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Might Some School Reformers Have Anything In Common With The Bahraini Monarchy?

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“You could create security, but you cannot create stability. “

So says Mansoor Al-Jamri, former editor of Bahrain’s largest independent newspaper, after being arrested by Bahraini authorities for “destabilizing” the country. He was interviewed on the PBS News Hour.

Hearing that comment on the way home from school today prompted me to think if it could be applied to the efforts of many school reformers today.

Many school reformers appear to have a technocratic perspective of believing that we really do know what should work in all learning situations, and that by imposing the same standards, the same across-the-board teacher evaluative algorithms, the same non-evidence based turnaround strategies, that this will bring “security” to our schools.  The Latin roots of the word security means “without care.” I fear that as more and more non-educators reach positions of influence, that might happen in more and more of our schools — whether intended or not.

Mike Rose writes today about what this belief in the primacy of this kind of technique might mean:

When you focus on technique without regard to context, you can get analyses like the following, taken from a New York Times column on the Gates project. Two researchers are rating the videotape of a teacher they don’t know. They zero in on a segment where she doesn’t see or ignores a boy who is raising his hand repeatedly. The teacher gets a low mark on “respect and rapport.” That’s a legitimate possible rating. But what if that boy frequently takes up conversational space, and the teacher has spoken with him about it, explaining that she can’t always call on him. I and other teachers I know have done this. Then that teacher’s actions would be seen in a different light—demonstrating a potential error in rating.

In the interview, Al-Jamri continued by saying, “And without stability, you don’t have prosperity and you can’t have democracy and human rights.”

The root of “stability” means “secure against falling.” If we don’t have that kind of stability, one that includes context with technique,  in schools, what might the results be? It might be worth reading Mike Rose again:

But given the technocratic orientation of contemporary school reform, I worry that other aspects of teaching less easily observed and circumscribed—from bearing and pacing to beliefs about learning—will get short shrift. The building of effective teachers will occur through the accumulation of techniques. And given the need in reform-initiated research to find correlations between techniques and test scores, researchers will veer toward those techniques that are most readily definable, leading to a possible narrowing of the repertoire of techniques themselves.

Obviously, I’m overstating the comparison, but it got me thinking.

What do you think?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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