Asi que cabe preguntar: ¿Para qué queremos realmente 100,000 nuevos maestros según dice Obama? ¿Para enterrarlos en un vertedero?
Race to the Top of What? Obama On Education - NYTimes.com
Race to the Top of What? Obama On EducationBy STANLEY FISH
On the morning after the State of the Union speechwas delivered, John Hockenberry, co-host of the NPR program “The Takeaway,” read aloud President Obama’s declaration that “we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.” Hockenberry commented: “You scientists, engineers and techies know who you are; but what about the rest of us?”
What about the rest of us, indeed! Obama had just got through saying, “We want to reward good teachers,” and he went on to make a pitch for new recruits to the teaching profession: “If you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.” Not, however, a teacher of English or French or art history. Obama doesn’t say so, but by the logic of his presentation, these disciplines are not when he has in mind when he talks about the “Race to the Top” and calls it “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.”
Race to the top of what? We get a hint from this statement: “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”
Now it’s clear what is going on here. Obama is developing his major theme: we need innovation to catch up with China and other advanced societies. And it is perfectly reasonable to tie innovation in certain fields to the production of citizens who are technically, mathematically and scientifically skilled. But is that what’s wrong with American education, too few students who acquire the market-oriented skills we need to compete (a favorite Obama word) in the global economy and too few teachers capable of imparting them? Is winning the science fair the goal that defines education? A dozen more M.I.T.s and Caltechs and fewer great-book colleges and we’d be all right?
Quite another account of what is wrong is offered in a new book by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. The book’s title is “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” and its thesis is that what is limited — in short supply — is learning that is academic rather than consumerist or market-driven. After two years of college, they report, students are “just slightly more proficient in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing than when they entered.”
The authors give several explanations for this unhappy result. First, a majority of students surveyed said “that they had not taken a single course . . . that required more than twenty pages of writing, and one third had not taken one that required even forty pages of reading per week.” Moreover, “only 42 percent had experienced both a reading and writing requirement of this character during the prior semester.” The conclusion? “If students are not being asked . . . to read and write on a regular basis . . . it is hard to imagine how they will improve their capacity to master performance tasks.”
Nor will they be encouraged to if they are caught up in the “deepening of consumerist orientations within higher education.” This is a second explanation of the weakening of academic (read liberal arts) learning; for, Arum and Roksa observe, there are “many reasons to expect students as consumers to focus on receiving services that will allow them, as effortlessly and comfortably as possible, to attain valuable educational credentials that can be exchanged for later labor success.” United States college students seem to have internalized (before its appearance) the spirit of England’s Browne Report on higher education, which explicitly equates the value of a course with the future earnings potential value of the students who take it. This is why the report recommends that grants be given to students rather than to universities; since students are in it for the money, the choice of where to invest should be theirs. (After all, they’re in a race to the top.)
Arum and Roksa note the same shift in funding practices in this country, where both the states and the federal government have transferred “support from institutions to individuals,” who thereby gain the power of choice in the educational marketplace. The two sociologists concede that the privatization of higher education financing (through loans and other devices) has resulted in increased access and diversity; but “what conservative policy makers have missed,” they add, is that “market-based educational reforms that elevate the role of students as ‘consumers’ do not necessarily yield improved outcomes in terms of student learning.” (There’s an understatement.)
If this is true of higher education, it is equally true of education at the K-12 level. In their recent books, Diane Ravitch and Martha Nussbaum make arguments that are confirmed by Arum’s and Roksa’s statistics. Once a supporter of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (the principles of which survive in Race to the Top, but with more federal money), Ravitch now sees its emphasis on testing and consumer choice as educationally disastrous. “I concluded,” she says, “that curriculum and instruction were far more important than choice and accountability.” And she rejects the rush to privatization and the popular mantra that schools should be run like businesses: “I realized that incentives and sanctions may be right for business . . . where the bottom line — profit — is the highest priority, but they are not right for schools” (“The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education,” 2010).
Nussbaum seconds this sentiment (and anticipates Arum and Roksa) when she complains that “the humanistic aspects of science and social science — the imaginative creative aspect of rigorous critical thought — are . . . losing ground as nations prefer to pursue short-term profit by the cultivation of . . . applied skills suited to profit-making” (“Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities,”2010). In the brave new world of accountability, the arts and literature will be kicked to the curb “because they don’t look like they lead to personal or national economic achievement.” Indeed, “the ability to think and argue . . . looks to many people like something dispensable if what we want are marketable outputs of a quantifiable nature” (precisely what the Browne Report says we ought to want if we are to attain technological superiority).
As I noted in an earlier column, both Nussbaum and Ravitch are disappointed by Obama’s educational policies. Ravitch wonders why “a president who had been elected on the promise of change . . . was picking up the same banner of choice, competition and markets that had been the hallmark of his predecessors.” Nussbaum hears in Obama’s praise of nations like Singapore – “They are spending less time teaching things that don’t matter” — an elevation of science and technology at the expense of literature, philosophy and the arts. “It is difficult,” she says, “to avoid the conclusion that the ‘things that don’t matter’ include many of the things that this book has defended as essential to the health of democracy.”
On the evidence of the State of the Union speech, that’s right. It looks like the only way humanist educators and their students are going to get to the top is by hanging on to the coattails of their scientist and engineering friends as they go racing by.