned. Neither are other social and cultural factors - massive single parenthood, gangster/thug culture, etc.

It is important to notice how the phrase "a [black] school-age population that is substantively denied an opportunity to learn" turns these potential learners into objects to be acted upon, to be manipulated. The schools must educate them. This wording would have the reader believe that they, the potential learners, are and ought to be passive. They are far from passive, and they ought not to be. The real question is which way the potential learner will move, toward or away from opportunity.

The second example regards a federal court ruling. According to the Austin-American Statesman, "U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice said the Texas Education Agency is violating the civil rights of Spanish-speaking students under the federal Equal Education Opportunity Act." Suit was brought by advocacy groups, led by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Judge Justice's reasoning is simple: the state of Texas is not teaching English Language Learners (ELL) effectively, and state mandated monitoring of these students is "arbitrary". He wrote:

"The clear failure of secondary LEP [limited English proficiency] students unquestionably demonstrates that, despite its efforts, TEA [Texas Education Agency] has not met its obligation to remedy the language deficiencies of Texas students. After a quarter century of sputtering implementation, defendants have failed to achieve results that demonstrate they are overcoming language barriers for secondary LEP students." (Emphasis added.)

Notice how, as in the first example, the student is casted as the object in Judge Justice's statement. The student must have his barriers overcome for him; the state must do the heavy lifting. This attitude takes no account of student desire - or even willingness - to learn English. This is despite the fact that many LEP Spanish-speaking students can function in daily life outside of school without any knowledge of the English language. Yet Judge Justice has ruled that the state and the various independent school districts must overcome these language barriers for them.

Neither the Schott Foundation's study nor Judge Justice's ruling will do much, if anything, to help the student populations they supposedly seek to help. They both demand equality of outcome without casting students in a positive, active, and ultimately controlling role. And I mean controlling in a very positive sense. Every student, regardless of socio-economic or cultural background (or, indeed, mental capacity) can achieve. Equal opportunity for educational success cannot be truly guaranteed, only approximated. And while it is true that educators must take advantage of every teachable moment, it is infinitely more important for the student to take advantage of them. After all, education is not for the teacher or the state; it is for the student. Those who would rhetorically make the student into an object to be acted upon actually damage the student's potential for success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great insights, Bob. More "learned helplessness" here.

Love the Barzun quote.