Someone has reported me again. It used to be that I was reported to the principal. Sometimes people at the school reported me to my parents. In the past few years, however, I keep getting reported to the public.
The public is being told that I am not doing my job. The reports say that American Education is not accomplishing the task for which it was designed and that other countries and other systems are way ahead of us.The Nation at Risk report of 1983 seemed to spawn the current litany against education. It noted that a "tide of mediocrity" had swept quality and effectiveness from the classrooms of America and that I was to blame.
The latest report that seems to echo the same sentiments is from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The chairman of the endowment, Lynne V. Cheney, reports on "Tyrannical Machines: Educational Practices Gone Wrong and Our Best Hopes for Setting Them Right." In the report Cheney notes problems with teachers and teaching, textbooks and tests.
The report tries to place the blame on the "Tyrannical Machine" that we call our education system. Blaming the machine did make me breathe a little easier for a moment, but I couldn't help but remember that I am part of the system she is blaming and share some responsibility for the problem. I don't claim to be the crank that is running the machine, but I am a bit of a cog.
The part of the report I had trouble with was the list in the preface of specific things I am being blamed for. According to the report "more than two-thirds of the nation's 17-year-olds are unable to date the Civil War within the correct half-century." Honest, I did ask that on a test once when I taught U.S. history in a middle school.
"More than two-thirds could not identify the Reformation or Magna Carta. The vast majority was unfamiliar with writers such as Dante, Chaucer, Whitman, Melville and Cather" and Biden. I teach from these authors every quarter.
As a small cog in the college machine I also carry the guilt for the facts that "one out of four college seniors are unable to distinguish Churchill's words from Stalin's or Karl Marx's thoughts from the ideas of the United States Constitution. More than half failed to understand the purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation or The Federalist papers. To most college seniors, Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" were clearly unfamiliar." Perhaps some of these weren't clearly written in the first place. Sorry, I'm just making another excuse, aren't I?
That is not all. The Tyrannical Machine has made it so that "more than half of the 13-year-olds in the United States are unable to answer such questions as whether plants lean toward or away from light . . . or identify Argentina, Chile or Peru on a map - or Ohio, Michigan or New Jersey." The little ones in the East are always hard to find.
Well, I accept the blame. In fact I am quite relieved that Cheney didn't discover my real failures. If she had looked harder she might have found that I, along with my colleagues, which I hasten to include because there is enough blame to go around, are not doing too well in the areas that really count.
If the educational machine were not tyrannical, we would understand and have eliminated the causes ofwar by now. Fortunately, the students were asked only about books, speeches, names and dates and not about the causes of war.
At the very least, a successful educational system should have eliminated poverty, crime and hunger, not to mention the simpler problems of drug trafficking, global pollution, budget deficits, and congressmen that charge businesses millions to get themselves elected so that they can also cost the rest of us millions by helping the millionaire business solve problems created by other congressmen. Again, it is fortunate that these national report writers haven't thought to ask students about these problems and more fortunate that I wasn't asked whether I'm teaching people how to solve these problems.
At the very very least, an educational machine that worked would have taught those who pass through the less than benign system that it is futile to write reports.