Monday, July 18, 2005

Pensée unique

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.

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.


Rob Kremer said...

These very same people, no doubt, can be observed in a constant state of moral preening yammering on and on about "celebrating diversity" and "tolerance."

NYC Educator said...

I don't know...I've been observing "alternative teacher certification" in NYC for 22 years, and I can tell you it's an abysmal failure. While I'll grant that education schools do a very poor job, it's a preposterous assumption to think that a CPA could just get in front of 34 15 year olds and start teaching math. I'm not a math person, but I'll bet you dimes to dollars I could do a better job.

I don't see anyone advocating alternative certification for doctors and lawyers, and I wouldn't want to be represented or operated on by anyone with such qualifications. Would you?

Actually, standards for teachers need to be raised considerably. Education schools need to start showing real people how to teach real kids. People who can't pass basic skills tests should not teach, period. People who can't pass more difficult tests in their own subject areas probably shouldn't teach either.

Current teacher certification does not ensure a good teacher, but failure to meet minimum standards absolutely guarantees a bad one. It's simply absurd to promote standards for kids and shun them for educators.

Instructivist said...

I don't see anyone advocating alternative certification for doctors and lawyers, and I wouldn't want to be represented or operated on by anyone with such qualifications. Would you?

I would feel much more reassured by teachers who were rigorously tested by an alt cert organization like the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence than by teachers indoctrinated in vapidity by ed schools.

Doctors and lawyers need to possess a body of knowledge. The most important body of knowledge teachers need to possess is subject matter expertise. That expertise is held in contempt by ed schools and more likely to be possessed by alt certs with real academic backgrounds.

The practical aspects of teaching (class management, lesson planning, etc.) come from experience in the classroom anyway.

allen said...

ag2828 wrote:

Education schools need to start showing real people how to teach real kids.

Why? If you want ed schools to change you have to find some reason, other then moral outrage, to get them to do so.

Ed schools purvey edu-crap because there's a market for it and they'll continue to churn out impressive-sounding and utterly ineffective programs as long as there's a market for them. Make the market for edu-crap go away and the river of edu-crap will dry up.

Instructivist said...

L'expression "pensée unique" (et ses dérivées, genre "pensée tunique") est utiisée par les tenants d'une opinion généralement répandue dans une certaine couche de population, donc conformiste, pour accuser de conformisme les tenants d'une autre opinion généralement répandue dans une autre couche de population.

C'est ainsi que les pensées uniques peuvent paradoxalement être multiples et se renvoyer les unes aux autres dans un bal de communication circulaire. C'est en cela que l'expression est passée du rang de simple gimmick journalistique, puis de slogan politique caricatural, à celui de mème.

On attribue l'origine de l'expression au journaliste Ignacio Ramonet, dans un éditorial de 1995 du Monde diplomatique, stigmatisant ce qu'il considèrait l'hégémonie du conformisme libéral.

C'est ainsi qu'au départ, le terme pensée unique visait à diaboliser ceux qui étaient accusés de penser que seul le libéralisme économique peut permettre de développer l'humanité, en contradiction avec les principes originels du libéralisme qui s'oppose à toute forme de "pensée unique". Leurs adversaires, les qualifiant d'ultralibéraux, considèrent qu'ils negligent ces principes et placent le marché au-dessus de la démocratie. Cela n'explique d'ailleurs pas le qualificatif de pensée unique.

Par conséquent, ceux considérés ultralibéraux eux-mêmes se proclament à leur tour contre la "pensée unique", comme on peut le voir sur Conscience Politique, arguant par exemple que la droite française est trop conciliante avec ses adversaires, comme on a pu le supposer quand Alain Madelin a été renvoyé du gouvernement Juppé en 1995 pour avoir engagé des réformes trop audacieuses au Ministère de l'Economie et des Finances.