Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Who are the real educational colonialists?

Many of us education bloggers have complained about people who advocate policies for other people's children that they would never inflict on their own. My own litany includes these types:

1. People who oppose school choice but have school choice themselves (i.e., the ability to pay for private school or get their kids into magnet schools or move to a different district).

2. People who oppose selective charter schools, but send their kids to selective schools.

3. People who think publicly funded schools shouldn’t remove disruptive kids, but make sure their own kids’ classrooms are disruptor-free.

4. Parents who oppose tracking and ability-based grouping, but make sure their own kids attend high-level classes with high-level peers.

5. Parents who say charters and vouchers are destroying public education, but opt their own kids out of public education.

6. Parents who lament the college admissions rat race and say that SAT scores and what college you go to don't matter but, when the time comes, hire tutors and SAT coaches and stuff their kids’ schedules with after-school activities.

To this list, I might have added one other:

7. People (typically education experts or education software developers) who would like to see the latest education fads--heterogenous group work, child-centered discovery, Everyday/Investigations Math, online, project-based learning--applied to children in general, but send their kids to more traditional schools that evade these fads.

So, when I recently stumbled across Chris Lehmann's book Building School 2.0, I was intrigued to hear what he has to say about this phenomenon, which he calls "educational colonialism."

The problem is, I can't actually quote from the book.  That's because I can't bear to actually possess it. The book bills itself as a Martin Lutheresque manifesto (It consists of 95 short "theses"). But, unlike Martin Luther's theses, there's nothing new, let alone revolutionary here: these are simply repackagings of the various Constructivist/21st Century Schools ideas that have been around for at least the last two decades.

Luckily, though, Lehmann doesn't just repackage other people's ideas: he also cannibalizes from his own writing. In particular, Lehmann's thesis on "educational colonialism" comes straight from a piece he wrote several years ago for the Huffington Post.

Here are some nuggets:

there are a lot of powerful folks right now who are advocating for a pedagogy that they do not want for their own children. Some of these powerful people are running networks of schools that have a pedagogical approach that is directly counter to the educational approach they pay for for their own children. Moreover, these same powerful people tend to get upset when asked about the disconnect, saying that that question is off limits.
I don’t think it is.
So far so good, though I don't know anyone who has dismissed that question as off limits.

But then, in explaining why we should question it, Lehmann goes on to explain what he means by this colonialist pedagogy:
I think that’s a very dangerous thing not to question.
Because we’ve done this before in America, and when we did that to the Native Americans, it did damage that has effects today.
To me, when you ensure your own child has an arts-enriched, small-class size, deeply humanistic education and you advocate that those families who have fewer economic resources than you have should sit straight in their chairs and do what they are told while doubling and tripling up on rote memorization and test prep, you are guilty of educational colonialism.
Observers at Lehmann's school have reported kids surfing the internet rather than attending to classroom activities; test scores show Lehmann's students earning low scores on assessments of scientific knowledge. I'm not sure what we did to Native Americans, but I'm guessing that most parents want kids--including their own--sitting up straight in chairs and acquiring content knowledge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure what we did to Native Americans"