It’s Time to Call Out Stupid Educational Decisions for What They Are – Stupid!

(Warning – Rant Approaching)

I keep searching for that grain of sanity but I just can’t seem to find it. The recent spread of the “stupid” virus makes this quest even more difficult. In fact I’m afraid the spread of this virus in the education reform movement may have reached epidemic proportions. The latest outbreaks are making me crazy!

In Wisconsin a legislative committee recently slipped a measure into a finance bill that would allow anyone with any sort of bachelor’s degree to teach math, science, social studies or English. Anyone with “relevant experience” could be certified to teach all other subjects (even without a high school diploma). Allegedly, this was done to make it easier for rural districts to find qualified teachers. This should work well because potential teachers would now hardly need to be qualified at all. The virus has clearly infected Rep. Mary Czaja, the author of the measure. Wisconsin state superintendent Tony Evers even called the measure “breathtaking in its stupidity.”

This spring the virus has been rearing its ugly head in Mississippi as well. Mississippi is a state where (amazingly) wealthy school districts receive more state education funding than poor districts. Of course it is well-known that poverty has a major impact on achievement. Nonetheless the state has enacted (at the behest of the governor) a bill that requires all 3rd graders to pass a literacy test in order to go on to 4th grade. Not passing means retention and no exceptions can be made based on the students’ in-class work. This means that even a student who got straight A’s all year-long can be retained if they don’t pass the test (They do get several chances). So of course more poor and minority kids will fail the tests and be retained. Most research indicates that retention usually doesn’t help kids, and most educators suggest a single high stakes test should never be used alone for educational decision-making. The governor however believes he is being compassionate by insuring kids can read before they move on to 4th grade. My diagnosis is that the “stupid” virus has somehow affected his ability to reason clearly about such matters.

These aren’t isolated incidents of the virus flaring up. Where I live near Lake Wobegon one local district is working to improve the achievement of students at their three schools serving the greatest numbers of poor, minority and immigrant students because the state has identified these schools as being in need of “focus.” I’m certainly glad they are “focusing” but do you think they reduced class size to give these kids more individual attention too? Nope. More ELL teachers to help the immigrants do better with a curriculum taught in English? Guess again. How about extended summer programs to provide poor, minority and immigrant kids with the kinds of experiences middle class kids have that school achievement is built on? Don’t be silly! New culturally relevant curriculum maybe? You have got to be kidding me!

The new plan is to increase the school day for the teachers by 45 minutes so they can focus on “planning, collaborating, coaching and discussion.” The school day for the students will remain the same length as it is currently. These aren’t necessarily bad things but the district has once again bought into the foolish assumption that it is the teachers who are the problem and if the teachers were better everything would be fixed. Because this extra time is not provided for in the local contract nearly 25% percent of the teachers in these buildings have asked for transfers to other schools. But that’s okay; they’ll get new teachers because experience and skill don’t matter. So it’s the teachers’ fault, but it must not be the fault of the teachers because experience and skill make no difference. Wait a minute; I think I might be coming down with virus. I better get a surgical mask.

It looks as if the spread of this virus has reached epidemic proportions nationally as well. All of these matters stem from people without much background in education making decisions about education. That particular strain of the virus seems to be everywhere. It would be truly frightening if it jumped species like animal viruses sometimes do. Imagine if our national IT infrastructure started to fail. Communications, medicine, defense, air traffic control, entertainment and a myriad of other services would all be affected. So here’s an idea. Let’s get someone who knows almost nothing about IT and has no experience in the complexities of IT to fix it. They won’t be hobbled by old ideas about how IT should function. That should work right? After all, they had a Sega or DS when they were kids, they had computer time for 45 minutes a week during elementary school and now they have a smart phone. And besides look how well that approach has worked in education!

Wow! Just imagining that the virus could jump from education to IT has really scared me. I need to go get a shot of scotch . . . and some Prozac . . . and my blood pressure medicine.

Okay, I’m back. While I was gone my 18-year-old son read what I had written thus far and upon observing my behavior suggested that it wasn’t a virus at all, but rather was the long-term effects of the “pharmaceutical entertainment” I and other baby boomers indulged in during the 60’s and 70’s. I pointed out that some of the decision makers are currently far too young to have experienced the sixties and seventies. “No problem” he said, “they are the offspring of you baby boomers so it’s probably a genetic mutation.”

To prove him wrong I introduced him to some of the viral outbreaks that occurred well before we baby boomers started destroying society as we know it. When I was in elementary school we used to have “air raid drills” in which we hid under our desks and put our hands over our heads. If only those who have been killed by nuclear or other bombs knew about this great simple protection. What a difference that would have made! I’m pretty sure the teachers knew that it was ridiculous to assume that being under the desk would protect us from a nuclear firestorm, or the shockwave of a nuclear explosion. I’m guessing they also knew how much it would scare kids. But some administrator and/or government official apparently contracted the virus and decided it was okay to scare kids and waste school time in this way.

Around the same period of time many children were subjected to a form of institutional abuse called “The New Math.” The New Math was created during the push for math and science after Sputnik but somehow some mathematicians and educators caught the virus and decided it would be a great idea to engage young children with the esoteric and theoretical underpinnings of mathematics. I mean, what second grader wouldn’t be just ecstatic at the thought of the union and intersection of sets and the ultimate entertainment, “The Null Set. It was almost as exciting as watching re-runs of Lassie. (For those of you who missed the New Math, you can tell we had a blast in school, until the New Math mysteriously disappeared.)

Unfortunately, like many viral outbreaks this one too left some lasting damage and the aftereffects of the New Math stupidity are still with us. Working in other bases in math (Base 4 or Base 7 etc.) seems to have started as a part of the New Math and believe or not kids and teachers are still subjected to doing it. Whereas there are some uses for very simplified work in other bases to learn about place value that’s not what happens in schools. Many students still have to learn to add and subtract in other bases, even though there is no real world or educationally viable reason for doing so. I learned it in sixth grade. The next time I used it was when I re-learned it in college so I could teach it to sixth graders. The only further use I can imagine for it is for me to teach it to my undergraduate teacher education students, so they can teach it to their students. Sounds like a circle created by the virus to me. Teachers and students then and now have recognized that it was an aberrant idea, but still weren’t able to prevent the spread or the aftereffects of the virus.

The more I see these events the more I feel like I’m in a parody of the movie “The Sixth Sense; “I see stupid people. They’re everywhere. They don’t know they are stupid.” But they can’t all really be that stupid over all these years. The reality is that the folks who made and make these decisions aren’t really stupid people, but something has caused them to make some really stupid decisions when it comes to education. Fortunately there is some good news on the horizon. Teachers and parents (and even some politicians) are beginning to see that one way to control the spread of such a virus is to stay away from the places where it most prevalent. This is why we saw so many parents opting their kids out of the standardized tests this year, in many cases with the support of their teachers. Avoiding a virus is a good idea, but to eradicate it we have to identify and name it and then find a cure.

I don’t have any fancy scientific suggestions for a name like H1N1 so I suggest we simply call it the “stupid” virus because it has been demonstrated to cause marked stupidity in educational decision makers. Now, I realize that some folks don’t like the word “stupid.” In fact one of my relatives is raising her children to think “stupid” is a bad word (You can bet they don’t get to come visit cranky old “Uncle Searching” very often). As such I am willing to consider some other appropriate names for this virus. Foolish, idiotic, ridiculous, ludicrous, moronic, absurd and asinine would all work equally well in describing the decisions this virus causes. Of course you can send me your suggestions as well.

Once we have named the virus we need to begin working together to find a cure. I’m wondering if a simple phrase might be the magic key, like in the movies. When we see an idea created by the virus we could say, “That doesn’t make any sense. Have you really thought this through?” Or we could say “ I think that would be really bad for our kids and our country” or even “You must really hate kids to want to put them through that!” Those who prefer a less strident approach could suggest that the idea is “under-theorized,” “under-researched” or “misguided.” I personally prefer the stronger approach as I think the latter phrases might be like using a children’s aspirin to fight a migraine. I’m guessing stronger medicine is required.

This is a serious and destructive epidemic we are fighting; I call it stupidity. We can fight it by staying away from the source of the virus (by opting out of testing) and by confronting it with the strongest medicines we have – powerful ideas and questions. I urge all of you to help us fight and find a cure for this debilitating national epidemic.

I’d be happy to share your reports of new outbreaks and your suggestions for combatting the virus if you send them to me. I can be reached at sehornstein@yahoo.com.

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2 Responses to “It’s Time to Call Out Stupid Educational Decisions for What They Are – Stupid!”

  1. Invisible Mikey Says:

    As long as people are able to opt-out of vaccinating for reasons like “I read something on the Internet”, that virus, as well as all the other viruses, will continue to spread. Sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

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