Are values appropriate objectives for public education

Leslie Madsen-Brooks’ “Make Students Curators” is a striking example of high level preaching to people who must engage in low level tasks. As teachers, she submits, our focus should be teaching learners a long list of mental practices, which she summarizes as creation, contextualization, argument, and engagement. I could not agree with her goals more.  Yet the austensible reason for standards are to support a hierarchical evaluation of thought, or value structure of learning and information processing. As I read the article, “Make Students Curators,” the value structure of Ms. Madsen-Brooks became more clear. Her intention was not to replace determining value with another performance standard, but to replace what she sees as bad values with what she expresses as “good” values. It doesn’t matter that I might agree or disagree with her values, but that the writing does not acknowledge that valuation is a problematic core limiting the expansion of the platform of understanding in a post-modern, highly fragmented society. The Bloom model she embraces is a quintessentially mechanistic, modernistic model (as distinct from post-modern) created by scholars who sought to provide complex, but essentially mechanistic models of human actions and interaction.  By attempting to divest research of its knowledge components to rapidly arrive at the analysis and synthetic levels of cognition, the control of learning is priviliging the statistical mean over the outliers–it assumes e pluribus unum; we’ll vote and having voted agree, and agreeing by vote will make it so. Yet, alternatives exist, and can be just as suited to digital facilitation. We could model contested conditions. A digital facilitation could model phenomenological conditions, much like weather, or re-cursive models to show the ways that synthesis changes knowledge and that analysis at times must be weighed against the facts and revised context, or suffer the unintended consequences of focus. Indeed she approaches one of the more vexing questions of humanistic discourse. In our highly monetized educational system will digital equipment receive higher priority than teachers, or come to replace teachers in virtual learning environments, a condition she prefers to call “deprofessionalize” teachers? In this regard,  the flow of events may have already tipped to a climate of academic discourse where a new model of educational practice is emerging that is distributed, virtual, and digital. If this is true, the trajectory of change in working conditions, expectations, and depression of compensation for teaching professionals (as opposed to administrators) will only accelerate as institutions move towards on-line classes and a general re-definition of what constitutes learning and the value of the domains of learning. This second stage monetizing of public policy began prior to the mid 1990s when the on-line capacity of computing was widespread and stems from the shifting assessment from output to outcomes in the measurement of agency performance, often ironically called “value-added.”  Ironic because the assessment standards are created by one community and imposed on another community. Madsen-Brooks’ bolded sub-heading “We must proceed thoughtfully toward digital curation” (italics in the original) mistakenly suggests that teachers are in control. While in the near future and individual classroom this may be true, administrators at the institutional, state and national level prioritize funding and are stimulating mixed motives of certification and retention while distributing funding to STEM disciplines, suggesting that the topography of the learning agenda is shifting in ways that classroom teachers may not be able to resist. There may no longer be a shared model of learning between the majority of teachers and the majority of administrators. This is confusing because the administrators now at retirement ages were largely drawn from the pool of classroom teachers. However, their on-job experience has trained administrators to be more engaged to cues from their supervisors–boards of state commissions, local boards of education, professional administration organizations and legislatures than the teachers in the classroom. Historically schools have evolved from private institutions by and for the wealthy, to necessary public institutions, to public institutions run on models of business. Digital learning has become a contested field for educational institutions. For teachers on-line resources provide enhancements for in-class learning environments. For administrators, on-line learning may substitute for in-class, faculty-led experiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *