Clueless—1

Power-Speak on Public Schooling

This blog entry starts an effort to critique neo-liberal programs of educational reform through a close reading and commentary on “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” recently released by the Council on Foreign Relations. The entire critique will comprise 6 to 9 installments, with the full text of each appearing roughly once a week on the blog, Formative Justice.

In mid April, the Council on Foreign Relations presented its Independent Task Force Report No. 68, the fruit of the Council’s first assessment of American K-12 schooling —”U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” The Council charged thirty private sector leaders from commerce, academe, advocacy groups, and officialdom to report on the repercussions for national security arising because “America’s primary and secondary schools are widely seen as failing.” So charged, TF68 further hyped the failure of the schools and reiterated favorite elite prescriptions, frequently intoned with minor variations since Sputnik went into orbit in 1957. The variant by TF68 is mindless verbiage, deeply irrelevant to the education of the young and to the experience of the adult.

Report Cover Image
A multi-part, close critique.

Symptomatic inadequacies in the Report do not stem from failings peculiar to the members of TF68. Their acculturation to the power elite has embedded them in the mythologies of American meritocracy ever more deeply. Meritocratic myth impairs a believer’s capacity to grasp the realities of living experience. Already over-committed, TF68 members were selected because each was an important person charged with substantial responsibilities, high and complex. Through long apprenticeship, they had become adept at accomplishing additional tasks by hewing to the path of least resistance within the community of their peers. Hence, they could do their work with dispatch.

In about a year, with a few meetings for deliberation, TF68 diagnosed and prescribed their remedies for an enterprise that rivals the national security state in scope and scale. They wrote their findings up in 60 pages, with a further ten for genteel caveats. The result reprises A Nation at Risk, Tough Choices or Tough Times, and other jeremiads. In view of the dire threat this iteration purports to address, its prescriptions are limited and stale. Let us recognize that this Report is less the original work of the Task Force and more an expression of pure “power-speak”—an example of the free-world dialect of conformism at work.

Read more. . . .

About Robbie McClintock

After a long career at Teachers College, Columbia University -- 50 years as a student and teacher -- I have "graduated," as I like to put it. Looking ahead, feeling energetic and well-prepared, I will concentrate on radical scholarship and criticism, work that goes to the root of education, public affairs, and culture. Early in 2012, I published a Utopian critique of schooling and historical life -- Enough: A Pedagogic Speculation. Further essays will follow. Let us speak out against fear mongers, the pundits of public parsimony, and the peddlers of self-serving prudence. We can aspire to more positive possibilities -- constructing historical realities in which humanity achieves elegant, fair, and meaningful solutions to the great uncertainties of our time.
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