More recent classroom visitors than I can confirm—whether the time-honored teachings about different models for historic civilizations or market-based—are still being presented to today’s students.
Some recent anthropology books have made the argument that the natural option for primates turns out to be trade-based. We two-legged types have inherited the genes and wiring for trade and barter from the not-quite-two-legged chimpanzees and orangutans, who practice it skillfully (even though they have no Fair Trade Commissions).
This is the basis of a whole new research field known as economic anthropology.
It’s generally considered that the contemporary U.S. civilization is predominantly market-based, a condition generally applauded on the R side of the hall (a little French Revolution governance lingo, there) and deplored on the L side, and it’s similarly generally considered that some of the major enthusiasts for expanded governance are the least market-solution–oriented.
That’s why it typically comes as a bit of a shock when folks in public education turn out to be just as what’s-in-it-for-me as the rest of us. One example is the famous Albert Shanker one-liner.
While president of the United Federation of Teachers, a NYC K-12 union, Shanker made this comment about his leadership goals: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”
Shanker’s comments were made during the early ‘70s, according to the “Shanker Blog” (an online page which devotes considerable effort to a semi-denial of the widely-referenced—you can guess why—quote sometimes dated to 1985).
Shanker’s quote is widely referenced because education is primus inter pares on a list of those institutions which declare themselves to be above “mere profit” and quite superior to the surrounding society of crass materialists. That background explains why a reemergence of the Shanker mindset has been accorded little coverage by the mainstream media (MSM): it doesn’t fit the desired image template.
Only the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) saw fit to report on recent goings-on in the Douglas County School District, described as “a suburban district south of Denver… one of the most affluent in the U.S., with household income nearly double the national median, [with k-12] schools ranked among the best in Colorado.”
The WSJ piece makes only tangential references to the usual criticism of such programs, that they skim off the better students and leave the remainder with fewer proficiency-seeking classmates to emulate, but it does note that “…most private schools won’t accept disabled or struggling students…” and leaves the obvious conclusion to readers.
As befits an opinion column, here’s your Humble Scribe’s opinion: the Douglas County School District educrats wouldn’t make “proficient” in their foray into capitalism, because they’ve mistaken a short-term profit for a longer-term loss.
They’d have done better to provide a few of the intellectual goodies their better students are hungry and are leaving for—because, if their supposed goal is proficiency-for-all, the worst route to that end is the one of exporting the best scholars and leaving the Students Who Won’t Learn (SWWL)- dominated remainder to sit in classrooms where they never get to observe and emulate their better-motivated peers at the chalkboard.
As this column has attempted to illustrate in recent presentations, the literature increasingly recognizes that almost all students can master the material if they want to, and when some SWWL don’t, it’s because they don’t want to.
Advocates of socio-economic-status “integration” in the classroom make precisely this point: that better students, in the real world of peer pressure, are the key element in motivating their inadequately motivated seatmates. When they’re gone, they’re gone.
Douglas County, Colo., should be figuring out how to keep the intellectually ambitious at home, not selling them for the Biblical (Josephian) 20 pieces of silver. They should be recalling the best parts of the magnet-school concept, aimed precisely at preventing middle-class flight, white and black, from urban districts, and not the ineptness-of-management reasons for its widespread failure.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.