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Partisan political discourse—the language of campaigning and advocating for policy—is trapped in the power and allure of cliche and cultural myths. Even those leaders we might designate as the best or right type of leaders are trapped in a disturbing truism about the power of their messages: "more often than not, the less sophisticated story remains entrenched—the unschooled mind triumphs," Howard Gardner explains.

Gardner has identified that the five-year-old mind, bound by a proclivity for either-or thinking and limited to simplistic truths, is essentially the public mind that leaders must speak to in order to succeed—to be elected, for example, and then to have policy implemented.

Gardner's analysis of leadership explains why political leaders in the U.S. prefer and succeed by invoking a message claiming that Americans currently live in a meritocracy (a claim refuted by the rising inequity in the U.S.) instead of speaking to the need for America to continue working toward the possibility of a meritocracy.

In education, as in society, holding individuals accountable for their actions is a powerful paradigm within a meritocracy. If all is equitable, then human choices and behaviors are more easily assigned in a causational way to individuals. Political and public discourse as well as social and education policy work within an accountability paradigm based on the assumption that the U.S. is a meritocracy.

And therein lies fundamental errors in claims about equity in the U.S.: Accountability without meritocracy is not only flawed but a mechanism for entrenching inequity.

Education reform, then, must reject the accountability paradigm, and then embrace an equity paradigm as a reform strategy seeking the possibility of achieving a meritocracy.

Equity-based Reform

Education reform is trapped by the same problems identified by Gardner in his examination of leadership: Simplistic claims about education and schools as well as the concurrent simplistic calls for reform are all more powerful in the five-year-old mind than nuanced and evidence-based claims and potential reforms.

"No Excuses" Reform claims and solutions, then, resonate within the meritocracy/accountability norm, a norm that is hollow but powerful. Instead, Social Context Reform offers claims and solutions for education reform that acknowledge America has yet to attain a meritocracy because we have yet to insure either social or educational equity.

Here, then, are some of the foundational reforms needed to shift away from an accountability paradigm and toward an equity paradigm for reform:

• Universal health and eye care for all people 25 and under.

• Policy to insure food security for all people 25 and under.

• Universal child care for all families in the U.S.

• Policy to support and reform workers' rights in the U.S. This policy must address wages, health care, retirement, and due process. Currently, workers have dramatically reduced leverage against employers because too many basic human rights are linked entirely to their work status. To be a worker should be a subset of being a human, not the other way around.

• Reform the power and role of the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) away from issuing mandates and toward functioning as a mechanism of oversite, specifically in terms of equity. Form regional USDOE sites that monitor equitable school funding, for example, based on the unique cost of living standards within each region.

• Eliminate all high-stakes accountability mandates (standards-based reform) from schools and implement mechanisms of transparency whereby schools are guaranteed autonomy but required to make all practices and outcomes transparent to the public.

• Eliminate high-stakes testing and tracking in schools, policies that are reflections of and perpetuate inequity.

• Identify and reform teacher assignment by addressing the historical and inequitable assigning of teachers that allow experienced and accomplished teachers to serve privileged students while inexperienced and struggling teachers are assigned to students who suffer under the weight of inequity in their home lives.

Social and educational reform built in the pursuit of equity—and not distorted by meritocracy/accountability paradigms—is genuine reform that confronts enduring cultural myths and acknowledges that no single social institution (including public schools) can succeed without understanding the powerful influence of inequity in the life of any single person.

The irony, of course, is that Gardner admits that the unschooled mind is resistent to the exact schooling needed for any sort of real social reform.

But we must remind ourselves that women's right and civil rights did not appear on the back of claims that gender and racial equity already existed. Equity comes only when we acknowledge where it does not yet exist.

America is not yet a meritocracy, and our schools reflect and perpetuate that regrettable reality. This admission is the first step to equity-based reform that can succeed where our accountability culture is failing us.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 04:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You lost me (0+ / 0-)

    @ 'for all people 25 and under'.

    I found the notion of 'the five-year-old mind, bound by a proclivity for either-or thinking' compelling, but can't follow the reasoning for your limited equity paradigm.

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 04:57:08 AM PDT

    •  At least (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Americans seem unwilling to embrace universal health care, which we should...

      This is an argument about MINIMAL equity goals that directly support educational outcomes...

      Believe me, I advocate for universal healthcare...

  •  Property taxes (0+ / 0-)

    paying for schools is a major problem.

  •  I support nearly everything (0+ / 0-)

    you have proposed here, except for, "Universal child care for all families in the U.S."

    Meritocracy as a false premise in everyday life is a familiar understanding for most American woman, I think. Women understand that in the full scope of their lives they will care for children, for their elderly parents, for their children's schools or preschools, for community or advocacy groups, and they understand that this work is by and large unpaid, or if they receive support within their marriages for those years, they understand that community property law was a long time coming and represents equity after centuries of struggle. But determining the value of this work by having the taxpayers cover it I think ignores why women know this is valuable work.

    Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi have written a book entitled, "The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke." I haven't read it, but excerpts and reviews online suggest that their point is that after 2 generations of American men and women working 2 jobs to support one household, there are NO benefits to their families, that in fact there are significant deficits in the form of stress, debt, loss of health care affordability, loss of sustainable resources for public schools, loss of college tuition for their children, loss of old age security, loss of equity in their homes, and loss of their actual homes in the case of millions of families.

    ALL the benefits from the second income went to the financial 1%.

    The reason so many American couples are returning to the reality of one income per household is that there have been massive layoffs, but those layoffs represent the fact that the two-income economy was not sustainable. It was not producing benefits to the people working in production, such that they could continue to buy all the crap and support all the infrastructure necessary to servicing the financial elite. Child care is one of those infrastructures built on low wage workers performing very valuable work. I think more Americans are now deciding that this valuable work can be done, with more benefits to their children and to their families' security, if they perform it themselves.

    The financial elite want us to go back to a paradigm of growth, to 2 or 3 incomes per family, because it represents a return to the great old days of syphoning more and more income to them. "Universal child care for all families in the U.S." at the taxpayers' expense just benefits the ruthless, in my opinion.

    •  Universal childcare (0+ / 0-)

      Universal childcare isn't a REQUIREMENT...

      The privileged don't have to worry about this, neither do any of the politicians (who also have health care)...

      My call for universal childcare is no call for mandatory two-income homes, BTW...

      Thank you for the challenging comment...

      •  Families are facing the reality (0+ / 0-)

        that their 2 incomes didn't cover the cost of childcare, health insurance, the increase in their mortgage payments, and so forth. Thus the economy burst on the fact that families couldn't afford all this so-called growth. It was growth for the banks but not for the people producing the growth.

        I'm not saying that taxpayer supported universal childcare is a bad idea because it would make it possible for elite families who have 2 jobs to save money for luxuries. I'm saying that average families, who have experienced layoffs, are not finding jobs that can support childcare and are deciding, after what they've been through, that maybe the math favors one parent staying home and taking care of the children, the financial math, the personal math, and the economic math.

        If they get another job and the taxpayers cover the cost of childcare, once again the increase in income would all go to the banks, who would increase the family's mortgage rates, and the taxpayers would thus be subsidizing this saprophytic behavior on the part of the banks.

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