Photo: Graur Codrin (click photo to link)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A New Hidden Curriculum and New Ways of Being Left Out

I'm done with educating for the economy--it has made many of us cynical and complacent.  We need to inspire hope, and remind the world that we have a voice, and together, Yes We Can. In my own professional life, I have become quite focused on issues of concern to children at risk (of being pushed out), and children with disabilities.  

Most of what I have to say focuses on the problems of Michigan's education reform that (under our current governor) is increasingly asked to be "efficient" and to produce "high quality products" without regard to the infinite variety of circumstances from which children come, and the infinite variety of talents with which they come.  But, my concerns have become very focused on how Michigan's standardized curriculum and accompanying exams have triggered (perhaps unintentionally, but I don't think so) a resurgence in scapegoating special education costs in a time of scarce resources, threats of Emergency Financial Manager takeovers, and a rising love affair with the idea of privatization

I hear, among the community of parents (who seem to be my biggest audience) an overwhelming mistrust of the annual requirement for testing for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind as a measure of their children's worth, and outrage at the continued marginalization of children with disabilities in schools.  

The tail is, I believe, increasingly wagging the dog, when the very accountability system that is supposed to help all children achieve has turned to pre-sorting those who are deemed capable of achieving and those deemed incapable of achieving into diploma and non-diploma categories (through loose application of the Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements), while failing to mention that students with disabilities may modify their course plans through a number of options including an individually determined Personal Curriculum plan. This, while at the same time requiring those deemed "incapable" to participate in the same assessments (required under IDEA) that their "diploma track peers" are taking.  It seems as if the imposition of the Michigan Merit Curriculum, one state's version of a core curriculum has led to another "hidden curriculum" of re-segregating the "ins" and the "outs", while still claiming to embrace achievement for all. 

I have only intermittently been following the development of the Save Our Schools movement, supporting public education, which I recommend to anyone reading this post.  I love all of the blog-posts I've been reading from those active in organizing the event and march, and wish that I had more to say that appealed to a broader, general audience. But I believe that parents, teachers, and members of the community need to come together to support public education or we will see more and more chipping away at its foundation--a democratic education.

Here's where the spirit of families come in: I was reading an article on human nature and the economy today by David Korten, who has become one of my favorite writers on all things global and sustainable.  And here's what I've concluded: If we are, by nature, caring and cooperative, we should be moving toward a more truly democratic education system: funding schools on the basis of equity of opportunity, designing instruction to speak to diverse learners in one classroom, and placing our focus on learning processes. When tests are all we use to measure the quality of education, we miss the bigger picture--working together for each other.  And that means families, teachers, educational leaders, community members working together to advocate for caring, cooperative schooling.

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