The imperative has thundered down from above for about a decade now, increasing in gravity and intensity with each school year.No less a luminary than IBM Chairman John Akers has joined the fray, calling for the usual reforms in a March 20 commentary in The Wall Street Journal, "America needs to follow Operation Desert Storm with Operation Brainstorm."
I suspect we may appreciate yet another call for education reform about as seriously as we regard our "education president."
As with other such summons to academic achievement, this most recent one calls for the nouveau riche veneer: an academic counterfeit purchased on layaway from a local discount public school, America's mediocre, impotent surrogate for profound renaissance.
Consider, for instance, Akers' call for choice: "Parents and students should be able to choose among schools and school systems. If American education is to produce more people who can compete in the domestic and international marketplace, our schools should respect and stand for competition in the educational marketplace."
Don't just extend choice to students and parents but dare to give it back to educators, too. Encourage stringent application procedures for prospective students, and (hold on to your hats, now!) let public schools turn away those youngsters whose families show little or no appreciation for education and who themselves have been proven seriously disruptive and even dangerous.
That's right: Dismantle more than 25 years of Supreme Court "equal-opportunity" rulings that, as current test scores and dropout rates clearly prove, have been neither.
Ironically, too, in the name of reform, "education" has been reduced to an ever-longer and more-intricate series of hoops through which the most dextrous students must jump - but learn nothing.
We've taken to training - not educating - our children for jobs, not life. Pregnancies, suicides, drugs, gangs, crack babies and dropouts all attest to the fact that we Americans don't love our kids as much as we train them on (you guessed it!) Japanese-made assembly lines.
Forget restoration, Akers: Education is dead in America's public schools.
By now, we've all heard of the Ivy League professor who gathered about 100 high school graduates, all of whom had mastered the hoops, magna cum laude. He had hoped to re-create a latter-day academic ideal, such as had been enjoyed by Socrates' students on Agora or Madame de Stael's friends in her Paris salon.
No such luck. Those well-trained students went into a kind of shock when they were asked to meditate on some of those facts we're all clamoring to have them memorize. They couldn't think about all those facts, any connection between them or formulate (dare I say, write) cogent ideas about the same.
"Reform" means to form again. In this case, to redo the same old thing that has never worked. As for "education," it's a great deal more than test scores, grades and ad nauseam comparisons among states and countries. (I dread to think about the screaming headlines in 10 or 15 years: "Iraqi kindergartners outscore American counterparts in sandbox skills; newly elected education president William Bennett calls for new, sweeping reforms.")
Please, Akers et al., whatever it is you're calling for, don't call it education. What I think you really want is vocational training reform.
For my patriotic part, I think America needs to follow Operation Desert Storm with Operation Renaissance.
(Craig Bowman is an English teacher at O'Connell Junior High School in Lakewood, Colo.)