Getting It Backwards On Education

Our son and daughter-in-law both attend universities in the area, and they have worked hard for their academic success. Needless to say, both sets of parents think they’re the smartest and most hard-working pair in the state, and of course we’re correct. One of the joys of having them in college is the conversations we have regarding the various aspects of their experiences on campus — including the politics of instruction.
This morning, I got an e-mail from my daughter-in-law, who wanted to challenge something she heard in her education class this week:

I am reading a book by Alfie Kohn [The Schools Our Children Deserve] and ran across some enlightening things I thought I should share with you. He begins to talk about how right wingers oppose standardized tests because they are federal and national and we would prefer them to be locally run. Then, a note, it goes on to explain why these views are motivated by things other than learning.
“Interestingly, the Christian Right has opposed not only national standards and testing but also some dreadful state tests . . . One national leader of the Christian Right regards standardized tests as evidence of government mind control. Those of us who arrive at our oppostition from a very different point of departure may be tempted to make common cause with this constituency. Such an alliance will not last long, however, given that these same people are vociferous supporters of a back-to-basics agenda for classroom instruction. (“To those whose world is bounded and defined by religous faith,” writes one conservative, “it would be sacreligous to oblige their children to become critical thinkers and independent questioners of authority” [Manno, 1995, p. 723].) Moreover, the alternative to federal (or even state) mandates is a kind of control at the local level that aften continues to exclude the active participation of teachers and students. (page 243)”

I thought this was intriguing enough to share with you, and since she wanted my response to take with her, I’ll share that as well (with personal references redacted):

Most conservatives I know don’t mind objective-measurement tests at all. They just object to federal intrusion into what should be a function controlled by parents at the local level. I think the author may be smoking something when he claims that the Christian Right has a problem with children being critical thinkers. He may not realize it, but most of the critical thinkers of the last 1000 years have been supported by the Christian churches, including most of the scientists and a large percentage of the philosophers. I know many Christians, and I’ve never heard it said that they want their children to have no critical thinking. In fact, what we see is a university system that is much more dogmatic than any church — and the campus speech codes and political proselytizing that you see confirm that.
Let me ask you this. Where would you feel more comfortable — being conservative on a school campus, or more libertarian/liberal at church? … Now, who are the freethinkers and who are the dogmatists?
Watch out when someone says “A national Christian leader”. That could mean anyone, including the Rev. Gene Scott, a nutcase out of Orange County who’s hilariously entertaining but represents no one. That’s a common dodge used to smear a lot of normal people (and that’s true in almost any political context — conservatives do it too). Who’s the leader he’s quoting? Who does he represent? If the reference is that non-specific, it’s bullshit, if you’ll pardon my language.
I’m curious about this assertion — “Moreover, the alternative to federal (or even state) mandates is a kind of control at the local level that aften continues to exclude the active participation of teachers and students.” How does federal control *help* the participation of local students and teachers? It’s completely backwards. The farther away control lies, the less effect individuals have on the system. Local control of education allows students and teachers to have a far greater impact on the quality and delivery of education at the specific schools. Federal control means the only people who have influence on the system are lobbyists for the NEA and perhaps the textbook publishers.

I added this afterwards:

None of the conservatives in California objected to the state’s standardized test for children — it was the liberals who had it thrown out for being ethnically biased [in the 1980s]. The replacement test, using essay questions and unclear standards of review, got tossed when its authors refused to show the test to parents before administering it to their children. … Conservatives wanted the standardized, *objective* test that had been used for decades, and administered by the state.

When Dinesh D’Souza talks about anti-religious bias in higher education, this is what he means.
UPDATE: NRA should have been NEA; thanks to commenter MarkD for the correction.

19 thoughts on “Getting It Backwards On Education”

  1. I think the next to the last paragraph should read “lobbyists for the NEA?” The NRA is a national organization, but it doesn’t have much influence on education.

  2. I detect a bit of psychological projection:
    it would be sacreligous [for religious folk] to oblige their children to become critical thinkers and independent questioners of authority
    Yet in reality it’s the radical left that threatens you if you dare question their authority, their speech codes, or their global warming junk science. They practice the very thing they claim to hate. They’ve taken the suppression of critical thought to a whole new level.

  3. Ed, of course if your daughter-in-law takes that response back to class and shares it with her professor, it will gain her nothing but praise and admiration as being a critical thinker and questioner of authority. Yeah, right.

  4. The disgusting aspect of this is that the swill your d-i-l is stuck with is used to *teach* *teachers*.
    How many of her fellow students will simply swallow the lie and ignorance represented by that bigoted author?

  5. Wasn’t it a Conservative President (at least he’s not liberal) who demanded national tests as part of no child left behind?

  6. If this isn’t a classic case of projection and inversion of reality I don’t know what is. It is the left that denigrates standardized tests not conservatives. The left seeks to mash everybody down to the lowest level in a modern version of Lenin’s dictum “We will teach the peasants to read enough to follow our orders.”

  7. Your D-I-L is treading on dangerous ground. While I applaud her willingness to speak her mind, her grade may suffer as a result. Whether liberal OR conservative, teachers do not like having their curricula and/or views challenged by ‘uppity’ (critical thinking) students.

  8. In Canada it has been the right that has pushed for standardized testing and the left (unions, especially) who have resisted it.

  9. …Rev. Gene Scott, a nutcase out of Orange County who’s hilariously entertaining but represents no one.
    He died back in Feb 2005.

  10. West,
    I’ll tell you this about my DIL — she doesn’t take crap off of anyone, including her FIL. I’d pity the teacher who tried to cross her.
    Sorry to hear about Gene.

  11. Yes, this is an example of what D’Souza talked about in his book, What’s so Great About Christianity?
    As described by D’Souza, the method the left uses to break down religious conscience isn’t to engage the ideas of religion head on, nor even to acknowledge them. Instead, academics like the one quoted by your daughter-in-law, treat religion with condescension, as something not even worth confronting intellectually.
    It’s cynical, transparent propaganda.

  12. Huh?
    Last I heard, No Child Left Behind mandated standardized testing to determine in the macro sense the best application of Federal funds going to education, and whether those funds were being wisely used. In other words, accountability, something we on the right demand of government.
    Last I heard, it was the liberals who were railing against standardized tests, with their supposed inherent cultural bias against minorities. It’s the argument used when they demand that colleges ignore the SATs and instead rely on the Bill and Milinda Gates Foundation essay method of asking “Write briefly about a situation in which you were treated unfairly, and explain why you were treated unfairly.” (Cue: Tell us about racism at your local high school and how you were held back by the teachers and administrators and the “majority” students because of it.)
    After all, the only way you can justify the left’s application of diversity (aka “reverse discrimination”) is if you assert that there’s no standard way to measure knowledge or achievement.

  13. Uncle:
    You can see this liberal anti-test bias in the rewickering of the SAT to artificially bolster the scores. The test now has three sections: Quantative, Verbal and “writing”. The effect of the additional test is to compress the total score on the exam because it is very difficult to get a high score on the new part. Fortunately, most schools see through this and only consider the traditional measures.

  14. My Eyes Were Opened
    Several of you have commented that dogmatism is now the province of the Left. I wouldn’t have agreed until a recent event.
    I moved recently from the oh-so-blue SF Peninsula to the deep-deep-red suburbs north of Dallas. My liberal friends in California dismayed me with their ugly characterizations of Texas and Texans, most offered freely without any personal experience.
    On arrival, I was soon folded into a religious conservative chat room thanks to an off-hand comment to an insurance salesman also a church deacon. Were my California friends right, after all, that Texans were some kind of pod people?
    I figured what the hell… I don’t belong here so I’ll just scramble their brains and exit. I gave them a blast of my conservative case for gay marriage (if you oppose gay promiscuity, must you not then offer some way to sanctify long-term relationships? Otherwise, aren’t you just whipsawing people, condemning them whatever they do?)
    To my utter astonishment, I got back several polite replies, half offering me counter examples and half saying that I had given them something to think about. None contained the kind of acid invective my liberal friends are so comfortable throwing around.
    Oh, and after telling scores and scores of people I moved here from San Francisco, I have yet to hear one negative comment.

  15. Total strawman rubish. This passes for published academic thought? Name the so-clled religous leader and cite your sources.
    And what is this citing (former Asst Sec. of Education, Bruno) Manno? It is authoratative to quote someone else who doesn’t cite any evidence of their assertions?
    It’s not that we oppose standardized tests. We oppose them being administered from afar. And, that our local school funding will be determined based on what a DC bureaucrat thinks of the job we’ve done locally. And the general beltway attitude that if we don’t like it, we can go piss up a rope.
    There, how’s that for learned discourse and citing my evidence concerning what “everyone” feels?

  16. mar,
    “we”? I don’t, and I’m a conservative too. I happen to think that the provider of money is entitled to a guage of its effectivness. As a federal taxpayer, I expect my federal tax dollars to go for good cause.
    Just as I expect any military supplies purchased by our government to be of the highest standards, I expect any educational services purchased to be of equally high standards.
    Given that federal funding of education will never go away, I expect accountability, and I don’t expect the states or even the locals to do it right. If you think I’m wrong on this, think about all those cities mandating that their police forces ignore our federal laws on immigration. Or, if that isn’t enough, think of the Academia Semillas del Pueblo here in Los Angeles, a liberal charter school with such low scores in English and mathematics that you wonder why our local money still funds the thing.

  17. You can see this liberal anti-test bias in the rewickering of the SAT to artificially bolster the scores. The test now has three sections: Quantitative, Verbal and “writing”. The effect of the additional test is to compress the total score on the exam because it is very difficult to get a high score on the new part.

    It also had another positive effect, from a liberal’s point of view: it eliminated the advantage boys have on the SAT. The gap was huge at the top, something like 15 or 20 to 1 advantage for boys the nearer you get to 1600.
    Adding an additional completely subjective non-Quantitative section on the test doubles the girls advantage in non-Q scoring in order to eliminate the boys advantage in Q scoring and on multiple-choice tests in general. It also gives the girls another leg up: handwriting. Since girls generally have prettier handwriting, I guarantee that of two tests with the same written words the one with prettier writing will get a much better score.

  18. I would just like to clarify one thing, maybe two. I, like most future and present teachers, do not believe that standardized testing is an accurate assessment of students’ knowledge. Alfie agrees. I do not agree with the ‘reasons’ he states for the “Christian Right” to oppose standardized tests.
    One more thing, my professor is wonderfully accepting to many views (I think it is a requirement as a teacher) and we held a lively discussion in class. (Although the teacher and I were almost the only participants.)
    I told him what my father in law does, and I think it would be great to have them discuss some things together!

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