Chicken Little 2: The CRPE is Falling!

Chicken Little Final Version

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” A Nation at Risk, National Commission on Excellence in Education, April, 1983

“…powerful special interest groups, led by the nation’s teachers unions, have largely succeeded in blocking efforts to reform our broken public school system. K-12 education is a $600 billion-a-year industry–and the unions aren’t about to give up any of their market share without a fight.”  Enemies and the Future of American Education, Heritage Foundation, January 15, 2010

“We could lose this thing.”                                                                                 Introduction: A Nations’s Accountability Systems At Risk, Center on Reinventing Public Education, September, 2014

Lovers of children’s literature may feel compelled to read the re-write of the old story, Chicken Little, recently published by The Fordham Institute in cooperation with the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Apparently unaware that they were lifting the essential backstory of the fairy tale, the inept authors attempted to capitalize on past successes by suggesting that their tale is a sequel to the 1983 smash hit, A Nation at Risk. In the end, however, neither the new version nor its thirty-year old predecessor adds anything to the original.

Poor Chicken Little. He was a young and simple chick, without much worldly experience, and had the (apparent) misfortune of having his world crash down upon him. His reaction, of course, was to immediately warn his neighbors of imminent danger, stirring a panic which was later found unwarranted. A bit more life experience, a bit more courage, and the danger of a falling acorn might have been understood as minimal.

It would have been wise for the authors of the latest version of the story to discuss their plot line with Diane Ravitch, who was closely associated with the ’83 version through its legal descendant, No Child Left Behind. She has since disavowed the story, and has worked hard to dispel its myths.

Mark Toner and Joe Jones of the Center for Reinventing Children’s Fiction seem to have completely forgotten the basic appeal of Chicken Little as a character. Innocent and naive, what could be expected of him? Chicken Little seems to have been largely written out of the story this time…according to the Toner/Jones retelling, there are only very experienced and world-weary “experts” who intend to spread panic, and for less reason than Chicken Little had. A good reading of the original tale causes the reader to feel like a bystander watching a toddler scream because it has seen its own shadow. You want to comfort and calm Chicken Little, not add your voice to the chaos.

Minus an innocent protagonist, the threat has to be even more overblown than ever for the story to “work.” The CRPE danger pales next to a falling acorn, though. Dr. Jones wants us to fear the end of accountability schemes in education. In essence, Dr. Jones wants to turn a real danger into a victim. He wants us to panic because the very things that have distorted the goals of public education have been effectively challenged. Those of us who have witnessed the damage done to humanistic efforts in education due to excessive standardized testing and Value-Added Measures of teacher effectiveness are hardly likely to accept either as endangered species needing protection.

And what of the moral of the story? Writing out the main character and substituting evil for good has robbed Dr. Jones of any hope for teaching a lesson. I have a suggestion for a re-write, though. Consider casting a first-year teacher as Chicken Little, and drop Dr. Jones’ story on them instead of an acorn. The moral is played out in public schools every day; inexperienced teachers are “held accountable” to ridiculous demands, and learn over time to respond with courage and professional perspective. Now that’s a tale to tell children.

Dr. Jones, it’s clear you and your partners at CRPE read the story of Chicken Little, but it’s equally apparent that you haven’t take its message to heart. You and the rest of your brood ought to buck up, get out of the hutch and enjoy some sunshine. The sky hasn’t fallen yet, and isn’t going to because you may “lose this thing.” The real danger to public education is a continuing reliance on metrics that have little relation to the development of citizens who are prepared to challenge authority and who have the right to demand that schools expand the boundaries of learning beyond the narrow confines of standardized exams.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Money Talks…says the Court


 The Path to Oligarchy

So how does a person go about obtaining power over what–on the surface, at least– appears to be a democracy?

1. Disrupt and deform the educational system–it’s the main tool a democracy has for preparing citizens to take an active role in public affairs.

2. Take advantage of the fact that our Founding Fathers could not have anticipated that corporations might be equated with living, breathing human beings by federal courts…

3. Ask Roberts, Scalia, et. al. to cement the power of the wealthy ȕber alles by permitting unlimited “donations” to candidates.

4. Wait and watch as the “little people”  become apathetic–after all, how many of them can spend $3.6 million per election to make their voices heard?

5. Remind the persons you put in office to enact legislation (pre-written and vetted by ALEC) guaranteed to line the pockets of your corporations and prevent any demands for reasonable taxes on your personal wealth!

An Alternative to Oligarchy

But we don’t have to allow the oligarchs to reign.

If the Supreme Court finds it constitutional to permit democracy to be destroyed and oligarchs to rule unencumbered, it’s time to help them out.

Change the constitution. We’ve done it before when we’ve noticed the Founding Fathers made a boo-boo…like leaving slavery intact after establishing freedom as a basic right.

No, it’s not easy–it’s not supposed to be. We do it only for very important reasons.

This is important.

Preserve the voices of all Americans by demanding a constitutional amendment limiting individual contributions to a level within the reach of most citizens…and define individuals as those who vote. Doing so will also limit the ability of the wealthy to dominate the political scene and encourage participation by every citizen.

What can you do? Write to your Congressperson; to your U.S. Senator; to your state legislators; to your union officials! Yes, it’s a bother. No, I know it’s a drag to use your valuable time this way. So do the Kochs. Do it.

I’m confident that the Founding Fathers would approve.


The Common Good For Sale?

Obamole Payment for Testing

“Where we demand rights and deny obligations, we assert Entitlement. We secure our rights when we accept matching obligations.“  Robert Fripp

Persons who have never heard of Robert Fripp have likely heard his music. He is  guitarist extraordinaire for the likes of King Crimson and David Bowie. Mr. Fripp has been fighting a lengthy battle against piracy of his music by both individual listeners and corporations who enable that piracy, like Grooveshark. He justifiably bristles at the notion that persons feel entitled to deprive him of earnings by illegally “sharing” digital files of his music.

But Mr. Fripp’s quotation is one-sided, and requires a corollary:

Where we prescribe obligations and violate rights, we assert Tyranny. Where rights are demanded, or obligations are pronounced by one party without consent by the other – citizen taking advantage of society or unilateral demands of citizens by government – both individual rights and the common good are endangered.

We need to acknowledge the reciprocal relationship between individuals and society that democracy demands. For example, students have the right to expect an appropriate educational program in the public schools as long as they respect the institution and facilities that serve that purpose. Another student obligation is to do a reasonable amount of work to justify the investment society makes in their pursuit of happiness. As adults, they should also support that society by paying reasonable taxes and contributing to the improvement of government through active participation in public affairs.

Society, on the other hand, should accept that the student and their family will have a reasonable level of input into the determination of the purpose and process of the educational experience. The rules of education should not be changed midstream; the benefits of the educational experience should be primarily to the student. Society must also accept that this investment meets a public obligation to support the individual’s rights to a true “education,” and that this education is not guaranteed to produce compliant workers. A society’s only “profit” from education is in creating a population committed to democratic principles that sustain the social order.

When organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations make remarks like “students are leaving school without the math and science skills needed for jobs in modern industry…These efforts build on President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which was the first federal effort to measure and publicize student test results, and the success of charter schools and voucher programs, which allow families to choose the best school for their children,” they reveal the dark undertones of their vision. John Ralston Saul calls such statements indicators of “an anti-public sector campaign that has created a sense of panicked urgency around the subject of privatization and cuts.”

The current “Standards Based” movement is a cause that threatens Tyranny. It is being implemented despite the fact that it is less than likely that such a plan will facilitate the pursuit of happiness by any individual. It is excessively focused on producing what the corporate structures that rig the game demand—obedient taxpayers who will strive to maintain American economic dominance in a world economy.

But education has never been a sufficient means to that end. It is a necessary part of the equation, but is distorted in purpose when an economic outcome becomes the measuring stick for success. Economists wrongly argue that anything and everything has its price—that learners (or their tax-paying parents) are simply consumers of the ”product” of education, and that cost/benefit analysis is sufficient criteria for assessing its value.

This distortion exposes the inappropriate role of corporations in educational policy. Bill Gates feels entitled to use his wealth to reform schools. His attempts, however, do nothing to amplify the voice of the individual who obtains an education and much to increase the obligations of the individual to accede to the prescriptive approach for schooling that the Standards Based movement represents.

It is time to make schools a place where democracy is not just “taught,” but practiced. When we make that commitment, alienation of students and teachers from the institution they share will lessen. Educators and legislators need to tell Bill Gates that America’s schools are no longer for sale, and they then need to build democracy by providing students with direct experience of that fundamental value during their twelve years of public education.

© David Sudmeier, 2014