Speaking of No Child Left Behind, Alfie Kohn wants to dispel the commonly held myth that the people who slapped that law together five years ago had only the best intentions at heart.
And he pulls no punches doing so.
I continue to be amazed by the fact that even folks who regard the law as unsalvageable continue to insist that the motives of its framers were honorable. Granted, some folks who went along for the ride — and, arguably, were taken for a ride — are pure of heart. But, as I argued a few years ago in Phi Delta Kappan, all the evidence suggests that the primary motive behind NCLB was to undermine public schooling, as part of a larger effort to sabotage democratic public institutions. One doesn’t have to be conspiratorial to suspect this; it’s no secret that the Bush Administration, the Heritage Foundation, and others that hatched this law — and, more generally, that strongly support high-stakes testing and the callous rhetoric of “no excuses” with punitive policies to match — also support vouchers and other instruments of privatization.
Of course, the language used to market NCLB has been lovely. It’s all about equity and excellence, about helping all children to succeed and closing the gap — and a brilliant P.R. campaign it has been, too. But for many reasons, this law (and the whole Tougher Standards craze of which it is merely the apotheosis) has served to widen the gap, to impose a diet of scripted test-preparation that has turned second-rate schools in the inner city into third-rate schools. Sometimes this kind of instruction, and a policy of using threats to compel change, does succeed in raising the scores, even as it lowers the quality of teaching and learning. No wonder so many lifelong activists for social and racial justice, including the man who coined the phrase “savage inequalities,” are such staunch opponents of NCLB.
But here’s the point: They don’t fault the law on the grounds that it hasn’t lived up to the principles that gave rise to it. They fault the law because it has.