As anyone who has been paying attention to the endless debate that is currently transpiring between those education reformers who endorse the privatization of education through the charter school movement, and those who vociferously support public schools and teacher unions, the discussion of education in our society has become heavily politicized. In fact, the entire debate has now become so heavy handed, predictable, and all-consuming that it seems as if the oxygen is actually being drained from the subject of what true education reform genuinely entails; the sort of reform which concerns those two incredibly significant questions asked by previous reformers such as John Dewey and John Holt, which are: What is a truly healthy learning environment, and what is the proper relationship between a child’s personal experience and his/her academic learning?
Reformers from the left side of the political spectrum have traditionally focused much of their energy on opposing standardized classroom environments and results-driven approaches to learning, such as those implemented by George Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, with its heavy emphasis on standardized test scores, simply because they were an obvious abrogation of Deweyan principles which champion the personal experience of the child as he learns.
Now, however, many of those same reformers seem to be spending much of their time doing battle with the likes of Bill Gates and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, both proponents of the charter school movement. That is, they are increasingly focused on going after what they see as the evils of privatized charter schools, rather than spending the bulk of it raising those questions related to how today’s classrooms, be they public or private, might endeavor to become healthier learning environments for children, with a higher rate of successful learning taking place within them.
From the other side of the spectrum, Bill Gates of Mircrosoft fame has become increasingly convinced that the charter school movement is the only place where any true innovation in education reform might originate; backing up this statement by extolling the virtues of charters such as the KIPP schools, heavily results-driven, high performing schools in which programs of rigorous instruction producing significant academic achievement measured by test scores assure parents that their children are on a path to college. Most KIPP schools run ten hours a day, many of them on select Saturdays, with middle school students reportedly receiving a paycheck from KIPP at the end of the week, based on academic merit, conduct, and overall behavior.
In other words, we now have, on the one hand, Bill Gates and others from the world of big business, such as Eli Broad of the Broad Foundation, presenting a top down business model for learning which they are attempting to impart to the world of education. While on the other, we have those educators who, in their defense of public education, are attempting to prevent this. Yet what appears to be going more than a little awry is that many of those who began by embracing a more experientially based, child-centered mode of schooling are spending much of their time wrapped up in the political fight to oppose charter schools; thus spending much less time simply asking how we can make our classrooms more child-centered in nature.
That is, if one takes the time to read their recent blogs and Twitter feeds, one finds that many of these reformers on the left increasingly spend their time going after what they see as the evils of privatized charters, or else defending government run publc schools and teacher unions against privatizers; rather than spending the bulk of it raising those questions related to how the actual structure of classrooms in our schools, be they public or private, might be fundamentally changed so that they can engender more successful, developmentally healthy learning.
So now there are an increasing number of education reformers, those who originally embraced the democratic principles of John Dewey relative to classroom learning, seemingly being consumed by their own attacks on the privatization of education, manifested by charter schools which, ironically, often tend to embrace the very same results-driven approaches to learning being implemented by the public schools which many of those same reformers vociferously support. That is, it appears that many of the people who should be involved in figuring out how to open classrooms more fully, and to change the nature of the relationships between teachers and students to the point where they become more democratic, are instead now involving themselves in endless cockfighting with privatizers such as Bill Gates, or with Arne Duncan for his support of charter schools during his tenure as Education Secretary.
As a result, small, private, democratically run schools, such as the one I founded and directed for twelve years, are rapidly disappearing; most likely because, in no small measure, the possibility of their existence is being forgotten by those reformers on the left who now spend so much of time and energy attacking the privatization movement. In other words, the politics of education are now taking precedence over a focus on changing the dynamics of what might take place within classrooms so that healthier, more organic, more effective learning might take place. To this end, it would truly be a shame if the experiential principles of John Dewey and other such progressive reformers from another era, such as John Holt, George Dennison, and Neil Postman, disappeared from view as parents and children are increasingly presented with a choice only between the Tweedledum-Tweedledee of results-driven privatized charters or results-driven government run public schools.