A symposium hosted by the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education
A CHALLENGE TO EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP
John I. Goodlad
|Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center or the National Research Council. The paper has not been reviewed by the National Research Council.|
||I come immediately to the core of my argument.
There are two--not one, not many--school reform movements in the United
States. One is essentially corporate in character, especially in its ephemeral
existence beyond place. The other is very much of specific place and people
and, by comparison, might be likened to a cottage industry. From here on
out, I shall refer to the first of these movements as school reform and
to the second as school renewal.
The language of the former is clearly for reform, with its traditional connotations: something has gone wrong and is to be corrected, as with delinquent boys incarcerated in a reform school. Prescriptions are given; corrective actions are to be taken; faceless people in faceless agencies are holding clearly identifiable people accountable. Sometimes there is a carrot, more often a stick or both carrot and stick. As with corporate litany, "restructuring" and "systemic" are favorite words. The intent is to bring all those recalcitrant entities out there into linear, well-managed corporate culture--to franchise them in common goal, method, and outcome. Thus, several rules of corporate culture in addition to ephemerality are met: the growth imperative, hierarchy, linearity, and homogenization.** Other corporate characteristics are perhaps less obvious but exacerbate my anxiety about what we are increasingly witnessing as school reform: a bottom line that essentially debases the nature of education and a zeitgeist that dehumanizes.
The language of school renewal, by contrast, is multidimensional, relatively free of good guys and bad guys and (to the frustration of many reformers) of ends, means, and outcomes linearity. The language and the ethos are of the people around and especially in schools acquiring the efficacy and developing the collaborative mechanisms necessary to better schools. A growing literature of satisfying experiences emphasizing the role of teachers, principals, and parents includes references to schools as gardens, students as plants to be nourished, and the importance of appropriate nutrients. Indeed, the word coming to mind to best describe both the language and the ethos is ecological.
*Title adapted from Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Times Books, 1995). See also Robert Grossman's illustration for the cover of The Nation, September 21, 1992. (Because of space limitation, reference notes and other documentation are omitted, except for a few I consider essential.)
When I first posited this two-movement thesis of school reform and school renewal a decade ago (at a conference in Princeton hosted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), it was quickly shot down. There are many, each competing for attention and resources, I was told. Let's decide on which to place our money, get on with reform, and get beyond pedantic, semantic trivialities.
It is dangerous not to recognize the emergence of these two fundamentally different paradigms and folly to push the messy local initiatives into the tent of the neatly rational linear reform model. The latter assumes a system of loosely connected parts. Reform is to effect a tighter connecting of these parts so as to make of the whole a powerful instrument for the achievement of national economic purpose.
The alignment of ends, means, and outcomes has narrowed and tightened in the post-Nation At Risk era in comparison with what it was in the post-Sputnik school reform era. At the 1965 White House Conference on Education, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey provided the impassioned rhetoric that tied school reform to President Johnson's vision of the Great Society: This nation will go down in history as the one that used its schools to deal successfully with the problems of joblessness, poverty, inner-city slum clearance, violence, and, indeed, world peace. If the soaring rhetoric of H.H.H. has been surpassed, I am unaware of it. I was so moved that I thought I could fly back to Los Angeles without benefit of an airplane.
The following morning, the workshop group of school folks I had left three days before quizzed me eagerly about what had gone on in Washington. I had great difficulty connecting anything I had heard with their problems, such as dealing with students' diversity and individuality. Later, educators such as these and academicians were able to take advantage monetarily of the provisions in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that recognized a broad scope of need and sought to bypass the recognized rigidity of state departments of education.
The 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education narrowed the focus, using military language in charging our schools with instrumentality in ensuring our nation's leadership in the global economy. Local districts and states were to carry out the crusade. Theodore Sizer wrote a little piece in reply that would have been hilarious had it not been so tragically true. There was to be no mounting of the necessary weaponry, he contended. The countryfolk would do battle with their customary shovels, hoes, and rakes. State-appointed commissions wrote thousands of pages of reports, selecting carefully and repeating endlessly the same data and horror stories designed to arouse the populace from its perceived over-satisfaction and lethargy regarding the schools. A self-fulfilling rhetorical prophecy of school failure was engendered and tied to a narrative of dire consequences for what Neil Postman refers to as the god of economic utility. The 1986 report of the National Governors' Association thankfully overestimated the crass appeal to the people of the slogan, "Better schools mean better jobs."
As an aside, I note that there have been no glowing commendations of the schools for the role they might have been presumed to play in our present enviable position in the world economy and our low rate of unemployment. For our schools to be so credited would be a blow to the political education industry that has grown up around inflating the image of their failure. Whereas the cancer industry is sustained by the continued presence of cancer in the populace, the vote-getting appeal of school reform is sustained by downplaying the successes and raising the decibels of hyperbole regarding the shortcomings of our schools.
The language of school renewal is short on ends-means connections. It is far more contextual. High on the list of teachers' perceived problems are lack of student interest in learning and the parental support they believe to be a corollary of success in school, particularly at the high school level. High on parents' lists are the behavioral problems and threats to safety in the school environment and lack of attention to the needs of their own children. The rhetoric of school failure pumps up whatever dissatisfaction parents have with their local school but rarely aligns them with politically driven reform initiatives such as President Bush's America 2000 or President Clinton's Goals 2000.
Several years ago, I set out to check the penetration of post-Nation At Risk politically driven school reform proposals. At the time, Education Secretary Lamar Alexander was busily signing up whole cities for the America 2000 train. A newsletter repeating the several goals and listing the new passengers reached my desk regularly. I rarely have seen a school reform initiative so accompanied by hype. During a year of addressing educational conferences of teachers, administrators, parents, and various public officials, I asked the question, "How many of you know enough about America 2000 to be able to describe some of its substance to persons sitting beside you?" Out of audiences of several hundred people, I never had a show of more than four or five hands.
Until a couple of years ago, I engaged in one-day seminars, spread over nearly three years, with superintendents of schools in virtually all the regions of the United States. During seminars, I sought to find out whether they perceived post-Nation At Risk school reform efforts to have helped their districts. There was no enthusiasm. Somewhat to my dismay, I discovered that most considered their local efforts to have been hindered rather than helped. Less than 10 percent of the approximately 450 superintendents with whom I met perceived their districts to have been better off because of the national reform effort--mostly because of some additional money received.
This chasm between local enthusiasm and the federal and state crusade for world-class schools has frustrated political and business leaders. The relatively high rating many parents give their local schools compared to the low rating they give the schooling enterprise has been passed off by some critics as apathy. There has been plenty of blame to spread around, and nearly all of it has fallen on groups in or near the schools--teachers, administrators and, the recurring villains, teacher educators. It is past time to abandon the villain theory and its time-worn accusations and to seriously consider the proposition that school reform has largely failed because the oft-repeated model of change is wrong-headed. This should not in any way draw our attention away from the shortcomings of our schools, but it just might lead to more productive strategies.