Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who Chooses Our Choices?

by special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

The sadomasochistic ritual known as testing season is upon us, and for some reason that makes me think about Choice and the lack of it.

So-called education reformers fervently believe parents should have Choice. By that, they don’t mean parents are members of a community with rights and a voice in the education of their children, but that they are utility-minded consumers in a marketplace, a giant educational supermarket. They’re supposed to be homo edu-nomicus, discerning shoppers walking down the bright, carefully orchestrated aisles, impressed by the color and abundance.

In reality, it’s more like what Michael Pollan describes in his books about the American food and agricultural system: much of that apparent variety and choice is mostly processed, genetically-modified corn or soy, with a lot of sugar, salt and fat thrown in.

Sure, the sign on the door of one of Bloomberg’s new schools may say “Academy of  Legal Performing Arts and Criminal Justice Business Studies,” but too much of it is variations on a theme of Test Prep.

What they call school choice is in fact a gigantic loss of democracy, community stability, institutional memory. And with the neutralization and intended demise of the teacher unions, it’s a big decline in living standards, going years forward into the work lives of today’s children.

The billionaires who’ve altruistically decided to buy controlling shares in  US education have a peculiar definition of choice. In their selfless magnanimity, they’ve chosen our choices for us, and they’ve also chosen what we cannot choose.

Closing public schools and replacing them with charters and teacher-free i-Things is Choice.

Equitably supporting all neighborhood and community public schools is Not a Choice.

Common Corporate Standards are Choice (don’t ask how, but take it on rigorous faith).

An enriched curriculum for all students, including art, music, physical education and play time, is Not a Choice.

Tests, more of them, on everything, are Choice.

Opting out of the tests is most definitely Not a Choice.

For teachers, speaking out publicly and critically about the tests is supremely Not a Choice, as our very own union warned us.

When it was time for most so-called reformers to send their own kids to school, they made an emphatic Choice to give them a very different education than what they’re imposing on other people’s kids.

That will give those parents and teachers No Choice but to fight back for what’s left of their children’s public education.
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