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The Great Bourgeois Cultural Revolution:
The Politics of Naming Names in the Service of a Market Vision of Education

An appalling act of public humiliation and shaming: that it the only honest way to describe the decision of the Los Angeles Times to publish the names and pictures of teachers who scored poorly on a “value added” statistic derived from their students’ standardized test scores. Even if “value added” measures were completely reliable and accurate measures of an individual teacher’s performance — and the best research indicates that in their current state of development and with the current flawed regimen of standardized tests, they are not — the decision to publish the names of teachers would still be indefensible. It submits to public disapprobation individuals who had committed no crime and engaged in no professional misconduct, and issues a summary judgment, for which there is no appeal, on their careers of many years. The decision of the Times to publish names tells us more about its distorted sense of journalistic ethics than it does about the performance of the teachers in question. And the rush of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to cheer lead the Times action, telling its reporters in grand Orwellian fashion that “in education, we’ve been scared to talk about success,” puts to rest any hope that the Duncan who recklessly embraced the mass firings of all the teachers in Bedford Falls, irrespective of their actual classroom performance, was an aberration of that moment.

There are many historical analogies for this action, but one with remarkable resonance is Mao Zedong’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Rituals of public humiliation are only one point of convergence between Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the movement which celebrates the act of the Los Angeles Times. Both movements are united by a common voluntarist theory of change: the idea that the force of the human will alone can completely remake established institutions and social relations into new, ideal forms. Through sheer effort, teachers should be able to overcome all of the accumulated social and economic hardships and educational challenges faced by students living in poverty, just as Chinese working people were to overcome their nation’s historic impoverishment with a ‘great leap forward’ that ignored actual conditions. Both movements have a common disparagement of professional expertise: the Maoist notion of ‘better red than expert’ has its corollary in the ‘education reform’ idea that with a few weeks of rudimentary preparation, any intelligent graduate of an elite university can be an exemplary teacher, singlehandedly bridging the achievement gap. The ‘red guards’ of the Cultural Revolution, storming the Communist Party and Chinese state headquarters on Mao’s command, have their analogue in the non-educator lawyers, MBAs and hedge fund managers who have set out to colonize the commanding heights of American education, from which they wage war on the ‘status quo.’ Most importantly, there is a common ideological dogmatism that underlies both Maoism and the education reform movement: where Maoism made a ‘golden calf’ of an unfettered state, concentrating all political power in the hands of the  ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ its counterpart is engaged in an idolatry of the unfettered market in education. In their hands, the answer to every educational question is the market. Thus, in her haste to provide an apology for the Times’ decision, California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss declared that “publishing this data is not about demonizing teachers.” Rather, it’s about creating “a more market-driven approach to results.” To have markets in education, there must be accounting ledgers and bottom lines. It matters little, apparently, that those bottom lines have all of the accuracy of a pre-2007 Bears Stearn or AIG annual report, so long as there is a bottom line, and names can be named.

Sherman Dorn and Daniel Willingham are both on target that righteous indignation, however richly deserved, is not a sufficient teacher union response to this action. But it is worth pointing out that there have been places where teacher unions have taken on directly the development of a rigorous and robust system of teacher evaluation, such as was done here in New York when NYSUT and the UFT agreed to legislation with the Chancellor of the Regents and the State Education Commissioner that become law this spring. As important as that step was going forward, we did not take it under the illusion that it would satiate the ideologues of the Great Bourgeois Cultural Revolution. That is a struggle that continues.

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5 Comments:

  • 1 Celso Garcia
    · Aug 18, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    If they want to publish teachers names and pictures in the paper they should also publish the srudents pictures with their parents along with anyone involved in that childs life. It takes a village to raise a child however family and community is not what it used to be. They should publish the often missing dads profile also.
    Since we want such an open society and these teachers do not deserve privacy then we should publish all executives pictures along with any failures start with BP , Enron, or any company with questionable practices or even the good companies publish each individuals failures
    (even if the failures are systemic and not individually their fault).
    The politicians in California must be happy they will find someone else to blame for their systemic failures. Should might as well put these teachers on a stage and throw tar and feathers on them. Now the children can say hey its my teachers fault I did not pass. Maybe you should put these teachers in a national database saying WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE these teachers caused students to fail. Now you see why other countries laugh at us because in their systems failure is a reflection on the honor of the family not the school or the teacher.
    Line up the pictures if all those who caused or may have caused rhe economic diwnturn. When your able to pin it down to certain individuals with 100 percent certainty let me know.
    Mao is an interesting person that uplifted China however also opressed many souls underneath the table. Look at China today moving up to #2 in the world economies but still ruling by fear. These forces are trying to rule teachers and the profession by fear. Ask lawyers, doctors, nurses , and all other to publish their clients results next to the professionals names and I am sure they would also object. Boycott the L.A. Times and send letters to let them knows teachers cannot be bullied for caring for those whom are neglected. We cannot be used as a ploy to sell papers for their dwindling newspaper sales.

  • 2 Tweets that mention Edwize » The Great Bourgeois Cultural Revolution: The Politics of Naming Names in the Service of a Market Vision of Education -- Topsy.com
    · Aug 18, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TeacherReality, 21stprincipal. 21stprincipal said: Arne Duncan cheerleads the LA Times. http://bit.ly/9tvHeb What a knucklehead! [...]

  • 3 Akademos
    · Aug 18, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Thank you, Leo.

    This extreme pressure on teachers to add value is stupid on the stupid face of it. The key problems in education are not underdeveloped teachers, though some of it involves teachers unable to work effectively in insane situations re resources, overcrowding, administrators, policies, etc. And, of course, there will always be the occasional incompetent or insubordinate teacher, but value-added nonsense is not the best way to weed them out. In fact, it may not work at all!

    The majority of the problems reside in overall school missions, methods, resources, curricula, and administrations; lack of parental involvement or family dysfunction; blighted communities and chronic student issues that affect focus, motivation, or self-perception.

    Yes, teachers are the main masters of adding value, but the real problems are the disaster areas in students’ lives. That’s when their learning stalls and skills fade. That’s what has to be fixed. And to suggest that it be fixed by making everyone a super-excellent teacher to double (or triple, if need be) the learning pace is unrealistic, unfair, and evasive. Plus, this whole value-added concept has some of inherent problems, besides our inability to accurately measure it. Ever heard of learning curves? Developing humans take them in different ways in different areas. Sometimes a major block, or steep bump, is natural, yet will require serious parental intervention, like a private tutor, when school intervention would be way too little, way too late.

    These deformers really undo themselves. This is very convincing of their lack of education.

  • 4 Ms. Cornelius
    · Aug 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Gotcha journalism at its best… and it certainly does play into the convictions sold by the politicians that all public schools are failing.

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