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Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., remembers when the idea of revolution was about social equality and a just, humane society. That was then. This is now.
But something has happened to the revolution.
“Strangely, we are now confronted with a different brand of revolutionaries, education reformers who seek not to expand democracy, but instead to restrict it and not to wage a war to end poverty, but instead to make a path for a lucky few to escape from poverty. Lennon lyrics may now have meaning when self-proclaimed “game-changers” advocate improvement through disruptive innovation. Their vision is at once expansive — disrupt the basic structure of democratically governed public education — and pathetically small and selfish — provide competitive opportunities for advancement for the few.
“Today’s education revolutionaries believe that they need to destroy the current structures of education in order to improve it. The problem is not so much the idea of destroying structures — after all the legal structures and cultural practices that supported segregation needed to be destroyed. The problem is reformers’ values, what is in their queue for destruction and their disregard for consequences. Their list includes eliminating elected school boards and teachers’ unions and opposing class-size reductions. It includes replacing the joy of learning with the joy of winning competitions for top test scores. The casualties of such destruction are parents’ and citizens’ democratic voices through state take-overs of school systems, mayoral appointment of school boards rather than elections, and governance transfers to privately run, but publicly-funded, charter schools and vouchers. The victims of that destruction are children whose unstable lives, already disrupted by poverty, are made even less stable by school closings and dismissals from charter schools. The victims of that destruction are those students whose motivation to learn is replaced by the drudgery of test preparation. The list goes on….
“When Lennon referenced evolution in the lyrics to “Revolution,” he might have been unintentionally prescient about another feature of the current education reform mantra. The prime mechanism for biological evolution is natural selection — the interaction of natural variation and random mutations in populations with changes in the environment. With their advocacy for planned competition among schools for students, among parents for student entry into schools, and among teachers for pay increases, reformers appear to be misapplying biological evolution to social policies, favoring a long discredited survival of the fittest social strategy.
“When they talk about that kind of socially destructive competition as the route to improvement, Don’t you know, you can count me out.
“Great vision, citizen action, social movements and public investment brought us great achievements. These include: an end to slavery and much later and an end to legalized segregation. Other achievements include unemployment insurance, overtime pay, child-labors laws, Social Security, Workman’s Compensation Insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, food, medical, occupational heath and safety regulations, the interstate highway system, the Internet and great widely-accessible K-12 and post-secondary education systems. The revolution we still need builds on the values of equity, democracy and community responsibility that drove these advances. The revolution we still need seeks even broader racial, social and economic justice. Of course, we need to elect people who support these values. However, only a reemergence of the spirit and reality of a mass social movement will realize these values in people’s day-to-day lives.
“For that revolution, you can count me in.”