Throughout the conference, in plenary and small-group sessions alike, conspiracy theories abounded. To NCSS members, at least, the vast right-wing conspiracy is alive and thriving. Apparently their definition of “radical right wing” now includes anyone who advocates school choice, standards and accountability, alternative teacher certification, or other such reforms. Moreover, such “reformers” and policy makers are all part of a political conspiracy to undermine public education. I encountered precisely one person who could actually articulate what he thought the conspiracy was; everyone else settled for the simplistic assertion that “politics” is driving these unwelcome reforms.
The conspiracy, insisted one NCSS member whose name I didn’t catch, is driven by right-wing ideologues who use testing, standards, and accountability to set public schools up for failure. Then they’ll be able to divert public funding to private schools. The notion that these “ideologues” might just want what’s best for kids was rejected on its face as preposterous.
Were I a conspiracy theorist, however, I now have enough information to conclude the opposite: that the education establishment in general, and the NCSS in particular, are working energetically to shut down the kind of dissent and debate that makes effective reforms possible. Consider, for example, that while NCSS leaders discussed and denounced Fordham’s recent publication Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? at more than one session, they didn’t invite a single author, editor, Fordham staffer, or really anyone who disagrees with the status quo to engage in debate.
But it gets worse. The self-styled “Contrarians,” a tiny band of teachers and ed school professors within NCSS who believe that social studies urgently needs an overhaul, have tried for two years to get a session at the NCSS annual wingding. In 2002, though ostensibly granted a session, it was conveniently left off the program and thus couldn’t meet. This year, though their session was listed on the program, NCSS conveniently double-booked the room. So the Contrarians scrambled to find an empty room with no help from NCSS (and minimal help from the hotel). After two tries, they finally found a spot and were able to proceed on their own, no thanks to the NCSS.
A small group attended, including a hostile NCSS past president and a current board member. A few of the authors of Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? presented their arguments, then opened the floor for discussion--a real one that included debate of hotly contested issues, something that I had not seen in any other NCSS session. During this debate, however, I was amazed by the mean, ad hominem, and insulting nature of the comments from the social studies establishment. Though the NCSS board member said that a more “productive” way to air these matters would be for the Contrarians to hold a general session where they presented their ideas and brought in opponents who could debate the pros and cons, in fact NCSS for years now has refused to give the Contrarians any room at their conference, let alone a large room to hold a general session and debate.
The theme of this year’s conference was: “The power of one: How to make a difference in a changing world.” Based on the efforts of the NCSS elite to promote a one-sided look at social studies education while stifling all attempts to question the status quo, I can only conclude that they truly believe in the power of one--and fear that permitting even a single voice of dissent might put at risk the enormous influence they have over the field of social studies.
Monday, July 18, 2005
This report from a past National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference reveals the near-totalitarian mentality of the crowd that dominates this nebulous field. There is no reason to believe that anything has changed.