Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Coercion through Competition

This post started out as a comment on Wes Fryer’s Looking beyond coercion, tests and seat time post from May 19. I found myself with rather a lot to write about on the topic and didn’t think it was appropriate to post an entire blog topic in a comment. Even so, I’m not sure I said exactly what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to, but here it is for your consideration. I encourage you to read Wes’ post first.


Having been a high school assistant principal, I have often been accused of being a poster child for coercive education. Indeed, the coercion passes from the Compulsory Attendance Laws through the office of the assistant principal right into the laps of kids who, because we have sold out to corporate mentality of money for time, are told they have no choice in the matter. We threaten with truancy proceedings and grade jeopardy, but we simply miss the fact that we must do a better job of demonstrating to them why it’s important for them to be there. We undermine our message of importance when we engage in ridiculous “traditions” like letting seniors (not underclassmen, mind you) out a week early or penalizing students 50% or more for not writing in cursive.


We are coerced, ourselves, by flawed national and local educational policies that reduce educational pursuits to little more than industrial-era performance metrics, workforce preparation, and college readiness (which has of late become a euphemism for workforce preparation). This is a recurring theme for me previously on this blog here, here, and here . Plainly, we have abdicated our social-moral responsibilities in favor of power, prestige, and money.  When the specter of school finance looms over every single decision we propose or make, we have no choice but coercion so we can keep our funding dollars. The priority simply becomes the money and not the kids.


Wes writes that “We must move beyond our current school finance systems which pay school districts based on seat time.” I submit that movement beyond is not enough; we need the complete and utter destruction of the current methods of school finance. This means obliterating capitalistic and corporate influences and mentalities in education and that’s not going to happen in a global society where our primary indicators of success are largely economic. I’m not advocating for setting up any “ism” here (before anyone accuses me of doing so); it goes beyond that.


Nearly everything about education is about competition: the highest funding ratio, the best grades, the best test scores, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best schools, the best technology. As with every competition, there must be loss. It’s here that I agree with Dr. Cook,

“The purpose of education  in a free society must be to liberate the full powers of the individual toward the common good…The common good is not served by the loss of any person…No democracy has any business accepting, much less supporting, any endeavor that does not hold the good of the individual  and the good of the society to be the same…To put it another way, education must not be the means by which individuals pursue their own goals to the detriment of others…And it is not a contest to be won…it is on this point that democracy and capitalism collide” (p 129-130, Unencorporating Education).

Some will probably accuse me of being un-American right about now; that’s not my intent. I think Wes and Dr. Cook have hit upon something that goes to the core of our culture and, for all of our rhetoric (mine included), I’m not sure we have the honest will to do anything about it, if may also echo Gary Stager as well.

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fit: Corporational Education

Well, the blog does have “Fit” in the title…

I took a survey today in order to give “input to understand the expectations that various stakeholders have of Colorado’s graduates.” I think there is an implicit assumption that the input come from Colorado people, but the information is publicly available on the web at the Colorado Department of Education website under the CDE Communications link.

Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for many of the people at CDE and those serving on the Graduation Guidelines Development Council. I know more than a few of these people personally and I’m excited about the change in direction. More than one of them is absolutely brilliant and I apologize if this is perceived to diminish their work. I really am hoping for the best, but it’s dark, and the iceberg has been spotted. The opinions listed below may not represent anyone else’s but my own. I reserve the right to change my opinion after further consideration and persuasion -and emergence from this fugue. Maybe it’s Dr. Cook’s book, but it’s sure a raw nerve right now.

With that said, some of the questions stood out. Most used a Likert scale that had the items Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. One question read…

6. What should be the primary outcome(s) of public education? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)

a.) Post-secondary Readiness    
b.) Workforce Readiness     
c.) Minimum competencies 
d.) Socialization and general education
e.) Create thoughtful and responsible citizenry
f.) Other

And another…

7. How can the high school experience be improved? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)a.) Increase the rigor and expectations
b.) Provide relevancy for the subjects taught
c.) Integrate more career and technical opportunities
d.) Increase the chance to apply content learned
e.) Provide students with access to programs and curriculum so that they can make informed decisions about their post-secondary lives     
f.) Other
And…8. How can high schools motivate students to excel? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)

a.) Offer students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of course content in order to move through the system at their own rate
b.) Provide internships to apply content learnings to “real work”
c.) Create high schools that are “career pathways” thus enabling students to plan their post-secondary careers early
d.) Offer opportunities for participation in a variety of rigorous academic programming to assure students have the skills necessary to make post secondary choices
e.) Offer students more “dual credit ” opportunities that count toward high school graduation and college credit
f.) Other

First of all, I’m encouraged that some of the choices reflect some more modern considerations and some of the later questions have some of the same types of progressive choices. When I considered the choices and the areas they represent (not counting “other”), one or two of the responses fell outside the corporate realm. (As an aside, as you’ll see below, I group colleges and universities in with corporations.) I hope this is an opportunity to change things, at least in Colorado, but with the disproportionate weighting of choices, I’m discouraged. I gave my thoughts at the end of the survey, right or wrong, practical or not. I submit them here for your consideration…

Our kids should NOT be held to the so-called achievement metrics that have their origins in corporate America. The current educational practice in Colorado and the US to create workers, either right out of high school or eventually out of college, makes us (education) subservient to the corporations who have a vested interest in having a constant flow of employees. Our focus on seat time, and core subject standardization (at the expense, often, of non-tested areas), and school days and calendars that were designed in the Industrial Age have moved us away from the pursuit of knowledge, democracy, collaboration, communication and innovation. The difficulty in quantifying these ideals makes them unpalatable for a culture obsessed with wealth accumulation and proves that we should be educating and developing kids, not producing automatons for colleges and businesses.

We have let colleges and universities in Colorado dictate to us what courses our kids should have in order to attend them. We acquiesced; as a result, we are a party to educational discrimination and elitism. When we examine the source of these dictum, we find that they come from those with a vested interest in maintaining a fiscal bottom line, not a human one. The colleges and universities, who hunger for more tuition dollars, have partnered with corporate entities, like ACT, to produce a self-serving set of requirements designed to increase their capital intake. Meanwhile kids continue to drop out of our schools citing lack of relevance and lack of engagement as primary reasons. They are smarter than we think. They see a life of servitude either to the higher education or corporate machines. In that regard we have failed them.

Our current educational system is designed for a world that no longer exists. Schools are constantly prevented from producing a moral populace of learners and teachers, innovators and communicators, citizens (both local and global) and thinkers, servants and seekers, creators and collaborators. We are stopped by business methodologies and corporate expectations. The world has changed fundamentally especially for the US, yet we want to keep reinventing our archaic, outmoded, and ill-conceived system. This survey seems designed to justify that position.

March 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unencorporating Education & The Purpose of Schools Part 2

Click to go to The New Business of Education home.  The writer’s strike may be over, but that doesn’t mean there’s much on. After absorbing only so much of the latest round of school violence, I started flipping channels and came across the Nightly Business Report on a local PBS station and caught the tail end of the teaser for a series they are running about the New Business of Education. Tonight they were talking about educational technology. I was excited to see how ed tech would be represented from the business side. What great timing. For the most part it was about the money to be made and spent. I’m not sure I actually caught much of the content; I got lost thinking about the premise behind the book I’m reading, Unencorporating Education by Dr. William J. Cook Jr and all the business connections to education.

I’m almost a quarter of the way through the book. I’m not buying it all and sometimes it seems that Dr. Cook is often more interested in sounding like an intellectual than with getting his points across clearly. He sometimes makes assumptions that the reader has some background knowledge and content and proceeds without giving any additional information. He doesn’t, at least in the initial chapters, explain why the first word of the title of his book is spelled with an “e.” I get it, but I’d like to have read early on about his thinking behind that. I suppose one could argue that’s the point of the book, but I digress.

Like I said, I’m not buying it all (funny, considering the capitalistic underpinnings of all this), but the idea has been planted and I probably have my business-in-education radar running. Besides all his references to the Scans Report, the Educate America Act, and others in the first chapter, I’m noticing it too. Books Ideas are like that, right? Read the blog entry on the NBR site by the Director of Program Development, Jack Kahn where he asks is education “The next ‘hot’ investment sector.”  Yes, I’m sure, just not the way educators would hope. As if I needed anymore reason to pause consider the statistic Kahn sites: “total education spending in the U.S. is now close to $1 trillion — more than any other service sector except healthcare.” He doesn’t indicate his source, so I went to the Digest of Education Statistics on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Sure enough, the estimate for 2005-2006 puts it at about $921.8 billion, or about 7.4% of the Gross Domestic Product of the nation. If you go to the site, look at the footnotes. The numbers are probably higher when those variables are factored in and we add two years to the table. Does anyone else find it ironic that potentially useful data from the U.S. Department of Education is not available in a timely manner?

Does that kind of money surrounding education alone prove Dr. Cook’s point? The discussion of money and kids has a distasteful, almost taboo, stigma attached to it, but we can’t serve the kids without it. Are we really diminishing our kids to corporate servitude, as Dr. Cook suggests? Worse yet, does the collective unconscious of some of our young people recognize this and cast them into despair manifested by acts of violence or general apathy? Doom and gloom, I know, but the mashup of school violence and educational encorporation happened for me in only one push of the channel button on the remote. Ideas are like that, right?

February 14, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments