Why Quality Learning May be the Last Thing You Want for Your Child

Pulitzer Prize winning historians, Will & Ariel Durant, have written extensively about what makes civilizations prosper and what has destroyed them. They make the point that “morals are the rules by which a society exhorts its members and associations to behavior consistent with its order, security, and growth.” Oftentimes though those morals are not explicit. Most of us are not even aware of many of the Things that Work. They are embedded in the traditions and knowledge of the past transmitted through schools and social interactions. As our educators shift American schools and schools globally away from the transmission of knowledge model, I think their lack of much familiarity with the lessons of history and economics is showing.

Starting anew and pushing theories and practices that are untried. Making “research-based” about noting the effects on actual students of these new theories. Or even worse reintroducing political theories that have been tried with a tragic result.  Renaming them as learning theories to “give remaking human nature another try” means rejecting much hidden knowledge that most of us are unaware of. The practices and knowledge that generate prosperity and stable societies even if we do not quite understand why. That’s why change should be piece by piece to allow examination of consequences.

Not to wholesale change the entire System of education completely and the purpose to boot. Especially since no one is being honest with the parents and taxpayers about what is really going on. No rational being would reject the transmission of knowledge and replace it with a primitive “sense-making” if they were using their own money. Why on earth are we supporting people who want to do that while living on our tab? While we pay their bills? Who want to be called “Doctor” because they agreed to push this vision.

Most of us hear the word “quality” attached to education and immediately think of excellence or a superior product. Have you ever noticed it has become the descriptive adjective of choice in education? Magically all over the world? With similar timing? We have AdvancED’s Quality Standards for accreditation. Cambridge Education’s Quality Review (remember the “teachers are teaching and that’s not allowed” push?). Georgia has just enacted a statute connected to its NCLB waiver from the feds that makes Quality Learning the measure of student achievement (Do you remember that learning means changing attitudes, feelings, values, or behavior, not knowledge?). Finally, the monitoring internationally of the level of fulfillment of the UN’s Education for All initiative lives under the reassuring banner of Quality Assurance.

Perhaps “Quality” in ed world has an unappreciated meaning? Why yes, it’s pretty apparent something is up when we line up our paid political vision enforcers like that, isn’t it? Those of you who have lived through the integrated math fiasco in Georgia or any other state or PBIS introduction to foster a better school climate and nurturing culture will find this fundamental point to be a revelation. John Dewey, that utopian philosopher extraordinaire, hated the idea of schools doing anything to cultivate rational, logical thought. He believed it made the students who were good at it too full of themselves and got in the way of what he saw as the socializing purposes of school. What Dewey wanted and what his modern-day disciples are pushing all over the world is his vision of basic skills coupled with promoting emotional, instinctive, unconscious responses. And they do it in the name of “Quality.” Or as one of Dewey’s most influential current disciples put it: “Character is higher than intellect.” Perhaps but we should get to talk about such a radical meaning of understanding.

I think history shows us how dangerous education to promote malleable, emotional citizens can be. The quote at the top of the blog is from a French intellectual, Julian Benda, in 1927 predicting that a similar push in Europe in the 1920s would end in a catastrophic world war. Why? Using the schools to cultivate an emotional herd instinct that responds without reason or even conscious will always means that there is nothing to block bad ideas.

Have you heard yet how the Common Core seeks to cultivate a “deep understanding?” That’s straight out of Dewey’s push that Quality means feeling. It’s explicitly not a result of conceptual or intellectual processing and that was the deliberate goal then and it is now. To quote a 2007 Teachers College Record essay on Dewey called “Beyond Control and Rationality” that certainly seems to be anticipating Common Core’s classroom implementation:

“Qualitative meaning is that which is intuited rather than deduced, felt rather than described, and is immediate to the situation rather than removed from it.”

To reenforce this critical distinction between qualitative sense and conscious reflection, the essay goes on to tell us:

“What Dewey is saying is that we sense or feel the situation we are in without thinking of it per se, without it becoming an object of reflection.”

Ah! Sense Making! A return then to the international standards of the caveman and a rejection of all we have discovered and our best minds have developed in the interim.

Now I understand why a group of people wishing to force others to go along with their wishes would try to push such a modern version of Mind Arson. It’s politically powerful. Just ask the serfs who could not leave the land or the slaves who must not be taught how to read. The question for us now though is why are we going along with such a use of our schools to destroy everything that works, creates prosperity and individuality, and a realistic chance for a better tomorrow for most of us?