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In her discussion of science fiction, Margaret Atwood examines and confronts the nuances among sci-fi, speculative fiction, fantasy, and utopian/dystopian fiction, and throughout, she highlights the power of these overlapping genres to explore the "What if?" by blending dramatizations of human history with human possibility. These genres have the power as well to force us to re-see now in the imagined context of other times and places.

So in the spirit of "What if?" let's consider a brief thought experiment.

Let's imagine an other world where the Discovery Institute—a think tank that promotes, among other agendas, the infusion of Intelligent Design as a scientific alternative to the current state of evolutionary understanding in the sciences—decides to evaluate how evolution is taught in colleges and universities across the U.S., with the stated goal of reforming the content and teaching of evolution by labeling and ranking the current departments of biology based on standards for teaching the origin and evolution of humans designed by the Discovery Institute.

Let's also imagine that governors and the federal government decide to fund and support this process, and that the Discovery Institute has reached an agreement with a major magazine—let's say U.S. & News World Report—to publish these reports because the U.S. public holds views rejecting evolution and embracing Creationism that appear to match more closely the Discovery Institute than the current knowledge-base of evolutionary biologists.

Now, let's imagine what the response of those biologists and their departments would be? Would they clamor to fill the seats at this table set by the Discovery Institute and the political leadership among the states and in the federal government?

My speculation is to say no they wouldn't because biologists trust and work at the table they set for their field, and as a central aspect of their professionalism, they would sit firmly at their table, that is in fact not a fixed or dogmatic setting, but a place where those with expertise and experience in the field create and wrestle with the agenda.

Who Controls the Table Wins

As with many works of sci-fi, my thought experiment above is a thin mask for exactly what has occurred in education and education reform over the past three decades and intensified in the last decade.

From the accountability movement begun in the 1980s to the implementation of No Child Left Behind to the call for Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to the demonizing of teachers along with the rise of calls for teacher education reform (such as the National Council on Teacher Quality [NCTQ]), the pattern in the thought experiment above has been identical to what education has experienced except for one key element: Educators, administrators, union leaders, and professional organizations have knocked each other down and tripped over their own feet to grab the seats at the table being established and set by think-tanks, entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, and politicians.

And here is the essential problem and distinction between K-12 education and high education. K-12 education is hierarchical, bureaucratic, and blinded by a market ideology (customer service) that de-professionalizes teachers; college education is more apt to embrace academic freedom, professor expertise and autonomy, and field integrity (although these qualities are certainly under assault and eroding).

Calls to join the agendas that are de-professionalizing and marginalizing teachers are concessions to those without expertise and experience establishing the table, and in effect, their winning before the discussion ever starts. Hollow rings the refrains that cry out for joining the table because joining the table immediately silences any credible call for questioning the efficacy of the table.

Joining the CCSS table concedes that education somehow fails due to a lack of standards, that teachers somehow in 2012 need someone else to tell them what to teach. Joining the CCSS table to make sure they are implemented "properly" admits teachers are not professionals, not experts as every biologist in U.S. colleges and universities demands for herself or himself.

Joining the teacher education reform movement, participating in NCTQ's assault on teacher education masked as reform, concedes that a think-tank knows something the entire field of teacher education has yet to determine.

Joining the test-prep mantra and the "no excuses" tables acknowledges and confirms a deficit view of children and transmissional view of knowledge/learning/teaching that dehumanize children and teachers while working against democracy, human agency, and human autonomy.

In my critical examination of school choice, I did not speculate about some other world, but compared the education reform movement to the medical profession. In the late twentieth century doctors fell victim to the market, allowing patients to exert their "customer" muscle when those patients demanded antibiotics. Doctors who acquiesced maintained and gained patients-as-customers; doctors who followed their professional autonomy and did not prescribe antibiotics unless they were warranted lost patients.

Inexpert customers determine standards and evaluate professionals in the market paradigm that promotes a simplistic view of choice proclaiming the customer always right.

When doctors let patients set the table, what was the result? MRSA and a whole new medical dilemma, one that the medical profession had to reclaim by asserting their expertise and experience [1].

Begging to join the tables built by the self-proclaimed reformers without expertise or experience is abdicating any potential power in teachers unions, teacher professional organizations, and educators.

Instead, teachers—as well as any unions or professional organizations formed in their names—must establish and participate fully in our own tables because who controls the table wins.

The education reform movement, then, is not about educators claiming our place at self-proclaimed reformers' tables, but about having the professional integrity and autonomy to decide what tables matter based on our standards established by our field of expertise.


[1] DeBellis, R. J., & Zdanawicz, M. (2000, November). Bacteria battle back: Addressing antibiotic resistance. Boston: Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health
Science. Retrieved from ; Ong, S. et al. (2007, September). Antibiotic use for emergency department patients with upper respiratory infections: Prescribing practices, patient expectations, and patient satisfaction. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 50(3), 213-220.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 10:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great insight! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The war on teachers isn't about quality or even education, it's about control. You're absolutely right about "K-12 education is hierarchical, bureaucratic, and blinded by a market ideology (customer service) that de-professionalizes teachers."  It will be fascinating when the kids whose education is so compromised in today's environment come of age... and discover how little they know of the world.

  •  controlling the debate, definging the terms... (0+ / 0-)

    when the wrong people get to ask the questions and provide the answers, the conclusions and policy will simply be dictated by those people.

    Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

    by IreGyre on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 12:59:48 PM PDT

  •  When doctors (0+ / 0-)

    let patients set the table, they got MRSA (which they were already getting and would have gotten anyway due to agricultural antibiotic use and normal biological evolution) and prescription-narcotic abusers.  When patients let DOCTORS set the table, they get unnecessary and invasive surgeries, lifetime commitment to psychiatric institutions for nonconformity, and life-threatening illness and death from conditions cavalierly dismissed by the Professionals when presented in their early and mild manifestations.

    Hard as it may be for you to accept, ordinary people have a lot more investment in their own health or the education of their children than Professionals to whom it is a Job -- most especially if said professionals, like doctors and private educational corporations, stand to benefit handsomely from steering the "customer" into ever-pricier models which may or may not have any empirical value.  In a monopoly or guild-regulated market model, that's like plumbers writing a regulation that every faucet must be gold-plated to resist corrosion.

  •  Agree that there is more of a business logic... (0+ / 0-)

    behind our public schools and "school reform" movements than something really having to do with fostering human development.

    Curious, when you say that the education system is blinded by market forces and a "customer service" orientation, who does the system see as their "customer".  To me it is the state.  They are the customer for public education.  Parents perhaps influence that customer and the students are certainly just the "product", whose point of view is generally seen as having nothing to do with the "customer satisfaction" with the education enterprise.

    plthomasEdD... your thoughts?

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Sun Apr 15, 2012 at 02:10:13 PM PDT

    •  Shifting customer (0+ / 0-)

      Schools see the students and the parents as customers...Good friend and teacher just told me about the principal of her school giving the faculty that speech...

      Must provide good customer service to the students...

      •  Providing service to their students... (0+ / 0-)

        you think that is a bad thing?

        I think the problem is that the the "customer" is the purchaser or funder of the schools, the state, with the parents representing part of the electorate that the state wishes to satisfy.

        IMO if the students were really the customer then education would be done very differently to meet their needs for a vibrant learning community where they could pursue their self-directed interests rather than a regimented, standardized, test-focused institution!

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles

        by leftyparent on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 07:09:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Disagree (0+ / 0-)

          I hate the consumer metaphor; belittles teacher/student relationship...

          And student-as-customer truly problematic is "customer is always right"... re: situation in higher ed where students "chose" professors based on syllabi (less work = more students)...

          Alas, students like some patients happen not to know what is needed...

          Being student-centered, creating a classroom that honors student autonomy and agency—these are what we seek, but these exist within the professionalism of the teacher in some way...

          I don't see the student-centered classroom as a "customer" dynamic...wrong metaphor IMHO

          •  IMO, the learner is always right... (0+ / 0-)

            when it comes to their development.  But confessing my bias, I am an "unschooler" who believes that the learning you do at your own initiation is what is truly important in your development as a human being.

            Yes plt... we disagree!  Fair enough!

            Cooper Zale Los Angeles

            by leftyparent on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:11:07 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Likely not (0+ / 0-)

              I think this is semantics...not as much of a disagreement as you may think...

              My main point is about the value of "expertise"...If the expert is hired to do as he/she is told, then there is no reason for expertise...

              To me that is a separate issue from the dignity and value of the learner...about which you and I seem to agree a great deal...

              If I go to my medical doctor and tell him/her what to prescribe, then there is a genuine waste of a step there and the doctors expertise has been completely subverted...

              Many aspects of human existence should honor expertise and that doesn't have to corrupt human dignity or autonomy...

              I want my bridges built by experts, not technocrats or the public...

              •  Glad we have agreement there... (0+ / 0-)

                Following your doctor metaphor, the person with the health to maintain engages the doctor when they think they need that expertise.  Likewise, the learner should engage the teacher only when needed.

                Cooper Zale Los Angeles

                by leftyparent on Mon Apr 16, 2012 at 08:57:40 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

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