I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

You may still be on summer break, but here at ILYBYGTH International we are back to school. And that means back to reading headlines and crying in our coffee. Here are some of the stories that upset us this week:

“The Lynching Industry:” W.E.B. DuBois’s 1916 account of a lynching, at Slate.

lynching crowd

The ugly historic truth…

The Maryland mess: Big-time-sporting unto death, at IHE.

Free college tuition? Or 2020 election scam? At Chalkbeat.

Americans aren’t the only ones who don’t know their history. Almost half of Russians are not aware of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, at the Guardian.

“This will go down in your permanent record:” Florida’s new hyper-surveillance of students, at Curmudgucation.

Suddenly, the same-sex rules matter at an Indiana Catholic school, at FA.

Colorado’s no-gay-wedding baker back in the courts, at RNS.

Banning Alex Jones: Steve Coll at the New Yorker.

It’s not that white evangelicals are supporting Trump in spite of their religion. Some Trumpists are making Trump their religion, says Alex Wager at the Atlantic.

Trumpism proposes a system of worship formed in direct opposition to bourgeois moral logic, with values that are anti-intellectual and anti–politically correct. If mainline Protestantism is a bastion of the educated, upper-middle class, the Church of Trump is a gathering place for its castoffs.

Higher education on the ropes this week:

Conservative Master’s University is in danger of losing its accreditation, at The Signal.

Evangelical journalists blast evangelical university’s censorship, at World Magazine.

Test score fever: Larry Cuban tells a 1970s tale of test nuttiness.

Wowzers: Teaching a flat earth, at FA.

Canadian evangelical university scraps its mandatory student rules, at CT.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

I spent the week buried in the Philadelphia archives, but somehow the world kept on turnin. Here are a couple of stories this week that have nothing to do with Joseph Lancaster.

Defending Kanye at NR.

pence at hillsdale

Do they care that we’re conservatives?

Pence at Hillsdale commencement—the conservative collegiate long game, at Politico.

A Canadian university wonders: Can only Indigenous professors teach about First-Nations history? At CBC.

Peter Greene tees off on Florida’s standardized tests for five-year-olds. At Curmudgucation.

Should fans of Wendell Berry forsake social media? Matt Stewart makes the case at FPR.

  • “We can rest assured, bonded by our faith in each other’s commitment to at least forsaking Twitter, that we are closer to being localists than to being hipster localists. The distinction is simple: a localist does not have to keep the Big Ether informed of one’s commitment to localism at all times and in all places.”

Get em young: Sarah Pulliam Bailey rides along on a Christian-nationalist kids’ tour of DC. At WaPo.

Gaza protest

Signs of the apocalypse?

Apocalypticism, Trump, and Jerusalem:

School revolts hold the key to stopping Trumpism: Henry Giroux at BR.

Standardized tests…what could go wrong? The fallout from glitchy tests in Tennessee, at Chalkbeat.

Arizona tried to edit evolution out of its science standards, at KNAU.

Asking uncomfortable questions at SMU—“Why are Black people so loud?”—“What is the difference between white trash and white people?” At CHE.

Gratuitous Superbowl Reference: What Does Tommy Brady Have to Do with School Reform?

Okay, I admit it: I don’t know much about sports. I DO know that toilet cleanliness isn’t the first thing I think of when I think of the Superbowl. So if Febreze can horn in on Superbowl frenzy with a stupid ad, then we here at ILYBYGTH feel compelled to try to make some connection to Tommy Brady, too. So here it is: The reason schools are so difficult to reform is because they don’t have clearly painted endzones.

febreze superbowl ad

Like sports? Clean your toilet!

Here’s what we mean: In football, unorthodox thinking gets rewarded, if it works. Coaches who come up with schemes that get the ball across the pylon win games. In schools, unorthodox thinking is much more difficult. Why? Because there isn’t a good way to prove that it works. People like Eva Moskowitz use test scores, but that is clearly inadequate. Would you want your second-grader to endure silent lunches?

Other folks suggest measuring the difference in student knowledge at the end of a year, compared to the beginning, but teachers and researchers howl in protest. With something as complicated as a student’s life, how can you say that you can measure the effectiveness of their classes that way?

In the end, we don’t have a clearly defined goal for what makes schools better, because we don’t have agreement on what counts as “good” when it comes to education.

  • Higher test scores? Sure. But we also want students to learn to think outside the box.
  • Winning at competitions? Of course. But we also want students to get practice working together.
  • Memorizing important information? That’s a good thing, IMHO, in spite of what generations of my progressive comrades have said. But I wouldn’t be happy with a school that did only that.
  • Getting into college? That sounds good, but in practice it usually tells us more about students’ families than their schools.

Bill Belicheck and Tommy Brady can wear ugly outfits, be old, and deflate their balls as much as they want. They will still be recognized as great, even by their worst enemies. They can point to accomplishments and measurements that everyone has agreed on.

With schools, we just don’t have that. So we end up falling into endless arguments without any way to point to a clear winner.

When Did Tests Become Conservative?

Something happened.

The idea of administering standardized tests to check the success of schooling has had a strange ideological career. Tests have been seen as a progressive panacea as well as a conservative coup. These days, a welter of standardized tests are used to evaluate teachers as well as students. In the eyes of some, these tests have become a hallmark of conservative educational policy. How did that happen? …and what does it mean?standardized-testing-comic3

Last night, historian and pundit Diane Ravitch talked to a crowd of teachers in my hometown, scenic Vestal, New York. Those familiar with Ravitch’s recent book and blog will have a good sense of her argument: Today’s testing regime is a scam by false-faced school “reformers” bent on installing corporate control over public education.

Testing was not always seen this way. As historian William J. Reese demonstrated in his latest terrific book, the first round of fights over standardized tests occurred way back in the nineteenth century. Early test mavens hoped to protect students from idiosyncratic and tyrannical schoolmasters who evaluated students by whim.

In the twentieth century, early testers hoped to use tests to help individualize instruction for children. They did not hope to replace the human touch. Rather, they hoped a set of tests could serve to move education in profoundly progressive directions.

These days, leading progressive pundits such as Ravitch and Mercedes Schneider denounce the testing regime as an attempt to corporatize education. They point to the suspicious support of billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and the Walton Family. Why do these corporate titans push for more tests? In order to strip teachers’ unions of power; in order to remake schooling in the image of corporate America.

Of course, the sophisticated and good-looking readers of ILYBYGTH (SAGLROILYBYGTH) know that the real situation is more complicated than these sorts of conspiracy theories allow. There are plenty of conservative pundits, too, who hate and fear the tests that accompany the Common Core standards. To these conservatives, a national testing regime gives progressives the opportunity to inject sneaky leftist ideas into classrooms across the country.

Plus, there are plenty of progressives who support more rigorous standardized testing as a way to ensure that lower-income students get their share of educational attention. Ravitch herself, in an earlier ideological incarnation, helped create today’s testing policy.  And Education Secretary Arne Duncan is no William J. Bennett. Duncan’s enthusiastic support of high-stakes tests does not come from the same sorts of cultural conservatism that animated President Reagan’s second Education secretary.

But there is something to Ravitch’s charges. There are plenty of conservatives who see testing as a way to find out what is really going on in public schools. Ravitch drew vigorous applause last night when she said she did not want to quantify kindergarteners’ college-and-career readiness. It was more important, Ravitch insisted, to be sure that children were happy, healthy, and improving every day.

And this, I think, is at the heart of today’s divide over standardized testing. Such tests have become “conservative,” I’m guessing, to the extent that they satisfy Americans’ traditional ideas about education. As I argue in my new book, across the twentieth century battles over education had a similar backstory: progressives wanted education to be mainly about the improvement of children; conservatives and traditionalists wanted education to be mainly about the delivery of information from teacher to student.

If the central goal of education is the transmission of information, then the success of that education can be measured by a simple paper-n-pencil test. This is an idea that resonates with lots of people. Not only self-identified “conservatives,” not only the scheming Walton family, not only Mayor Bloomberg, but lots of parents, teachers, and students buy into this fundamental notion of proper education.

To my mind, this situation is a good indicator of the tenuous hold of progressive education on the hearts and minds of Americans. Even self-identified progressive reformers such as Michelle Rhee embrace the notion that tests are a good measure of educational improvement.

The reason today’s test mania has been able to make such huge progress in public schooling is not due only to the funding of billionaires and the schemes of plutocrats, in spite of what smart people like Diane Ravitch may say. We Americans, with rare and beleaguered exceptions, never took to heart the central notions of progressive education. We tend to agree that real education means, in essence, the transfer of information from an authoritative adult teacher to a receptive child.

If that attitude is “conservative,” then it’s no wonder conservatism has come to dominate American public education.

A Conservative Takedown of Testing and Charters

Progressive education folks foam at the mouth when they talk about the new power of testing and charter schools.  Will conservatives join them?

We see recently a furious conservative condemnation of the current education “reform” mania. [The essay originally appeared last July in Crisis.]

Veteran history teacher Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg offered a conservative rationale for opposition to the Michelle Rhee/Waiting for Superman school reform crowd.

Those folks want to make public schooling more responsive.  They argue that schools should have more wiggle room to fire weak teachers; charter schools should be able to slash red tape to provide effective education for any child left behind.  Such reformers often also promise to hold teachers and schools “accountable” by mandating rigorous testing of students.  Such tests, the argument goes, will force teachers and schools to pay attention to the academic performance of all their students.

Progressive critics have teed off on this reform ideology for a while now.  Some have warned that charter schools are nothing but a capitalist scheme to siphon money away from public education.  And the mania for testing, progressives warn, represents a perversion of the promise of American public education.

Rummelsburg gives a different rationale for this same suspicion.  Placing hope in the panacea of charter schools, Rummelsburg argues, is a mistake.  Waiting for any kind of public-funded superman, Rummelsburg insists, misses the point.  The real responsibility for education must remain with the family, not with the government.  And standardized testing reduces the true goal of education to a series of bubbles filled in.

Rummelsburg doesn’t pull any rhetorical punches.  As he puts it,

Waiting for “Superman” illustrates how severely broken public education is and brings up the real issues of school reform and the voucher system. However, the “magic bullet” of charter schools is not the answer. A transfer of money and power from the dreadful public classrooms to charter schools is a bit like transferring the administrative duties of running Nazi death camps from the Germans to the Belgians, yet still the need for reform is beyond dire. However, reform is futile if the goal remains a high standardized test scores.

Ouch.  Will more conservatives join Rummelsburg’s condemnation of the current reform agenda?