Some Things Never Change

Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering. – Winnie the Pooh

Ok, it’s been a week since I became unemployed and, while I haven’t quite been doing nothing, it’s been an interesting experience knowing that I could have done just that with no repercussions.

Along with plenty of reading and reflection, I’ve been cleaning out lots of the cruft, physical and digital, that has accumulated over many years. Including a few bags of stuff brought home from the former cubicle. No matter the origins, it’s a process that’s often quite cathartic.

One of the odder items that came out of the bottom of an office desk drawer was a folder containing magazine and newspaper articles from my college days. Stories featuring headlines like “What’s Wrong With Our Teachers?” and “Saving our Schools”.

The articles behind those inflammatory headlines called the quality of teaching “woefully inadequate”, related how kids didn’t work hard enough (or were not required to work harder), and declared that their learning was lacking compared to students in other countries (Japan being the big baddy at that time). Accompanied by one or two cherry picked examples of where schools are “working” in the US.

These declarations of a failing American education system were based on the now legendary A Nation at Risk report, which in its executive summary made this provocative claim:

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

I remember that hyperbolic line being held over the heads of teachers for many years after that.

Anyway, A Nation at Risk was written by a federal commission, largely populated by people in higher education and corporate executives, and based on reports of poor student achievement from colleges and SAT scores.

As opposed to any number of negative reports about our current education system today, written by think tanks funded by billionaires with no education experience and based on a flood of data from largely meaningless standardized test scores.

It’s a little depressing. The impression of public education and the national discussion of school reform hasn’t really changed in thirty years. Except that back then one of the major solutions was to provide better pay and support for teachers. You won’t find many “reformers” supporting that idea today.

One more nostalgically fun item from the publications for edtech fans: the full-page ads by Apple, IBM, and Texas Instruments (complete with Bill Cosby) pushing their machines for home learning.

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