I'm writing this journal entry while taking a break from reading an article in the weekend New York Times about "education reform." It's very wonkish, and it's about an issue I care about, and it tells the stories of the people behind the positions in that way that only they and the New Yorker (and once in a while NPR) still do, now that Murdoch has wrecked the Wall Street Journal. It ought to be right up my alley. I ought to be having fun reading this; this is, in fact, exactly my favorite kind of fun. But every couple of sentences, I have to take a break to do something else ... like, for instance, writing this journal entry. Or pacing angrily around the room. Or pounding on the desk. Or banging my head against the wall.
I feel some obligation to finish the article, because the part of me that wants to know how the world works also knows that congressional aides and staffers, from both parties, count on the NYT weekend edition to frame their debates, pro- and con-, on every policy issue in Washington. But it's an unpleasant and painful slog, because every 2 or 3 paragraphs is something that I believe is the central fallacy of "education reform" under the Bush the Elder, Clinton, Bush the Younger, and Obama administrations. The article, like almost every journalist-produced article on "education reform" since 1988, divides the world into two categories: the brilliant, scientific, technocratic, well-meaning and clearly right reformers who want to apply the one simple idea that will, if implemented, make a genius out of every child in America, and the lazy, corrupt, money-grubbing, and morally repugnant teachers' unions who are resisting this idea, not because they think it's wrong, but because it would make their members work harder, and take money out of the pockets of their lazier and more incompetent members, or force them to find honest work digging ditches somewhere.
It is an idea that is so obviously wrong, or at least I think it's so obviously wrong, that bringing it up around me is likely to start me shouting and pounding on the table in anger and frustration. And it is this: the only determinant, or at least the only important determinant, of whether someone graduates at age 17 as a genius or as a dunce, is whether or not they had "good teachers."
A child who grows up in a home where there is (at most) one parent, where the TV is on all the time, where there are no books, who owns no books of his own, who has no quiet place or working surface he can use to do his homework, where there's no food in the house most of the time and what little food there is contains no actual nutrition, just salt, carbs, fat, and trace amounts of protein, who has never met anybody in their family or from their neighborhood who finished high school, and the only people that child knows who did finish high school work insanely long hours, taking two jobs that both work them more than 40 hours a week, just to end up getting evicted when they can't pay their bills, or worse permanently unemployed the first time they get a toothache, and who goes to a classroom where (thanks to all the jobs having left town, and taken the tax base with them) there are 30 kids trying to get one teacher's attention (or, more likely, finding it all too easy to escape that teacher's attention), surrounded by an entire community that tells him that nothing he learns in school is true and that none of it is important? If only that one teacher in front of those 30 kids were trying harder, and applying New Scientifically Proven Methods, that kid will graduate from MIT and cure cancer. The only reason he ends up as a painfully ignorant high-school dropout, if he does, is that he had one teacher who wasn't any good.
A child who grows up in an upper-middle class neighborhood in the white-flight exurbs, where all the jobs and the whole tax base fled to (and where every business owner and property owner has dedicated their entire adult life to keeping that first kid and his family out, so they can feel "safe" because they're "around people who share our values"), who grows up in a house with over 500 books in it, and where the TV is frequently off or turned down because one or more of the adults in the household reads books as their idea of entertainment, who grows up surrounded by food that is fresh, plentiful, and nutritious, who has his own room with his own desk, computer, stereo, and TV that he can turn on or off whenever he wants, both of whom's parents are degreed professionals who work as many or as few hours as they want and still make comfortable money, and who has other relatives or friends of family who are doctors, lawyers, or ranking government officials, who goes to a school where a 20-student classroom has both a full-time teacher and a full-time teacher's aide so he's always under observation and always gets personalized help, and who has never even met someone who couldn't go to the doctor within 3 days of getting sick with even as little as the sniffles? The only reason that kid goes to Harvard, gets a post-graduate degree, and becomes moderately wealthy is that all of his teachers were hard working and used the latest New Scientifically Proven Methods; if he has even one lazy or obsolete teacher, he'll end up dropping out and living in some poverty-stricken ghetto.
If everything I wrote in those last two paragraphs is obviously true to you? Fuck you.