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April 14, 2015

You can make the case that people who are progressives are better than the rest of us.

They look beyond their own existence. They are attuned to what is happening in communities all across the state. They care about people, especially the less fortunate. They come up with ideas to improve others’ lives.  And they do what they do because they believe in it. That is, they aren’t trying to get rich doing it. Nor are they in it for fame or glory. As if!

That said,  there’s another side to the progressives.  Every once in a while, their “bad” comes out. Every once in a while, they can really put the OGRE in progressive.

This is well established in history.

The folks that led the French revolution had a motto. It was that “some must die, so the revolution can live.”

And Lenin said: “We stand for organized terror, and that should be freely admitted. In times of revolution, terror is an absolute necessity.”

Now we’re not suggesting that our progressive friends in New York would ever advocate the use of guillotines or gulags, but they do, on occasion, resort to tactics that are excessive. This is in the course of trying to change things for the better.

A while back there was the whole “Occupy Wall Street” thing, which, at first, everyone viewed as a novel way to direct attention to corporate excess. But after a while, it became bizarre. Bank bailouts are wrong, so let’s trash this public park. Huh? What?

This past summer, the progressives staged a revolt against Cuomo. Now as we’ve written numerous times, Cuomo can be maddening, but the way the progressives were carrying on was absurd. Cuomo has achieved more for them than any governor in modern times, but they convinced themselves that he was worse than Pataki.

Then there was Bill DeBlasio stunt over the weekend, which we’ve written about. It clearly was inspired by progressives, but it was harmful, not only to Hillary Clinton, but to their own cause.

And finally, there’s this matter of student testing.

Let’s analyze this. To start, let’s give progressives their due: The educational system is becoming test crazy. Instead of educating kids, we’re “teaching to the test.”

Good point. Valid point. So our collective response should be what? Well, the progressives say the response should be to boycott the tests.

This is that thing again. This is the progressives having a point, but taking it too far and suggesting a response that isn’t either proportional or logical in long run.

Why exactly?

Well, the tests in question are federal tests, and opting out can jeopardize federal funding. If, as progressives in the education sector always say: “It’s all about the funding,” how can they turn around now and say: “Screw the funding, boycott the tests.” How does that square?

Much more importantly, there’s something subversive here.

We don’t want to overreach with our argument, but we think it’s dangerous to have teachers encourage students to go against “authority.”

Several of us in our little group have taught. One of our members made it a career and this member gives a disturbing account of how student attitudes have deteriorated over the decades.

Toward the end of her career, her greatest frustration was an increasingly ingrained notion in children that they didn’t have to listen to her. “Toward the end, I wasn’t giving direction like I once did and having it followed eagerly. I was asking them, begging them to do the work.”

Our point here is that the erosion of authority in the classroom may be worsened by the call for a boycott. What’s being said, in effect, is that the people in charge of our education system don’t know what they are doing, and that students and parents don’t need to listen to them.

That’s a terrible message.

Eventually, this problem over testing is going to be worked out, along with the teacher evaluation controversy which is a subtext.

What will remain? A classroom dynamic in which learning will be more difficult because nobody respects the system.

Progressives don’t want that. They want to help improve education. They want to do the right thing. They always do. But their tactics are wrong here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    April 14, 2015 1:05 PM

    Respect is earned by the relationship the teacher cultivates with the students. It has very little to do with testing or subject matter. It’s personal. That’s why at it’s very core, it cannot be ‘standardized.’

    That being said, why should students and parents respect teachers and the system when it isn’t serving them? When it is clear that the system is broken, don’t we need a radical response if we want real change?

    I was taught by one of the best teachers I’ve had, someone whom I still consider a friend and have a great deal of respect for, to ALWAYS question authority. If we don’t question the information we are given and the sources it is coming from, how can we cultivate critical thinking? We can’t have it both ways — we can’t have an informed, engaged, free-thinking population and at the same time treat the information being disseminated by those authority figures as gospel. That just doesn’t square.

    Our education system is broken. It’s pitifully undeserving our nation. High school graduation rates haven’t increased since 1968. We lag the word in the quality of education we are providing our kids. And that has little to do with teachers in the classroom.

    Our system incentivizes test scores over creativity, individuality and diversity. When the school district, principal and teachers are all rewarded based on students achieving a score on a test, rather than students being engaged, interested in learning and turned on to knowledge and wisdom, then of course these authority figures will strive to earn their rewards at all costs. That’s why we have teachers and administrators fudging test scores. They are incentivized to.

    The emphasis on test scores and achieving benchmarks degrades the integrity of the system it is meant to organize. It’s lazy. It removes nuance and says “do what you’re told and don’t ask any questions!'”

    Isn’t that in essence tyranny? Isn’t that unequivocally un-American?

    It would be nice if everything in this world fit into nice little boxes. Everything in it’s place. That leaves an easy to understand existence. It’s safe. But unfortunately it’s an illusion.

    Economic theory speaks of standard distributions and equilibrium. We’ve modeled our economy after these theories. We teach and preach these theories in higher education. Yet, then we have events like the Great Recession and every portfolio theory doesn’t match the data in the real world. We pretend we are living in a closed equilibrium system. But in reality we are in an open disequilibrium.

    The universe isn’t linear, it is multifaceted, expanding and infinitely complex. Though to admit that is uncomfortable. It means that we may never know everything there is to know. That our understanding is inherently flaud. It means we are left with questions, not answers. But at the end of the day that is how we become educated — by having questions, not answers.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    April 14, 2015 1:47 PM

    It’s important that you do your homework on this issue. Significant mistakes and misperceptions could have been avoided.

    Let’s start with this paragraph:

    “The tests in question are federal tests, and opting out can jeopardize federal funding. If, as progressives in the education sector always say: “It’s all about the funding,” how can they turn around now and say: “Screw the funding, boycott the tests.” How does that square?”

    These are state tests–an easy fact to ascertain. While the governor may assert in the press that if you boycott the tests the schools will lose federal funding, just because you read it in the paper does not make it so. There is no instance of schools being deprived of federal funding over having less than 95% participation rate in these tests–this fact far predates the entire opt out movement. There is a concern about the potential impact on schools in terms of accountability status under state and federal guidelines, and some progressive groups have actually warned about that.

    In terms of the assertion that this undermines teacher authority, you are ignoring one key factor. This is not a situation where a student can walk into class and refuse to take the test. This requires a proactive step by the one authority that all of us recognize as paramount in students’ lives–their parent. You have to register your child for test refusal and organizations advocating and leading this effort are very meticulous about making sure people are equipped with everything needed to make this decision. This has nothing to do with the authority of the teacher unless it is your perspective that parents should have no voice in their students education and should have no role in decision making regarding what their children do in school.

    You confuse tactics with policy. The test refusal is not seen by people as a solution to the problem, it is a highly effective protest technique that requires considerable commitment from families who make this choice. If it were not for the opt out, you probably would not be writing about the overemphasis on testing and the robust public debate that is percolating up from the ground would not capture people’s attention. The solution is to eliminate high stakes consequences tied to tests — like school closings and decisions about personnel. There is plenty of research on that if you want to make a more informed formation of your analysis. The solution is also less time spent on testing. But the teaching to the test is an outcome of the high stakes status of these tests, not the quantity of testing.

    When you do not get the difference for progressives between solutions and tactics it is no wonder that you equate Occupy Wall Street to trashing a park. But if not for Occupy Wall Streets’ occupation of the park then income equality would not be the defining issue of our day. Occupy Wall Street, as uncanny as it is, provided the first major reframing of the basic debate about the economy since Reaganism supplanted FDR New Deal politics. It is not simply the power of the idea, but the capacity to capture public attention around it. You could argue that it would have been more effective for the Occupy crowd to finance a multi-million ad campaign and to hire a cadre of professional lobbyists and media pros to get their message across. Certainly that would be more traditional, but not practical for everyday people which is why progressives organize and use mass action and creative tactics.

    Finally, it is an odd, and somewhat unique analysis to say that Cuomo has done so much for progressives. Gay marriage and gun control we can agree on. But minimum wage, school funding, jobs, progressive taxation. Core bread and butter issues that prioritize the poor and working people . . . what has he done? Please do cite some evidence on this.


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