November 26, 2008

Relying on ideas to cheer you up: student predictions of federal education debates

I think I'm going to sue my body, because I should have had a productive day yesterday and be able to count on another one today--one meeting this morning, and then nothing else. Instead... let's just say our local landfill will be burying a bit more carbon in the form of wood pulp than it otherwise would, because of my sinuses. My wife told me as I was leaving this morning, "You are going to your meeting and then coming home." This was an order.

Fortunately, I'm a happy teacher today because of my undergraduate history of ed class yesterday. As the semester is winding down, we're in the home stretch on themes and topics, and yesterday was a 75-minute race through 60+ years of federal education debates. Like my friends and colleagues Erwin Johanningmeier and Theresa Richardson, I think that the discourse often calls for public schools to match the national agenda du jour. They're not alone in this view, but I think their 2007 book is the only one that puts everything together in quite that way. I disagree with them on the start of truly federal education debates (as opposed to national debates), but that's a judgment call. But back to yesterday's class: my part of the class (in terms of lecture) laid out my argument that since WW2, schools have been called upon repeatedly to fight ...

  • ... the Cold War
  • ... the War on Poverty
  • ... racism and prejudice
  • ... for economic competitiveness
Since their documentary collection includes the text of A Nation at Risk, I let them figure out the discourse for themselves, and then asked them to find the martial rhetoric (the end of the first paragraph and the second paragraph).

Part One was finished: I'd prepped them for the next bit. I said, "If we think this is a pattern that might be extended, what is the next battle that schools will be called on to fight?" I let them loose, and they guessed that public schools might be asked to help fight inequality (a continuation of one of the themes above), to help fight for economic competitiveness (again, a continuation, with India and China replacing Germany and Japan from the 1980s), to help fight the war on terror/terrorism, to help fight a new Cold War that's coming (with Russia or China), or to help fight global warming.

As I told them, in early 2002 I fully expected the Bush administration to use martial language to talk about education serving the war on terror. Such was not to be the case: there was no call for learning foreign languages or anything else that might connect schools with foreign policy. Then again, there was no call from the White House for public sacrifice at all in connection with the two wars currently going on.

I did tell them my guess about the rhetoric we might hear from the Obama administration, and it turned out to be included in their list. But I'm going to hold that close to the vest, for now. Do you think that the schools-should-help-fight-X rhetoric will continue, and if so, what will X be in the next decade?

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Posted in Education policy on November 26, 2008 9:42 AM |