Jul 09

The Marketization of Education

red apple with a hefty price tag.The corporation-dominated Global Education Reform Movement, which renowned Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg aptly points out has spread much like the GERM it spells, is a big-money backed movement to dismantle public education for exploitation by for-profit special interests. It is an effort showing clear signs of failure on the education side of its mandate, one that’s especially interested in profit—where the GERM’s success is far more readily observable.

When the private exploits the public

The private depends on the public (Lakoff, 2014). When you research and develop something on the tax payers’ dime its rightful place is the public sphere. When Americans privatize their public education system, they turn it over to Wall St speculators, ultimately the same folks who gave us sub-prime mortgages, austerity, triple-dip recessions, worldwide economic failure, and the shakedown of the Greeks. The link isn’t hyperbole or a vivid imagination. It’s calculated and methodical (see for example Horn, 2009, “heavyweight teams”). 

Further insight can be gleaned from a famous book out of Harvard Business School, alma mater to many of the architects of economic meltdown, entitled Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, Michael Horn, 2008), a book that can be thought of as part of the blueprint or ‘master plan’ to privatize schools. It was first presented to me by a manager, a “director” of information technology who was apparently quite impressed by the book’s “disruptive” revelations, touted on the unabashedly commercial outside jacket as certain to make the reader rethink “everything you thought you knew about learning.”

The promised epiphany turns out to be fellow Harvard man Howard Gardner’s 1981 “Multiple Intelligences” theory and a truism we learned my first day of my first class at teachers’ college in the early 90s. By now it’s an outright cliché within the teaching community that we should be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”

What other revolutionary new ideas about pedagogy and learning does the business school offer? The authors tell us students need to be motivated “intrinsically.” One hopes the disruptive innovation franchise at Harvard doesn’t believe no one published about that before 2008. However the book, in a feint designed for its target audience of venture capitalists, managers and IT directors, not educators who know the history of these things, discusses intrinsic motivation and experiential learning without mentioning John Dewey (1938), and with barely a nod to Noah Webster’s and Horace Mann’s later influence on American education, nor the important role they cast it in preserving democracy and defining the nation’s moral character.

The suggestion of bias in these omissions and distortions is only reinforced by the ahistorical presentation of Thomas Jefferson’s position on public education, accompanied by right wing talking points that evoke Frank Luntz or Rush Limbaugh.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn misrepresent Thomas Jefferson’s record and opinion on public education (2008, pp 52-3). They carefully include the famous Jeffersonian provision as governor of Virginia, which was, essentially, to groom a benevolent aristocracy or perhaps a sort of super-culture, nowhere emphasizing for their readers that this, too, was fully intended to be at public expense. Jefferson’s vision for funding, from grammar school to college, was in fact to be split between the public and private sectors, families, and communities, often much in ways that have actually come to pass across the history of U.S education. Yet these carefully picked cherries are topped by the Luntzian reminder the word “education” isn’t in the constitution. Neither is the word “markets,” nor the phrase “supply side economics.” Oops! Can you imagine extending such talk radio logic to other areas of our lives?

…shall be paid by the Treasurer quarterly on warrant from the Auditors … on the public foundation… … as [Thomas Jefferson] explained in his Autobiography, “We thought that … a systematical plan of general education should be proposed, and I was requested to undertake it. I accordingly prepared three Bills for the Revisal, proposing three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life, and such as would be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally, and in their highest degree” (Ford, i, 66). Within a decade after the work of the Committee of Revisors was begun, TJ regarded the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge as the most important one in the Report (TJ to George Wythe, 13 Aug. 1786). The exalted declaration of purpose in the preamble remains one of the classic statements of the responsibility of the state in matters of education. But what was new and distinctively Jeffersonian in the Bill was not its advocacy of public education … what was new in the Bill and what stamped its author as a constructive statesman of far-seeing vision was the object of seeking out men of genius and virtue and of rendering them “by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.” This implied the establishment of a ruling élite that would promote public happiness by wisely forming and honestly administering the laws… it saw nothing dangerous or inimical to the liberties of the people in accepting and making use of such a natural aristocracy of virtue and talent; and its unique and revolutionary feature, never yet put into practice by any people, was that, in order to permit such a natural aristocracy to flourish freely, it would remove all economic, social, or other barriers that would interfere with nature’s distribution of genius or virtue. (See TJ’s account of this Bill in Notes on Virginia, Ford, iii, 251–5; see also R. J. Honeywell, Educational Work of Thomas Jefferson, Cambridge, Mass., 1931.)

Footnotes: A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge,
© Princeton University Press.
All rights reserved.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn misrepresented a 325 year commitment to public education embedded in the U.S. Constitution (Dennis, 2000). They misrepresent the socially situated nature of learning itself by reducing education to a supply-chain in order to monetize it. They misrepresent the classroom by attempting to mold it to the image of their markets, where business provides a weak metaphor at best. Beth Goldberg, who had 20 years of experience running businesses before becoming a middle school mathematics teacher, observes employees are paid to listen to you, students are not. Employees are selected based upon a search and interview process. Teachers do not select their students. In business, an insubordinate employee is fired. An insubordinate student is merely one more challenge for a classroom teacher.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn also misrepresent the views of their Harvard colleague Howard Gardner.

What does Howard Gardner really say about schooling?

Much of Gardner’s method and the idea of learning styles have retained their traction over the decades, but the science had been widely criticized long before Christensen and company shifted their disruptive gaze from pharmaceuticals to the supply chain offered by education (Klein, 1997; Willingham, 2004). I’ve written here about what I believe may be Howard Gardner’s greater legacy, The Unschooled Mind (1992), where Gardner explained how he came to realize that “even the best students in the best schools do not understand” (p. 1).

By then the seven “intelligences” were already beginning to morph into five “minds,” introduced around the time of his (post-Peterson lectures) The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach (1995). “The first three,” says Gardner, “can be reduced to three words: depth, breadth and stretch” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The fourth and fifth minds Gardner feels are “…not cognitive in the traditional sense” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The Respectful Mind brings tolerance and acceptance, and the Ethical Mind, while he labels it (too rigidly, I think) “outside the ken of children.” Ethics, consensus and respect are not a large part of the Christensen curriculum; they devote far more words and paragraphs to the importance of separation, fiat and coercion, the so-called “power tools” of disruption (more to follow, even more here).

What can we learn from the disruptive innovation franchise?

The fact of the franchise’s ability to sell books does not negate the relevance and significance of disruptive innovation. What the books provide educators is the set of vocabulary and strategies — “power tools” — that identify a venture’s opponents—whether union, parent group, government, or competing investor—and by which corporate reformers, with cash to pad campaign coffers, can come to dominate policy making, tilt the rules in their favor, all in the pursuit of profit. It’s a must-read for educators critical of GERM’s tactics — a seat at the campfire in the enemy’s camp! I’ve written at greater length here about the divide and conquer tactics the business school offers entrepreneurs and lobbyists who face resistance, why such top down approaches actually make wicked problems worse, why consensus building is imperative, and how to do that.

Don’t You Dare Say “Disruptive” It’s the most pernicious cliché of our time […] Christensen has not tried to rein in the word’s inflation.2 On the contrary, he has been out-punditing the pundits, publishing book after book—each with many co-authors—in which disruption theory is brought to bear first on this sector, then on that one. In the past five years, he has homed in on the social institutions—schools, public-health organizations, and the halls of government itself—he deems ripe for disruption.
—Judith Shulevitz, TNR

Setting aside more recent revelations to accept these authors’ definition of “results,” which overlooks the lengths to which some private ventures screen and cull their student body to enhance those results, there are examples offered of charter schools and other “innovative” (i.e., “not publicly funded”) programs (or questionable practices) that resulted in higher test scores and other measurables presented as positives. But in the end of the book students sit connected to terminals—not peers and mentors—interacting with commercially provided software the book’s readers are enticed to develop and provide. In the seven years since the book was published blended learning, with varied amounts of teacher direction and highest student to student interactivity, has emerged as a much more powerful model, a fact that was already being observed and predicted by education researchers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and elsewhere, even as the business school published its free market vision.

Contrast this to the way the word “innovation” is used by a successful community outreach group, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, highlighted by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where their primary business is teaching and learning, not profit-making (Warren et al., 2009).

The ideas espoused in Disrupting Class led to corruption and many say away from democracy. More than 15 years of rhetoric that fetishized markets while denigrating and undermining the public system in a manner (approaching libel, or slander, perhaps?) have taken a heavy toll.

This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.
—Diane Ravitch

Is there a vaccine or treatment against the GERM?

The GERM adapts quickly to regional and international differences, and spreads across stock markets. Some in the U.S. are developing a natural resistance to specific strains affecting their local situations. Because they present many of the same symptoms, such as PARCC testing, unfair rent and resource allocation practices, cheating scandals and segregation an agile and versatile response is indicated.

Community schools must once again serve their communities, and become hubs of community-strengthening activity and 24/7 access to public knowledge. Mark Warren and his team at Harvard Graduate School of Education urge us to look beyond bake sales and to adopt “a community-based relational approach to parent engagement in schools.” See their 3 case studies that demonstrate ways this can be done without bias of privilege and redirection of financial advantages toward a single sector.

Our teachers’ best qualities—their sense of humor, their love for the subject, their excitement, their interest in students as individuals—are not being honored or valued, because those qualities aren’t measurable.
—Tim Callahan, spokesman, Professional Association of Georgia Educators

Students must continue and expand their efforts, and teach their parents that standardized testing reduces learning time. They are not assessments of students’ mastery of a subject. Students and their parents should join the grassroots Opt-Out Movement growing rapidly in nearly every state, wherever people witness the terrifying results of the GERM experiment on their own kids’ classrooms.

Educators mustn’t look for “IT directors” but should look instead for “idea facilitators” and local experts to collaborate with on inquiries and projects. We must draw upon proven learner-centred success stories, as they did at the Harvard GSE, and mostly ignore Harvard’s BS. #KidsCanCode and #HourOfCode activities of all sorts can help kids and their teachers alike develop 21st century literacies, demystify the software, and help to level playing fields.

Design Thinking, as it influences teaching and learning today, can trace at least part of its lineage to some of the earliest research into technology-enhanced learning, the advent of ethnographic applications in the field of learning, apprenticeship studies, situated and experiential learning, and communities of practice. Those aware of at least one school of design thinking, influenced by the “wicked problems” praxis of Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber (1973; see also Why Horst Rittel Matters), value consensus as a principle of design, and have developed tools, techniques, and frameworks to achieve consensus. We’ve been slow to adopt them.

We all agree that social media and “hyperspace” have permanently disrupted our capabilities and our horizons. We agree there’s a need to nurture different competencies, and that has led may to deduce a role for new literacies. If we believe in Critical Thinking and Collaboration, then let “Consensus-building” join the list of 21st century competencies.

If you self-identify as an “instructional designer,” take a moment to consider Gráinne Conole’s important distinction between ID and Learning Design (LD), which is seen “…as a more encompassing term than Instructional Design, … is pedagogically effective and makes appropriate use of technologies. … Learning Design provides a holistic approach to the design process” (2014). Orchestrate for serendipity… design learning experiences that involve participants in ways that permit for human chemistry to create meaningful bonds with the fruits of their inquiries and projects, that are engaging because they’ve been built on the participants’ own personal stories, and because they provide a safe space and expert support for their telling.

We must command our own set of “power tools.” Use plain language and transparent strategies, engage parents and the community along with our students, and all the while make sure the situation — the learning environment, beginning with the learners (who at any given moment may also be the teachers!) — drives the selection and employment of the tools.

† Although it retains some bibliography, links and images, and perhaps a sentence here and there, this post is for all practical purposes a complete re-write of an older post with the same title, and is meant to entirely replace and supplant the earlier version.


Further reading

Christensen, Clayton; Johnson, Curtis W.; and Horn, Michael B. (2008) Disrupting Class: How Disruptive I nnovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York : McGraw-Hill [HTML]

Dennis, Russell (2000) The Role of the Federal Government In Public Education In the United States, web site, Bucknell University [HTML]

Fouchaux (2009) graduate school paper, Disrupting Disruption, HTML

Gardner, H. (1983/2003). Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: BasicBooks.

Horn, Michael (blog post: Oct 30, 2009) The power of a heavyweight team to rethink education: A quest to learn, retrieved 2009-12-06 http://disruptingclass.mhprofessional.com/apps/ab/2 009/10/30/the-power-of-a-heavyweight-team-to-rethink-education-a-quest-to-learn

Klein, Perry D. (1997) Multiplying the Problems of Intelligence by Eight: A Critique of Gardner’s Theory, Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 377-394.

Lakoff, George (2014) The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Chelsea Green Publishing, 192 pages

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Webber, Melvin M. (1973), Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169. [PDF]

Warren, Mark R., Soo Hong, Carolyn Leung Rubin, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy (2009), Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community- Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Teachers College Record, Volume 111, Number 9, September 2009, pp. 2209–2254, http://bit.ly/nYwbjK (PDF), Accessed March 17, 2013.

The Boston Herald (Wednesday, February 27, 2013) Elizabeth Warren clocks big Ben, Hits Bernanke on bank subsidies http://bostonherald.com/business/business_markets/2013/02/elizabeth_warren_clocks_big_ben

The Knowledge Exchange (Published: September 27, 2012) How could I miss that? Jamie Dimon on the hot seat, by Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, http://www.sas.com/knowledge-exchange/risk/integrated-risk/how-could-i-miss-that-jamie-dimon-on-the-hot-seat/index.html

Sahlberg, Pasi (2012) Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Shulevitz, Judith (2013) Don’t You Dare Say “Disruptive” It’s the most pernicious cliché of our time,blog post at The New Republic [HTML]

“Willingham, Daniel T. (2004), Reframing the Mind: Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligences, Education Next, Vol. 4, No. 3 http://educationnext.org/reframing-the-mind/ retrieved 2012-10-10.

Feb 02

EvaluateThat “thickly”

A Tale of Two Tweets

Two Tweets that seem at first glance to take somewhat differing positions on evaluating teachers led to these thoughts on exactly where testing fits into learning, what it looks like when it’s of benefit, and who should benefit. The first Tweet does not say what some might take it to mean at face value. If you think about it—or if you learned it at teachers’ college while preparing for a career as an educator—you’ll probably agree there’s a difference between evaluation and assessment. You may even agree with me that opportunity, ongoing assessment, reflection, peer review, coaching, scaffolding are all needed to transform practice, while standardized tests often prove absolutely nothing beyond one’s ability to take standardized tests.

Evaluation is what you do to demonstrate you’ve arrived, or how far you’ve left to go. Getting there is an iterative process requiring frequent stops—you may want to check the map, ask directions, refuel along the way. If learning is truly to become learner centred, why do reformers like “race” metaphors? Perhaps I’d like to choose my learning situation more as I’d choose a vacation spot—I might be inspired to take a side trip, seek out a long lost relative… and why not? Children are at the beginning of a learning journey. A guide on the side who knows the terrain can help reel in an overly ambitious itinerary or suggest hidden gems to the lethargic and less imaginative traveller, and in a pinch get them to the train station on time.

Where we have arrived today is due to the corporate reform movement’s itinerary, and itself begs evaluation. It has failed. Charter schools seldom do better than traditional public schools, and often do worse. They do considerably worse when it comes to equity and inclusion. Resorting to fiat and coercion are telltale signs of failure—leaders do the hard work of building consensus. Public Enemy #1, logic and an objective assessment of the current situation would conclude, is the anti-public: privatization.

The second Tweet implicitly highlights the valued added by what Clifford Geertz might have called a “thick description” of what teachers do. Geertz did not understand the subjects of his ethnographic assessments separately from the context of their situations—which is also defined more thickly than the simple question, “Where?” Thickness demands we ask also, “Who ?” “What?” “How?” “When?” and the one perhaps most critical to critical thinking—“Why?”

7 million “whys”

I Keep Six Honest Serving Men
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest …
… I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes
One million Hows, Two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

—Rudyard Kipling

Humans, especially young ones, are naturally inquisitive. But we’re not infallible. Seven million questions beg seven million answers, and intuition can be wrong. Jean Lave does not understand teaching and learning as separate and distinct—her thick ethnographic descriptions of classical apprenticeships have been tapped for adaption to technology-enhanced learning “environments” for nearly 40 years, at first in great part due to the corporate backing of John Seely Brown of Xerox. Xerox in the 80s didn’t write curriculum or tell educators what to do with it. Just as SMART and a host of others today, they put educators together in collaborative, project-based learning situations and asked, “How can we facilitate this learning situation?” They designed thicker learning situations because they had described them more thickly. Then they stood back and allowed learning to happen.

“do it yourself” becomes “do it together”

Corporate money is not the problem, unfettered profit seeking is. All parents have a right to expect quality publicly funded education, all teachers have a right to fulfill their passion in 21st century classrooms of all kinds, and all students have the right to feel intrinsically motivated and grow the dignity and self respect that comes from taking charge of their own destinies.

But that means students, parents and teachers also have responsibilities, to forge thicker understandings of the (wicked) problems (e.g., things we know fail, like VAM) and take proactive charge of solutions (e.g., things we know work, like parent engagement). Looking to smaller local businesses—parents who own businesses, older siblings with work experience—for local expertise, creating and executing project-based learning “situations” might bring the community back into schools. The do it yourself approach becomes do it together.



Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. (1989). “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.” Educational Researcher, 18(l), 32-42.

Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2, 141-178.

Collins, Allan; Brown, John Seely; and Holum, Ann (1989), Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible, American Educator, [PDF].

Commonwealth of Australia (2007) Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Perspective, [Archived]

Conole, Gráinne (2014) Reviewing the trajectories of e-learning, advance release of pending publication [HTML]

Haertel, Edward H. (2013), Reliability and Validity of Inferences About Teachers Based on Student Test Scores, the 14th William H. Angoff Memorial Lecture, presented at The National Press Club, Washington, D.C., on March 22, 2013. [PDF]

Seemann, K 2002, ‘Holistic technology education’, in H Middleton, M Pavlova & D Roebuck, Learning in technology education, challenges for the 21st century, Nathan, Qld, Centre for Learning Research, Griffith University, vol. 2, pp. 164 – 173.

Warren, Mark R.; Hong, Soo; Leung Rubin, Carolyn; Sychitkokhong Uy, Phitsamay (2009) Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community- Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Teachers College Record, Volume 111, Number 9, September 2009, pp. 2209–2254 [PDF]

Nov 09

Thinking “tanked…” the riverboat dandies of education reform

ABSTRACT: “Think tanks” can mean a large number of a wide range of advocacy groups. They advocate causes that might be of interest to groups large or small, powerful or weak. They vary by ideological perspective. In a critically thinking democratic society, education has been seen as an underlying necessity, a prerequisite to matters of character, citizenship and civilization. Education must be geared to differentiate between ideologues who engage in wishful thinking, and those who form opinions by rational, dialectical synthesis of opposing arguments based on their merit — those who engage in what we call critical thinking. Critical thinkers owe it to themselves, their neighbours, and their fellow citizens to engage in good faith within the public sphere. Serious educators, devoted to research-based learning and teaching, have at least a 4-decade head start in the learning theory department. That’s roughly as long as “free market” neo-liberals and neo-conservatives have been building a powerful anti-public rhetoric. But there’s simply no point engaging with ideologues who may be science deniers and the people we can refer to as free-market “fetishists” or “obsessionists.” Milton Friedman’s conflation of Freedom and Greed contributed to the immense disconnect from traditional Revolutionary values that typifies the “unfettered free markets” discourse. The Founders and the People shared a love of science, the arts and learning—and a deep understanding of its vital role in democracy—that underpinned a 300-year commitment to public education.

“Tanked” thinking — 100 years, 4 waves (makes and models)

photo of two old riverboats, fades into two tanks

Diane Stone [Marie Curie Chair & Head of the Public Policy Program, Central European University] in her 2005 report “Think Tanks and Policy Advice in Countries in Transition,” prepared for the Asian Development Bank Institute says the term ‘think tank’ originated at the RAND Corporation. She presents a 100-year overview, and tells us they are not the same in the East and West. We in the west regard think tanks as “…relatively autonomous organizations with separate legal identity that engage in the analysis of policy issues independently of government, political parties and pressure groups” (Stone, 2005, pg. 3). Over roughly the last century they have presented in at least 4 waves of growth: think tanks prior to WWII, were predominantly Anglo-American [e.g., Brookings Institution, the Russell Sage Foundation. In the UK, the Fabian Society…]. These “…First generation think-tanks were responses to practical problems spawned by urbanization, industrialisation and economic growth early in the 20th century” (pg. 3).

From WWII to the 1970s think tanks spread throughout the liberal democracies of Europe. The New Deal and the Great Society were, “…a boom-time for ideational actors…” among them the Urban Institute. These tanks were characterized by “…the proliferation of foreign policy institutes, centres for the study of security and development studies institutes, in an era defined by the Cold War, superpower rivalries and the emergence of Third World issues” (pg. 3).

Since the 70s think tanks have spread across the globe in response to economic and political changes and turmoil. They’ve become an industry, drawing increasingly on corporate funding and, quite predictably, advocating and developing policy that entrenches those interests. Says Stone, “The rise of the so-called ‘New Right’ think tanks also illustrates how policy uncertainties provide a window of opportunity for these institutes to help execute the paradigm shift away from Keynesian policy making to what is regarded in other parts of the world as elements of the Washington Consensus. That is, privatisation, financial liberalisation and deregulation” (pg. 3). The Heritage Foundation and various Charles and David Koch activities belong to this opportunistic group.

The 4th Wave is qualitatively different. It is characterised by “…new modes of interaction that are propelled by the forces of globalisation and regionalisation” (pg. 4). This doesn’t imply an entirely new set of players. It means those with the most practice—and dollars—can focus and refine a message padded by decades of ground work, while there’s no shortage of snakes in suits willing to read any script.

In the tinkle of “Trickle Down”

Think tanks are a profitable industry. “Western style think tanks emerged in large numbers and many have prospered. The challenges of transition to build viable economic and political systems in the wake of communism and the increased complexity of governance created real opportunities for young policy entrepreneurs in the new think tanks…” who often framed the demise of Soviet communism as the total triumph of unfettered market capitalism.

Others might call that wishful thinking on the part of those positioned to turn fast profits. Stone continues, “…Too quickly western analysts have equated the rapid development of independent think tanks with teleological assumptions of ‘transition’ towards democratic institutions, pluralism, healthy civil societies, market competition, liberalism, privatisation and consumerism. Instead, the communist legacy persists in the organisational structures, values and research ethos of old institutes alongside the transition think tanks.” (Stone, 2005, pg. 6). This just means we can’t tell the players without a program.

I won’t attempt to provide a Who’s Who of think tanks. I pay special attention to two I think exemplify a particular type of fourth-wave behavior, and put considerable energy into influencing the debate on education reform. We see this involvement increasingly characterized by the use of what Christensen et al. (2008) call “Power Tools.” The Heritage Foundation promotes the “parent trigger” and vouchers approach (updated); the Cato Institute prefers to tout the benefits of “choice.” As we’ll learn shortly, the authors of the genuine Cato’s Letters would quickly recognize this as some of the “worst of things recommended by good names” (Trenchard, 1721, more below).

Think tanks have widely diverse methods and motives. “Some think tanks are ‘academic’ in style, focused on research, geared to university interests and in building the knowledge base of society. Other organizations are overtly partisan or ideologically motivated” (pg. 6). It makes sense to know who is seated across from you at any table. When you’ve got cards in the game it’s also good to know if the dealer has a reputation for stacking the deck.

The Round Table, the poker table, and those seated at the Education Reform table

Antique photo: Cowboys in the west playing poker in a saloon.

King Arthur’s Round Table was created, as it was believed in the 12th century, to prevent quarrels among those who wouldn’t accept a lower place at the table than others (Kibler, 1991). Over centuries came about habeas corpus and what became known as common law, and we’ve generally come to see these ideas as fundamental aspects of civil society. In the Old West, cheating at the card table could be fatal, the stuff of legends. The pros pretended to be one thing in order to take advantage of a “sucker,” but charlatans and cheats, once caught, often did not get second chances. Why then, in our era, do we sit at the table with those we’ve caught cheating and hiding the truth?

While perhaps one suspects a careful reading of Samuel Johnson is the appropriate lens through which to inspect their patriotism, in genuine American tradition (Weiser-Alexander, 2013), the lucrative think tank industry continues to foster charlatans and “dandies”. In 2013 The Heritage Foundation tapped a white supremacist to do policy and number-crunching with predictably dishonest results. The Cato Institute works Twitter, spinning current events, working with others to discredit climate scientists, spreading partisan acrimony. Machiavelli has written, “But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived” (1532, Ch.XVIII, par. 2). John Trenchard called it, “The Arts of misleading the People by Sounds” (Trenchard, 1721). He said, “Yet even in countries where the highest liberty is allowed, and the greatest light shines, you generally find certain men, and bodies of men, set apart to mislead the multitude; who are ever abused with words, ever fond of the worst of things recommended by good names, and ever abhor the best things, and the most virtuous actions, disfigured by ill names.” George Orwell called it, “doublespeak”. He wrote 1984.

Cartoon from 1940s, snake labelled Standard Oil and and Oil can, destruction and pollution pictured in background.

The Heritage Foundation is a think tank founded by corporate CEO Joseph Coors, of the Coors beer empire, and Richard Mellon Scaife, heir of the Mellon industrial and banking fortune. It’s considered among the most influential 3rd wave think tanks pioneering 4th wave ways and means. Kochs, Coorses, Heritage and Cato are by no means the only ones clearing their new unfettered markets wilderness; they are exemplary, and their behaviour is worth scrutinizing. The Heritage Foundation stands accused of ties to Asian espionage, they’ve supported tobacco interests for decades, and support the privatization agenda in education reform, promoting vouchers as the best strategy to “dismantle” public education (by stealth) spelled out in 2002 in a speech given at the Heritage Foundation by Dick DeVos. While far right columnist Jennifer Rubin may be concerned Heritage’s recent lurches even further right under Jim DeMint might blow its cover, it’s already hard to reconcile Heritage’s influence with its unabashed bias.

The Cato Institute is another 3rd wave think tank with a clearly emerging set of 4th wave tactics. Whatever their beginnings, their current mission is apparently nothing short of the redefinition of libertarianism itself, and a rewrite of its place in early American political thought in order to support the unfettered-free-markets agenda. As I’ll show in the paragraphs that follow, this likely has more to do with the thinking of the Institute’s corporate donors than the colonial Americans with whom they wish to associate their image. Cato’s executive vice president David Boaz’s book provides a distorted take on the subject; it’s a study in Locke et praeterea nihil, “Locke, and nothing but,” which I will unpack shortly. Ironically perhaps, a better description of Cato’s mission is hosted on their own discussion forum/blogging network, Cato-Unbound. See Corporations versus the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now, by Roderick T. Long, a “…self-described Aristotelian/Wittgensteinian in philosophy and a left-libertarian market anarchist in social theory” who, as a founder of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, is also a genuine preserver of libertarianism’s true heritage.

“Cato Cato bo-Bato, banana fana fo-Fato…” …the What’s in a Name? Game

Founded in 1974, the Charles Koch Foundation primped in 1976 by tapping John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon’s once significant, as it turns out dangerously forgotten Cato’s Letters (1720-1724). The Institute performed no contract research and did not accept government funding (Cato, 1977; 1994; 2001); The Kochs provided about 4 percent of Cato’s revenue during the past decade (Forbes, 2012-03-11).

In Vicksburg, Mississippi, the citizens rage had become so increased by 1835, five cardsharps were lynched by a vigilante group. It was soon after this that many of the gamblers moved onto the riverboats, benefiting from the transient riverboat lifestyle.

—Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2013

Just as in 1720 the authors of the genuine Cato’s Letters called for the South Seas “stock-jobbers” to be trussed up and hanged (Gordon, 1720), citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi, lynched five “cardsharps” in 1835 (Weiser-Alexander, 2013). Thus present day Cato and other corporate-financed, ideology-promoting think tanks have spent decades, working the riverboats as it were, stealthily establishing credibility, prepping the narrative. They produce public filings, testimony and legal briefs, a canon of pseudo-scholarly literature, devoted to a meme, which they use to sway legislators and influence the Supreme Court.

Photo: antique bottles of snakeoil.

What I’ve referred to asLocke-jawed” free-market ideologues, often holding PhDs and other credentials provided by the think tank that employs them, have generated reams of articles and books, such as those of James A. Dorn and others, dubiously appropriating history, even taking the title “Cato’s Letters.” Dorn’s 1996 Cato’s Letter #12 is an archetypical example of what Robert E. Shalhope (Shalhope, 1972) labelled Locke et praeterea nihil, “Locke, and nothing but,” which he called the “orthodox” position on American republicanism. Dorn declares Locke the single Authority on property rights on page 7 of neo-Letter #12. Every neo-letter from Cato acknowledges Trenchard & Gordon’s genuine Cato’s Letters’ influence on Revolutionary thought (pg. ii) but you’ll have to actually read them to appreciate Cato Institute’s truly Orwellian reversal of their meaning. You might turn to genuine historian Clinton Rossiter (1953) (or a Wikipedia article that cites him) to learn their greater importance relative to Locke’s: “No one can spend any time on the newspapers, library inventories, and pamphlets of colonial America without realizing that Cato’s Letters rather than John Locke’s Civil Government was the most popular, quotable, esteemed source for political ideas in the colonial period” (pg. 141). Robert Shalhope provides many more names. Dorn’s premise is questionable from the outset, but I’m only just getting started.

Shalhope points to the work of such historians as Neal Riemer and Caroline Robbins as exemplifying what has slowly and steadily nudged the literature towards a deeper understanding of American Revolutionary thought. “The origins that Neo-Whig historians Bernard Bailyn, Richard Buel, Jack Greene, and Gordon Wood have discovered are not simple and Lockean, as once believed, but complex and atavistic growing out of the rich English intellectual traditions of the Dissenters, radical Whigs, Classical Republicans, Commonwealthmen, Country party, or more simply, the Opposition” (Bailyn, 1967).

… corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
—Abraham Lincoln, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864

The fourth-wave think tanks that promote free markets have Locke-jaw. The Charles Koch Foundation/Cato Institute’s name game grounds a one-sided retelling of history in faux-intellectual relevance. They use incendiary language, demagoguery, a feigned and self-righteous piety, and deceptively simple rhetoric (“talking points” or “sound bytes”) framed in moral imperatives. Dorn’s oft-republished Cato’s neo-Letter #12 (Dorn, 1996), academically trite and historically vapid, is an example of a canon of free-market propaganda that, one naïve to the role of unfettered money in public policy might think ‘quite astonishingly,’ has gone virtually unchallenged. Seeking to vilify the Progressive era while romanticizing a mythical predecessor, “The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality” offers an incomplete picture of turn of the century social safety nets, tells a viciously dishonest distortion of the history of Baltimore, and reinvents the Polish-American immigrant in the author’s own free-market image. These are deceptions. The media and academics have failed their duty, which is to expose such lies. As Sheldon Richman, a senior editor at Cato Institute wrote at American Conservative (in an article demonstrating Cato also knows (or once knew) how to write in a genuine academic vein, keepers of those I believe a good reading reveals to be the historically genuine “libertarian”—Trenchard and Gordon Whigs by another name (other than rejecting “a Manichean division of the world into light and dark” as do Whigs)? They describe their line of thought as “freed market anti-capitalists” who “…see post-Civil War America not as a golden era of laissez faire but rather as a largely corrupt business-ruled outgrowth of the war, which featured the usual military contracting and speculation in government-securities” (Richman, 2012). See my fuller analysis of Dorn’s snake oil, further corrections and citations here.

This is but one example of over 4 decades of literally manufacturing legitimacy, cherry-picking historical fact, juxtaposing it with emotional appeals, wielding agenda biased rhetoric, many by now perhaps believing it themselves. Where Richman (2011) uses regular and left libertarian, I suggest neo and classic may be better (I’m not planning to compare Trenchard & Gordon’s economics to the Austrian school touted by Rothbardian left libertarians any time soon, but you’ll find neo-Whigs and neo-libertarians are compared by The New Independent Whig here; regardless, genuine libertarians descend from leftist/anarchist origins). Perhaps in response to a perception that liberal education and universities would lead to a democratization of property and wealth, those who had the most of those things already created a counter-knowledge production factory—attacking science itself if it suited their purpose. Corporate funded think tanks like Cato and Heritage took an ideology and turned it into a library of talking points and “sound bytes” to be mixed and matched by snake-oil salesmen far and wide, an American tradition older than the Constitution.

Neo-libertarianism as a front for lobby groups, dynasty-building

Recent revelations, therefore, that the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, is a serial plagiarist should be no more a surprise than the source of his material: the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. Note well, the link Paul copied from is self-proclaimed ‘fuzzy’ and/or anecdotal research to begin with, stating, “…This book is not an investigative book. Many of the stories told and information reported represent work already done by others. Rather than endlessly noting multiple sourced items mixed in with personal conversations and research, we have included here other sources of information for the stories presented.” (par. 17).

In March, and again in April of 2012, the Koch’s sued the Institute and attempted to reverse “what they called a ‘board-packing scheme’ to weaken their influence.” (Bloomberg, 2012-04-10) This more than irked Robert A. Levy, chairman of Cato’s board, who knew well that skewing brand-name research and scholars in support of political advocacy groups is what the Kochs do (NYT, 2012-03-06, par. 4). Think tanks began taking extra care publicly to distance themselves from Koch influence, even as they take Koch money.

dem·a·gogue also dem·a·gog US (dm-gôg, -gg)     n.
1. A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned
    appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.

In 2012 the Koch’s infamously funded then-climate-change-skeptic Richard Muller’s Berkeley Earth Project, apparently thinking it would provide evidence to back their long time assertion climate science is a fraud, a conspiracy, a hoax. Have they changed their minds? A genuine look at the threat of climate change by the academic think tank, the Miller Center of Public Affairs (University of Virginia), concluded the solution is to “Take Federalism Seriously. The remarkably diverse body of state experience gives the federal government a unique opportunity to fashion policy on the basis of real-world lessons, including models of best practices. It also establishes a foundation for an intergovernmental partnership on climate change in the best traditions of American federalism…” (NCCG, 2008, pg. 9). The Cato Institute Store still appears to be peddling climate denial literature “by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace” [1, 2, 3].

fet·ish·ism also fet·ich·ism (ft-shzm, ft-) n.
1. Worship of or belief in magical fetishes.
2. Excessive attachment or regard.

Cato’s message of free-markets, as antithetical to the values of Trenchard & Gordon the Whigs as it is to those of Franklin and Paine the Patriots and Lincoln the Republican president, is fetishistic. The mechanisms of which the genuine Cato’s Letters warned almost 400 years ago saying “…under every government, particular men may be too rich,” which we see in the plain light of day result in wealth disparity and poverty, will somehow magically create prosperity and growth? Maybe, but only for those positioned to benefit, those who fund the think tanks and provide the amplification.

Advising the British Parliament in 1744 Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “…disseminating discontent, and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights, and encroaching usurpation. This practice is no certain note of patriotism.” The post-Muller Institute hounds “Obamacare” and affirmative action (the latter employs a straw man argument in doublespeak: ‘trickle down civil rights’), derides the president and his office, and hawks their annotated versions Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States—the same tired demagoguery as the TEA party, the 112th and 113th congresses, Freedom Watch, and other Koch ventures, which led to multiple pointless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, brinkmanship around the debt ceiling and a government shutdown that has already cost Americans taxpayers at least $24 billion as of late October 2013.

infographic, The Wealth Gap and One Approach to Fixing It

In her “Brief Audit of Bill Gates’ Common Core Spending” Mercedes Schneider tells us, “In total, the four organizations primarily responsible for CCSS — NGA, CCSSO, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners — have taken $147.9 million from Bill Gates. “This first post also includes a list of think tanks and major education organizations that received funding from Gates to promote the CCSS. Although “libertarian” think tanks like Cato have philosophical differences with Common Core, ironically the policies they promote benefit men like the Kochs, Gates and Coors (Microsoft has donated to Heritage Foundation).

Riverboat dandies of ed reform

Riverboat dandies of ed reform, such as DeVos or Cato operative and one-time climate science-denier Neal McCluskey, whose brief career as an English teacher led to a long record of ideology-driven conjecture on the subject of education. McCluskey came to my attention Tweeting about about scary “government schools” and “choice,” but never answered when I asked if he also walks in “government” parks, borrows books from “government” libraries, and drives on “government” highways? Trenchard and Gordon, in the genuine Cato’s Letters of US history, used the word genuine people still use today, although they spelled it, “publick.” They were opposed to one who “…sets up an interest of profit, pleasure, or pomp in himself, repugnant to the good of the publick…” (No. 37. Saturday, July 15, 1721). While I’ve not read Mr. McCluskey’s book, the promo reeks of the same disconnect from fact and history displayed when Charles Koch Foundation appropriated the name of Trenchard’s & Gordon’s famous pre-Revolutionary pamphlet for their Cato Institute.

The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.
—Benjamin Franklin, 1749

McCluskey implies Thomas Jefferson hated government, or maybe “big” government, an assertion that fails† US History 101. Jefferson, in his first inaugural address said, “We are all republicans — we are all federalists;” genuine historian Peter S. Onuf would say Mr. McCluskey is a writer “…complicit in an interpretation of [Jefferson’s] political career generally that systematically discounts and misrepresents his principled commitment to the American experiment in federal republican government. …and we certainly continue to draw inspiration from Jeffersonian conceptions of the natural and universal rights of individuals. But when Jefferson called himself a “federalist,” he meant what he was saying. …Jefferson did not privilege “republicanism” over “federalism” (as we may), nor would he be willing to distinguish or dissociate these “principles.”” (par. 10) and reminds us “Jefferson’s obsessive fears of “power,” “corruption,” his notions of “liberty”, “virtue”, personal and political “independence”, and “equality” were all embedded in a view of the world astonishingly unfamiliar to modern readers…” Onuf argues here “…that “federal principles”, the preservation of the framers’ “more perfect union,” was as important to Jefferson as vindicating republican government”. McCluskey claims the Founders voted down public education. Even Christensen’s lazy summary of Jefferson’s long-known and deeply held belief in public education correctly places the blame on Virginia plantation owners and their anti-tax allies of the day (Christensen, Johnson & Horn, 2008, pgs. 52-53). It’s either legend or myth that some wanted to make George Washington king. They were sternly rebuked: “If you have any regard for your Country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your Mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or any one else, a sentiment of the like Nature,” was the response, says a PBS lesson plan. Joyce Appleby (1973) tells how Adams found that in France the populist constitution of Franklin’s Pennsylvania was compared to his own aristocratic one. Yet they both lost. It’s yet another irony of the day that our self styled tea party patriots still support the aristocrats and do the bidding of the would-be king makers. Virginia’s Miller Foundation explains, “…Washington’s balanced and devoted service as President persuaded the American people that their prosperity and best hope for the future lay in a union under a strong but cautious central authority. His refusal to accept a proffered crown and his willingness to relinquish the office after two terms established the precedents for limits on the power of the presidency.”

“Jefferson recognized the supreme importance, for a democratic government, of universal education. And this education must above all things teach men to think clearly and independently, for only by so doing will they be able to perpetuate a democracy.”
—Norbert Sand (1943)

Norbert Sand (1943) says much more about Jefferson and education in fewer words: “Jefferson recognized the supreme importance, for a democratic government, of universal education. And this education must above all things teach men to think clearly and independently, for only by so doing will they be able to perpetuate a democracy.” Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine all wrote at great length of their belief in education and its role in American democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville spoke of American sense of community and warned of individualism’s—not government’s—ill effect on morality: “…it is difficult to foresee to what pitch of stupid excesses their selfishness may lead them; and no one can foretell into what disgrace and wretchedness they would plunge themselves lest they should have to sacrifice something of their own well-being to the prosperity of their fellow creatures.” There was only one antidote. “Educate, then, at any rate, for the age of implicit self-sacrifice and instinctive virtues is already flitting far away from us, and the time is fast approaching when freedom, public peace, and social order itself will not be able to exist without education” (de Tocqueville, 1840).

Before any great things are accomplished, a memorable change must be made in the system of education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.
John Adams,

Men like Dorn and McCluskey are disingenuous. They work for Cato Institute and the neo-liberal agenda, thus we can’t expect their representation of American history to be genuine. Think tanks employ mostly white men, help them pursue PhDs and relevance, and continue quoting from the reductionist script. They employ hyperbole and loaded language (“[scientists] proclaiming the sky falling…” “a desire to sponge off of others”) and euphemisms (great federal slimdown of 2013…,” emph. mine), paint all scientists everywhere as whiners. Completely oblivious to the outside world’s view of the miscreants McCluskey praises for shutting down the government, he links to Canadian Kate Allen’s article calling it an example of researchers ‘sponging’, even while proclaiming a love of science and its many benefits (elsewhere McCluskey article).

Frank Luntz is described as “a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message.” Luntz is responsible for changing “taxing” the rich, which Americans support, to “taking from” the rich. Luntz has been largely successful in removing the word “entrepreneur” and substituting it with “job-creator.” At the Republican Governors Association in 2011 Luntz feared, especially after Occupy Wall St., that Americans were changing their views on capitalism, seeing it as “immoral.” “I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’ ” Luntz said. Is there any reason at all to expect Neal McCluskey’s Luntz-scripted “Feds In The Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education” (2007) to be qualitatively or substantively different from James A. Dorn’s Luntz-scripted “The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality” (1996)? One wonders if these are educators or salesmen.

Martin Wolf (2010) unmasked the “political genius” and economic voodoo of supply side economics some years ago, quoting Alan Greenspan and George Mankiw. But in the free-market fetish business thinking has tanked, and in business people say anything to close the deal.

Don’t engage with disingenuous ideologues

“The system of unfettered capitalism doesn’t work for the ordinary citizen,” says Chris Hedges, he continues [it…] “means they’re all back to these speculative games, and that’s what they are, they don’t produce anything, they bet against things…” Now they bet parents and teachers can be overwhelmed by dollars and a discourse that is false. James L. Huston (1993) points especially to seventeenth-century republican theorist James Harrington and says, “…Americans believed that if property were concentrated in the hands of a few in a republic, those few would use their wealth to control other citizens, seize political power, and warp the republic into an oligarchy. Thus to avoid descent into despotism or oligarchy, republics had to possess an equitable distribution of wealth…” (pg. 1079).

Drawing of snakeoil salesman, fades into Rand Paul

They produce phony research, subvert and suppress report after report showing their assertions of American public school failures are damned lies, and their ideas for fixing them are snake-oil. Chris Christie gives the public’s money to his campaign donors and says openly he “doesn’t care what the community thinks.” Parents should return the tests, teachers should defy their principals, principal should stand with students, teachers and parents against their boards and the corporations invading children’s classrooms, testing their marketing ideas on children, building customer lists for their products, collecting numbers and destroying learning.

I would like to find reformers who share common ground with me and with the nation’s teachers on the issues of child health and nutrition, on the issue of the malevolent effects of poverty on children’s lives. I would like to find reformers who want to collaborate–not compete–with the community public schools.
—Diane Ravitch, September 15, 2013

Diane Ravitch presents some strong arguments for excluding the disingenuous and the self-interested from the debate in this impassioned rebuttal to Sam Chaltain’s (frankly patronizing and condescending) review of her book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Having tweeted my overall support for Ms. Ravitch’s response I’m very appreciative Mr. Chaltain tweeted to me that he was not suggesting sitting with ALEC, I’d like to know if he thinks Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, The US Chamber of Commerce, Bill Gates, or even Arne Duncan is any different, and if so, why?

A prince, therefore, ought always to … be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.
—Niccolò Machiavelli, 1532

Those who seek profits in education are disingenuous at best but when they claim to put children first, many of them are lying to themselves and others. When think tanks deny the consensus of research they are channeling the card sharks and snake oil sellers of the Old West. “What they have amply demonstrated if they don’t care about poor kids or closing the achievement gap, only maintaining the status quo,” says Ravitch.

The free-market dogma of the Cato Institute is distantly removed from the spirit of the Cato’s Letters of Trenchard and Gordon, which are widely regarded as representative of pre-Revolutionary Colonial American political thought (Bailyn, 1967). Philosophically and politically, the Fathers of the American Revolution were nothing like the so-called Libertarians of 21st century North America, who have much more in common with the “tyrants” “boasters” and “knaves” Trenchard and Gordon regularly disparage for their greed and lack of “publick spirit” (e.g., #35). They did not despise government, only tyranny of the minority, and factions that would divide the people against each other for their own gain. The “publick spirit” of which Trenchard and Gordon wrote inthe 1720s was a fundamental piece of American political thought in the early United States of America, as Thomas Paine wrote in Agrarian Justice:

The rugged face of society, checkered with the extremes of affluence and want, proves that some extraordinary violence has been committed upon it, and calls on justice for redress.
—Thomas Paine (1797/1894)

American revolutionaries thought long and hard about limiting government—it should be in the people’s hands. They thought a great deal about limiting the accumulation of wealth. They thought a great deal of associating together, to lift all the people up, and very little of taking personal gain at the expense of the weak. They believed in education, and all who knew them acknowledged its importance to maintaining the American experiment.

I do not think that the system of self-interest as it is professed in America is in all its parts self- evident, but it contains a great number of truths so evident that men, if they are only educated, cannot fail to see them. Educate, then, at any rate, for the age of implicit self-sacrifice and instinctive virtues is already flitting far away from us, and the time is fast approaching when freedom, public peace, and social order itself will not be able to exist without education.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835


When it comes to America’s 3 centuries of commitment to public education, the riverboat dandies, card sharps and snakeoil salemen (and women) of ed reform prefer that you know less than half the story. They want you know the first paragraph of this famous de Tocqueville quote, but not think critically about the implications of the second, and probably prefer you not read his summary of his feelings on the matter in the two paragraphs that follow, which he reported as the American experiment in progress, at all:

The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent …they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, … it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

[…] This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience. I do not deny, however, that a constitution of this kind appears to me to be infinitely preferable to one which, after having concentrated all the powers of government, should vest them in the hands of an irresponsible person or body of persons. Of all the forms that democratic despotism could assume, the latter would assuredly be the worst.

[…] when the sovereign represents the nation and is dependent upon the people, the rights and the power of which every citizen is deprived serve not only the head of the state, but the state itself; and that private persons derive some return from the sacrifice of their independence which they have made to the public. To create a representation of the people in every centralized country is, therefore, to diminish the evil that extreme centralization may produce, but not to get rid of it.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840
emphasis mine

The Education Reform movement must learn to differentiate between ideology-driven strategists serving corporate interests, and life-long educationists who form opinions by rational, dialectical synthesis of opposing arguments based on their merit — who engage in what we call critical thinking. Critical thinkers owe it to themselves, their neighbours, and their fellow citizens to engage in good faith within the public sphere. Serious educators, devoted to research-based learning and teaching, have at least a 4-decade head start. There’s simply no point engaging with ideologues who may be science deniers and the people we can refer to as free-market “fetishists” or “obsessionists.”

De Tocqueville is also famously quoted as saying, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money,” and it may one of the few times his usual prescience failed us. American democracy endured until corporate-industrial-military complex discovered it could buy the government outright with the public’s money.

—Richard Fouchaux



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Oct 03

Where learning happens, there shall ye find teachers

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that the digital age, social networking, animation, other event timing software (from Adobe Captivate to Mozilla’s Popcorn & Butter) and 24/7 access won’t change—haven’t already changed—the way teaching, learning, and schooling are done in the 21st century. But I’m becoming increasingly vexed by those suggesting technology will replace teachers, that for-profit social networking platforms will replace professional development—or that either of those propositions is a good idea.Wordle including 21st Century Skills and other current terminology

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

I’ll dispense with the obvious semantic argument right away: even in self-guided learning there is a teacher—we say “I taught myself!” If informal learning is truly “a spontaneous process of helping people to learn” and it really “…works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience…” if its “…purpose is to cultivate communities, associations and relationships that make for human flourishing…” then not only do I hope we all find and fill that role almost every day—I shake my head in bemusement at the eagerness with which many, perhaps even TVO’s perspicacious and typically uber-informed Steve Paikin, seem to be anticipating teaching’s impending doom.

Screenshot of Hypercard from a 1980s era Macintosh Performa

Screen shot of 1980s era Macintosh Performa and Hypercard, technology that “changed the way we learn” over 30 years ago. Source: Stanislav (2011)

Fortunately, I don’t believe the host, nor any of the panel members in this thought provoking series actually believe this rhetoric; in places like Canada where the commitment to public education is for the time being less precarious than many other places, this can still be said with tongue-in-cheek. Overall, throughout the musings of this panel the vital role played by teachers, mentors, coaches, and guides was implicit. The skills, creativity and imagination professional educators bring to the situations they design and create for the purpose of conveying the knowledge they need to share, was celebrated openly. Overall there was full recognition of the approach most strongly suggested by the literature and research—and who can be seen to have been doing the “thickest” (à la Clifford Geertz1) research for decades. [Update: yours truly on Geertz.] I was schooled in the public school system of Bethlehem, PA, USA in the 1960s. My teachers sat us in circles, let students lead reading groups while they circulated giving individualized instruction, we split into groups and did jigsaw investigations, returned and taught our classmates how to put the pieces together. Tropes and talking points, pompous assertions around “industrial” or even “agrarian” paradigms notwithstanding, throughout history educators, including teachers in the trenches, have always led the search for ways to improve and enhance the process of helping people to learn.

The Cognitive Apprenticeship framework of the 80s identified elements of the mentor/apprentice relationship (e.g., “scaffolding“) that have been essential to teaching and learning for centuries, and educators ever since have been mapping these to specific strategies and the software that supports them.

A tool such as Twitter can be a useful tool, even a powerful one in the right hands. But it’s absurd to think a platform limited to messages 140 characters, blocked by governments and firewalls, adopted thus far by a trivial percentage of teachers would be a good pick to “replace professional development,” as one person on the #Learning2030 hashtag asked Wednesday night. Leave alone the fact Twitter’s priority is making money for its shareholders, and that we don’t know what this corporation may do, or not, to protect privacy. About 80% of messaging on Twitter is self-promotion—researchers coined a new term for such Tweople, “Meformers,” in contrast to “informers” (Naaman,Boase,& Lai, 2010). While I agree teachers should try Twitter, I see Twitter being used as a hub, the water cooler in the staff room around which informal learning happens, contacts, connections and preliminary plans to make plans. Just like pencil and paper, Twitter’s the right technology for many jobs. Use it for what it does well.

Several panels have noted how kids “intuitively” adapt to new technology, but I heard none remark that human-computer interface designers have been striving to design “intuitive” interfaces since there have been computers to design interfaces for. A book written on the topic in 1987 was still in use in 2010.

It’s wonderful to be in Ontario having important and fruitful conversations with genuine reformers, so sincerely devoted to student engagement, deep learning and the new possibilities awaiting discovery by all of us. There’s no need to believe we are the first to have these conversations, nor will we be the last.


  1. For many decades, forward-thinking, innovative educators have been engrossed with the exploration of applications technology. See, among many examples, posts in my own Cognitive Apprenticeship category and the various works in their reference sections. For evidence of the extensive range technology-enhanced-learning-focused 20th century collaborations across disciplines, look no further than R. G. Segall (1989), Thick descriptions: a tool for designing ethnographic interactive videodiscs, ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, Volume 21 Issue 2, Oct. 1989 pp. 118 – 122. While doing so please remember, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Further reading

Ghefaili, Aziz (2003) Cognitive Apprenticeship, Technology, and the Contextualization of Learning Environments, Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online learning Volume 4, Fall, 2003.

Harkinson, Josh, (September 24, 2013), Here’s How Twitter Can Track You on All of Your Devices, Mother Jones, retrieved 2013-10-03

Junco, Reynol; Elavsky, C. Michael and Heiberger, Greg (2012), Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success, British Journal of Educational Technology (2012) 1-15. (Wiley Online Library)

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp149-164.

Lowe, Tony & Lowe, Rachael (2012) Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review (webducate.net)

Stanislav (2011), Why Hypercard Had to Die, blog post, http://www.loper-os.org/?p=568

Naaman, M., Boase, J. & Lai, C. (2010) Is it really about me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, February 6-10, 2010 in Savannah GA (PDF).

Webducate [‘webducate.net’ website/blog] (2012), Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review http://webducate.net/2012/08/twitter-in-learning-and-teaching-literature-review/, retrieved 2012-12-03

Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice, a brief introduction, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/, HTML retrieved 2011-11-03 or http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf, PDF retrieved 2011-10-03.

Richard studied music as a teenager with Trevor Payne at John Abbott College and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed across Canada with full-time rock bands since the early 80s. He’s been a teacher of rock, jazz & classical guitar, first as a sub for his own private teacher, formally at the now defunct Toronto Percussion Centre, and taught at The Arts Music Store in Newmarket, Ontario, for 6 years. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts Music (Special Honours), Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education from York University, plays guitar and trombone, and taught grade 6-8 band, math and computers (HTML and yes, Hypercard!) at the Toronto District School Board and North York School Board.

Jul 25

Analyzing race and representation

Abstract: In the final paper in this series I discuss representations of race and consider how perceptions of such representations must be different across gender, age and cultural differences. I discuss research showing how symbolism can be appropriated across these artificial boundaries. I speak of my own evolving sense of White Privilege, with anecdotal examples, and speculate how it benefits me, sometimes to the detriment of others, whether or not I am aware of it or complicit.

Merkato, open air market Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEducators, business people, and many others in potential leadership roles are for the most part quite familiar by now with the assertion that it is important their classrooms, businesses, and organizations are representative of the communities they serve. This can be reflected in many ways, for but a couple of examples, in the pictures they hang or the people they hire. But the apparent simplicity of such a description of problem and solution falls away quickly when one contemplates even the simplest scenario. Let’s say I’m a teacher and I know I have black students in my class, and I wish to display photographs representative of the “black community.” Shall I hang a picture of Barack Obama? …Nelson Mandela? … Michaëlle Jean? …Michelle Obama? …Sean Combs? All are black, but what does each “represent?” And what possible justification could I have for assuming they represent the same things to my students as they do to me, or that they represent anything at all?

. . . identity is formed at that point where the unspeakable stories of subjectivity meet the narratives of history, of a culture . . .

— Stuart Hall (1987, p. 44)

Identity is about belonging, and how we choose where we belong, but also how that is chosen for us. Narratives, our interpretations and retelling of history, shape our views of ourselves and our worlds, so “discourses [can be regarded as] formative, rather than expressive, of identities” (Hall, 1987 referenced in Parker and Song, pp. 583-4).

Vanilla IceWhat is representation?

In the first several pages of Urban Portraits of Identity: on the problem of knowing culture and identity in intercultural studies Daniel Yon exposes the highly complex and deeply nuanced topic of identity and representation from the point of view of a number of adolescents attending public school in a diverse and cosmopolitan city, Toronto (Yon, 2000). Adolescence is widely understood as the stage in human development when we begin to decide what we will do with our lives, and consequently not just what, but who we will be when we grow up, so this is a very good place to begin an analysis. Reading Yon, it soon becomes apparent that, far from being a “simplistic reading of bodies,” (p. 143) the students being interviewed construct identities not only from the corporeal universe within which they dwell, but also from the vast cache of stories and imagery they encounter there. Representations of identity are “more spontaneous” (Parker & Song, 2009, p. 584). Our attempts to contain real students in neat “visible minority” boxes fail because their own view is much “thicker” (see Geertz, 1973). Regardless of any obvious or predictable connection their constructions often “defied neat reduction” to nationality, race or ethnicity (Yon, 2000, pp. 143-5).

This orientation towards community assumes relationships between “personal identity” and “cultural identity” as unproblematic. Either the relationship is imagined as being smooth, or where there is disjuncture then either identity or the culture is constituted as a “crisis.” Education is perceived as the means through which the crisis may be resolved. This is the same discourse that incites desires for curriculum that “reflects” the identities of the learners. In school-based efforts such assumptions about culture, identity, and community are therefore crystallized in a discourse of “inclusive education.” It structures, for example, the call for “African-centered curriculum” as an alternative to “Euro-centered curriculum” while generally offering little or no critique of the structures of knowledge or the meaning of culture that produce these “centerings” in the first place. In these various ways cultural relativism, and the discourse of community as inheritance that it produces, has come to privilege differences “between” while suppressing engagement with difference “within” communities.

Daniel Yon (1999, p. 624)

It’s worth a pause here to consider that none of those three terms is itself neatly reducible; nationality often connotes citizenship, yet ethnicity may allude to that, but contains an element of DNA and a suggestion of tradition and ritual — race has a pseudo-scientific legacy in the realms of anthropology and biology but nonetheless has been applied as a synonym for either or both of the other terms… culture underpins them all (Smedley, 1999). These collisions, this flux between self-identifying and identifying self, is the starting point of my analysis.

The subject is a web of tensions and release, and just as “discourse structures the possibilities for thinking and acting” thinking and acting shapes the discourse. Thus, culture is deemed to be elusive, “…emergent, both product and process” (Yon, 1999, p. 626). Representation, then, can be seen not only as a marker of “social hermeneutics” used by those attempting to read a particular culture from the outside, but also as a tool by those within (or in proximity to) a culture to define and partition the boundaries of the culture, to decode the relationships of themselves and others to the culture (e.g., membership), and similarly to encode or declare their own relationship to a culture (Hall, 1997; 2007). We must, to quote Hall (1997), quoting Richard Hoggart (1958) “…try to see beyond the habits to what the habits stand for, to see through the statements to what the statements really mean…” (Hall, 1997, p. 43).

This is a challenging undertaking, as representations and their symbolisms can be insidious and pervasive—and contradictory, subject to interpretation. It is accepted that observers bring their own baggage to observations. In researching identity this may mean biases and preconceptions, or pre-established categories constructed around them, resulting in research and reflection that becomes an attempt to justify the choice of those particular categories. Lucia Thesen observes that “…identity can be seen as the dynamic interaction between the fixed identity categories that are applied to social groupings (such as race, gender, ethnicity, language, and other, more subtle representations that are activated in certain discourse settings) and the way individuals think of themselves as they move through the different discourses in which these categories are salient.” (Thesen ,1997, p. 488) Thesen draws a useful distinction between discourse (systemic, societal, institutional) and voice (individual). She too acknowledges the tension and flux I alluded to above, as “…linguistic representations of the fundamental tensions between structure and agency in social life.” (1997, p. 494) She cautions, “…discourse theory downplays agency in the sense that new identity categories and combinations of categories, generated by research subjects themselves, fail to emerge in educational understandings.” She advocates for “…research that brings the locus of interpretation closer to students to find out in which discourses they perceive themselves to be operating.” (1997, p. 507) Both Yon, in what he termed an identity “snapshot,” (1999, p. 626, 2000, p. 144) and Thesen in her “exploration of identity in movement, over a period of time” (1997, p. 506) encounter agency and uncover students’ ability to negotiate multiple discourses, even to self-identify using multiple representations, as in the initially surprising case of a Serbian student who self-identified as “Spanish.” My category (“Serbian”) refers to an ethnicity or a geographical origin, but the student perceived, negotiated, and appropriated for herself certain specific representations around music and apparel she perceived as “Spanish” (Yon, 2000, p. 147). My category prepositions the student, furthermore I could undoubtedly deduce it from paperwork and never need to meet with her to do so. Were one to ignore the young woman’s perceptions and the process by which she achieved this appropriation—her agency in the construction—one would not only dismiss the person, but miss the point of undertaking the analysis.

hoodieWhat about race?

I said earlier that race underpins representations of nationality and ethnicity, and that is for a variety of reasons both objective and subjective. Having grown up and attended school during the 60s, and for the most part in the United States, I spent most of my life believing there are three distinct races differentiated by distinct physical characteristics including skull shape, facial features, and skin colour. I was raised to believe such things made no difference as to how people of different races should be treated, and I was astute enough to recognize this wasn’t always the reality. I travelled, and at some point during the 70s I began understanding and using the word “ethnicity” to describe a more general concept I understood to mean not just race, but to encompass culture, language, and other things I had probably associated with “nationality” prior to acquiring the new vocabulary. Not until perhaps two years before taking this course did I even hear the hypothesis that race was an entirely a cultural construct, with no scientific basis, and I was sceptical. How could this be? What about pigment? What about eyelids? What about hair?

Upon reflection I soon came to accept that race is a construct, that these are variations on a theme—but that they represent many other things in many other contexts. It had been, as Goldberg exposed it, “comfortable” to think of race, and in racialized terms (Goldberg, 1993, p. 150). My travels resulted in an extended stay (1970-1974) in a “Third World” country (Ethiopia) and there’s no question in my memory that I understood it to be “primitive.” I learned it was more “advanced” than many other “primitive” countries—the proof was offered in such facts as having the only airline in Africa in the 1970s that could boast of all Ethiopian pilots and maintenance crew, from shop foreman to the most junior mechanic. I don’t recall ever hearing explicit reasons given for this bit of trivia, but I know that I inferred from somewhere that it was due to three things. First, Ethiopia was a “Christian country since the 4th century AD.” Second, Ethiopia is “one of only two countries in Africa that were never colonized by a European power” (see e.g., ImperialEthiopia.org or Henze, 2000, rev.). And third, Ethiopia was an ally of the United States. While it’s also very true that I heard of Emperor Haile Selassie’s stirring 1936 speech to the League of Nations, and I knew that, many years before my arrival, he had insisted English become the language used in all school and schooling beyond grade 7. I now recognize that I probably never fully credited the emperor or the Ethiopian people for any of these creative ideas or accomplishments; my knowledge was racialized, the Primitive internalized, and the Otherness of Africa was a given (Goldberg, 1993, pp. 150-7).

In the post-colonial Africa of the early 1970s, even in a country occupied (by Italy, 1936–1941) but never colonized, I experienced and benefited from White privilege. A 15-year-old boy might carry the only white face in the Merkato, but in 1974 he could walk anywhere without fear, and command attention, authority, and respect—though he might not ponder its especially British Colonial legacy. Many years later I considered what representations I likely manifested meeting narratives of colonial history—unconsciously, unwittingly, and unintentionally, through the same accidents of birth—and I understood that my “burden of representation” (Alexander, 2009, p. 465), while undeniably present, was relatively light.

White privilege

I’m now aware I have benefited from, and I continue to benefit from, white privilege—every waking hour of every day of my life. I have from the moment of my birth, and very well may until death. At 21 in California I stood patiently in line at the unemployment insurance office, spoke to the educated white workers in educated white English, quickly decoded the system, mastered the rules and collected full benefits weekly for the maximum number of weeks I was eligible. I can say with a clear conscience, however, that by 21 I didn’t believe for one second the African and Hispanic Americans in line (who usually weren’t “eligible,” and certainly weren’t as eloquent or composed) were to blame for their frustration—I remember thinking I’d be just as desperate were I held in that cycle of perpetual unemployability, just as rude and angry if I were being treated as I saw they were. When my benefits ran out I dressed just as appropriately and spoke just as eloquently at my next job interview, and quickly rejoined the world of the employed. As a white male I’ve enjoyed that level of freedom all my life, and exploited it often, sometimes without even knowing, other times with blatant arrogance.

A more recent example is when the Canadian born woman, whom I identified by my limited knowledge of accents as being of “Jamaican” heritage, accepted my expired health card and told the very next person, who spoke with a Caribbean accent similar to her own, she needed to see proof of his citizenship, which he then produced. How many times in that man’s life has he been asked to take just one more step to get to the finish line than I’ve been? Good thing she didn’t ask me, I’m an immigrant from the USA—and I didn’t have proof of my permanent residency! As a white male with no perceptible accent I’m identified as Canadian—included, eligible, okay. And while there may be little difference between a Canadian and an American in one context, there may be other times and places that a differentiation might be desired. That’s systemic, it’s about racializations and subliminal attitudes we all carry—yet none of us is “a racist.”

Implications for the 21st century classroom

The 21st century classroom is distinct because it’s often situated, at least in part, in cyberspace, and so is defined and restricted by a different set of boundaries (Parker & Song, 2009). The asynchronous nature of this classroom enables the emergence of “post-colonial subjectivities” providing multiple points of reference enhanced by global communications. “These emergent cultural formations cut across any simplistic binary between ‘pure’ old ethnicities, and multi-dimensional, progressive ‘new ethnicities’” (p. 600). Educators can benefit by becoming aware and respectful of these sensitivities. Framing the design of learning situations as opportunities to draw forth and empower multiple representations may be a powerful approach to engagement and community building that reaches far beyond more traditional perceptions of what classrooms are about (Parker & Song, 2009; WOW Project, 2007; Yon, 1999, 2000).

I believe an important first step is to acknowledge that the pathologizing concept of “race,” while lacking evidence to support its claims on our biology, is still part of our psychology, and is reflected in our attitudes, behaviors, and in our political systems and our policies. We must work as individuals to address the first two. We must work as societies to fix the last. It is—deeply and fundamentally—an education issue.



Alexander, Claire, (2009) “Stuart Hall and ‘Race’”, Cultural Studies, 23: 4, 457 — 482.

Banton, M. (2000) The Idiom of Race: A critique of presentism. In Back and Solomos (Eds.) Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Beckett, D. and Hager, P. (2002) Life, Work and Learning: Practice in Postmodernity, London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant (1999) ‘On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason’, Theory, Culture & Society 16: 41–58.

Foucault, M. (1978/1990) The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction New York: Vintage.

Geertz, Clifford (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture, pp. 3-30, in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, NY: Basic Books, 470 pages.

Gilman, Sander L. (1985) Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature. Critical Inquiry, 12(1) “Race,” Writing, and Difference, 204-242.

Goldberg, David T. (1990) “The Social Formation of Racist Discourse” in The Anatomy of Racism, ed. Personal author, compiler, or editor name(s); click on any author to run a new search on that name.Goldberg, David Theo, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Goldberg, David T. (1993) Racial Knowledge. In Racist Culture, Philosophy and the Power of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Hall, Stuart (1987), ‘Minimal Selves’, in Identity: The Real Me, ICA, London, p. 44.

Hall, Stuart (1988) ‘New ethnicities’, in Black Film/British Cinema, London, ICA.

Hall, Stuart (1997) ‘ “The Centrality of Culture”: Notes on the Revolutions of Our Time’, in K. Thompson (ed.) Media and Cultural Regulation, vol. 6 of the Culture, Media and Identities Course Books. London: SAGE and The Open University.

Hall, Stuart (2007), Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy and the cultural turn, International journal of Cultural studies, 10(1):39-49.

Harrison, Faye V. (1998) Introduction: Expanding the Discourse on “Race” American Anthropologist 100(3):609-631.

Harrison, Faye V. (2005) Introduction: Global Perspectives… In Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. 1-34. Toronto: Altamira Press.

Henze, Paul B. (2000), Layers of Time – A History of Ethiopia, Christopher Hurst & Co. London, pp 372.

Hoggart, Richard (1958) The Uses of Literacy. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Parker , David and Song, Miri (2009), New Ethnicities and the Internet: Belonging and the negotiation of difference in multicultural Britain, Cultural Studies Vol. 23, No. 4 July 2009, pp. 583—604

Roediger, David R. (2001) ‘Critical Studies of Whiteness, USA: Origins and Arguments’, Theoria (South Africa) 98: 72–98.

Roediger, David R. (2006) A reply to Eric Kaufmann, Ethnicities, 6 (2): 254-262.

Sanjek, R. (1994) The Enduring Inequalities of Race.

Smedley, Audrey (1998) “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity American Anthropologist 100(3):690-702.

Stoler, Ann Laura (1995) “Placing Race in the History of Sexuality” in Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things, Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura (2002) “A Colonial reading of Foucault” in Colonial Knowledge and Imperial Power, Berkley CA: University of California Press.

Thesen, Lucia (1997) Voices, Discourse, and Transition: In Search of New Categories in EAP, TESOL Quarterly 31(3), 487-511.

Wolf, Eric R. (1994) Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People. Current Anthropology 35(1) 1-12.

WOW Project (2007) Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Learning Styles http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Web_2.0_and_Emerging_Learning_Technologies, retrieved 2009/11/15

Yon, Daniel A (1999) ‘Pedagogy and the “problem” of difference: on reading community in The Darker Side of Black’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 12 (6), 623-641

Yon, Daniel A.(2000) ‘Urban Portraits of Identity: On the problem of knowing culture and identity in intercultural studies’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 21: 2, 143 — 157

Young, Robert: Colonial Desire: White Power, White Desire (London: Routledge, 1995)

Mar 17

Reforming Education Reform

Educators can be leaders in Education Reform, but one sector, whom no one denies is a needed stakeholder, just wants to throw money at the problems—and at defining the problems and overwhelming the Public’s perception of problems. They venture to extract even more money by solving the problems, and to that end they’ve invested in a system of collecting numbers that “prove” the problems persist. skewing the outcome towards a single perspective. As the array of multinational conglomerate logos in the images show this is part of the landscape across the world, in North America in general, but it’s especially true in the United States, where the textbook, testing, school supplies industries are entrenching a new status quo. Logos of corporations and others interested in reforming education.

A retiring principal in New York state recently said,

Apple! McDonald’s! Microsoft! Starbucks! Google! None of these endeavors or companies were started by excellent test-takers! I fear that our present cadre of educational reformers – the non-educators noted above – are creating children who are great little test-takers, who can select A, B, C or D as an answer with the best of them, and whose performance can be placed onto a nice little spreadsheet. But we must ask ourselves, at what price?”
(Don Sternberg, 2013, quoted on Diane Ravitch’s blog)

But there’s a flaw in Dr. Sternberg’s statement as written: educational reformers do not create children, are not in classrooms, and won’t be the ones hired to create engaging alternatives to classrooms, or powerful digital enhancements to classroom instruction, or plan how to use all those things effectively in authentic projects then do so. Parents create children. Educators educate them. I argue these two groups have the most invested, both in tax dollars and in interest in the outcome, and therefor must remain strong allies. Corporate strategists must also believe this, as some go to great lengths to divide parents and teachers, and conquer each group separately.

The only counter to this is a truism: The Private needs The Public in order to survive.

Such an assertion requires evidence, and educationists are the ones to provide it. (Rodríguez-Romero, 2008)

The education sector can find its own cohesion by encouraging and promoting use of Public Buildings. The president’s jobs plan includes rebuilding schools. Be active, and support activists in your community by making noise, let everyone know you want to build and rebuild schools in your area. Build them as optimized Public Spaces, usable 24/7 if your neighborhood can benefit from that, at cost-recovery prices or less, during hours that attract the most people in your locality. Invest in putting Kids, Students, Parents, Communities—all the local experts—first.

We can tell it’s the right way to look at it because the people who use the system most, all those I just named are 1) both main users & main investors in system (taxes) 2) the experts on how and what works and what is needed first 3) the ones whose daily lives and futures are affected by the decisions being made.

We all stand to profit from a Student/Parent/Community-centric approach. Local Business knows dollar profits mean nothing when Talent goes undeveloped, withers, becomes easily undercut from outside, is forced to move away. We all can understand that not all value and profit is in dollars and cents. Democracy thrives in knowledge—nurtured by scholars, and sense.

Teachers need to stay focused on good pedagogy, but even those many great teachers who are still too busy to Tweet and blog now need to add some level of social networking and DIY technology. It’s not just about time spent teaching, but more practical, as communication with Parents and Community. A teacher who collaborates with the school and community to expose the exciting learning situations that are happening, make the thinking behind them transparent and visible, see the Learners and their Learning recognized, applauded and celebrated, is the best advocate for public education anyone could hope for. A parent who is a programmer, mechanic, shop-owner, assembly-line worker, a lawyer or any local business that does Something Kids Find Engaging—a potential career path, hobby, or even passing fad—all of these are valid 21st century situations where learning is already taking place. How do we tap in, without skipping a beat or losing stride?

DIY tech, like your class blog or web page, projects you share in real time on the Internet, all these are ways to bring people into your classroom, into your building and into a growing sense of sharing a common purpose. Just do it. We’ve talked for 40 years about “situated” learning. It’s time we start thinking about learning situations and the situations where learning happens—and then create them and share them Publicly.

Kids and Parents can once again come to think of the School as a place that’s good to go evenings and weekends, to meet friends, be in clubs… again, there are too many places where total renovation is required first So be it those are real jobs that people could count on and real investments that benefit ourselves and future generations.

I believe we have to rely even more on our own agency. Don’t just cultivate a personal learning network (PLN), try to join and grow a Community of Practice (CoP). It’s a subtle difference in the role of give and take, a slightly different take on the value of ideas that may be at the periphery of your main interests, but I think a meaningful one. It’s especially meaningful in

Be the best teacher you can be but don’t do it alone. From the ground up, advocate for technology and uses of technology that bring more energetic, engaged and engaging people into your situation. Class trips and parent visits are two-way now, either can be virtual or physical, and your classes’ videoed presentations can be viewed from the business meeting in Ottawa or when mom gets home tomorrow morning after night shift.

When parents view themselves as a collective group and their families as a community bounded by similar interests and desires, a foundation to act collectively and to become more powerful agents in the school emerges. Relationships are at the core of bringing this power to parents.
Warren et al., 2009
[Can the same not be said of any stakeholder group in education? And isn’t the thing about corporate reformers that irks us not so much their money but the way in which many of them have gone about spending it, siphoning and harvesting, rather than planting and growing? –RF]

Then, corporate reformers and venture capitalists will be forced to compete with the kind of value we’ve Pulled From Within Ourselves. It forces them to spend their money on the things the true leaders have demonstrated work, are working, and that get People Where We Are Going . History shows—Public spirit shall overcome.



  1. educationist [ej-oo-key-shuh-nist] noun
    “a specialist in the theory and methods of education…”
    …but that doesn’t really do justice to the way it’s used nowadays. For me the word connotes a certain devotion to teaching and learning that goes beyond theory, into truly transformative pedagogy. Praxis is about changing behaviors in meaningful ways, expanding not only knowledge, but renovating views and beliefs that were held before the new knowledge was obtained.

Reference and further reading

Rodríguez-Romero, M. (2008), “Situated Pedagogies, Curricular Justice and Democratic Teaching”, in OECD, Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate, pp. 113–136, OECD Publishing.

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Webber, Melvin M. (1973), Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169. [PDF]

Don Sternberg, Ed.D. Principal, February 26, 2013, letter to parents http://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/11/retiring-principal-stop-the-madness/

Mark R. Warren, Soo Hong, Carolyn Leung Rubin, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy (2009), Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community- Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Teachers College Record, Volume 111, Number 9, September 2009, pp. 2209–2254, http://bit.ly/nYwbjK (PDF), Accessed March 17, 2013.

Mar 04

Wicked Problems

Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel taught design and architecture for over 30 years but never designed a building. Horst Rittel matters because he saw a connection between science and design and was able to articulate it to designers. He recognized that the definition of a problem is subjective and comes with a point of view. When you think this through it reminds us all “stake-holders” hold a stake in any problem’s outcome. The more diverse the stakes, the more fluid definitions become, and ultimately the harder it becomes to define the problem. It’s a problem of moving goal posts and answers that lead to further questions. Rittel named such problems wicked problems, problems that are not so much “solved” as they are “tamed” (Rith & Dubberly, 2006). Continue reading