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Education in Two Worlds: Leonard Waks Explains How Most Education Reformers Operate

I don't think that Leonard Waks blogs. But he posted a long message on his Facebook page that really captures so much of the madness that currently masquerades as education reform. In the interest of promulgating his message, I have reproduced his post below — without asking him and without his permission. (Who could possibly object to having their thoughts shared far and wide?) What Waks argues here is that the modus operandi of education reform is not unique to education, but in fact is a strategy for effecting change in many other areas of modern life. Just to be clear; what follows is not my writing, but I agree with all of the ideas expressed.

Leonard Waks writes:

Most of my professional energy over the last fifty years has been devoted to attacking educational tyranny. There is a pattern in this form of tyranny.

First, a crisis is manufactured. The nation is at risk. The sky is falling. None of this is innocent; there are interests pushing crisis - those who will profit from it either by gaining bureaucratic power or commercial profit. Next, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We are committing educational suicide because our test scores are falling. (In the education case, the data were simply misinterpreted - our always low test scores were actually rising). So we fall into simplistic thinking where a single criterion variable is substituted for a balanced picture about what education should achieve.

Next a magic bullet solution is found - involving a direct approach to that single variable. The problem is test scores, so we will impose a test-prep and standardized test regime. All thinking is then reduced to "what works". My friends in the educational research community will remember how the department of education rejected all research proposals that were not about "what works" - and what works = what raises test scores.

The solution may have some impact on the criterion variable - test scores may go up. In some cases the data is simply falsified to make believe that they do.

Then a coercive regime is imposed where every school district and teacher is compelled to fall into line. Test prep galore. No child left behind = do what we mandate or lose your funding - and for teachers, do what we mandate or lose your job.

There are costs. The most significant costs are that in a test-prep environment, thinking, productive struggle, self-directed learning, teacher-student cooperative projects, the arts, and the pleasure of learning get eliminated from the curriculum. These are, however, the factors that matter most in education.

The costs, however, are mere "side effects" that are not measured. We have a single criterion of evaluation - test scores. So when the question arises about the true costs of the test-prep regime, no one knows. This is educational tyranny, and it is prevalent.

Now I do not want to make a strict analogy with the vaccine war, but I do want to call attention to some parallels. We start with a manufactured crisis. We have 100 active cases today. People might remember the Ebola crisis. We had, if i am not mistaken, zero fatalities. The crisis is not innocent - again there are powerful interests in play. (A note: I do not know the ages of the affected, or whether they had already been vaccinated. Age matters, because for older people measles is a nasty business).

Second, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We have to wipe out this deadly scourge.

Third, a magic bullet is found. vaccines "work". And no child can be left behind.

A single criterion variable is used - in this case the reduction in cases of the childhood diseases (MMR).

A coercive regime is then put in place to assure that everyone is compliant.

As in the education case, the vaccine regime has at least potential costs. For example, vaccine immunity is temporary while natural immunity from the disease is permanent. So those who get the vaccine have less (or no) immunity as adults, when, unlike in childhood, the disease is really nasty.

Some data suggests that measles is now more concentrated among adults.

The vaccine dissenters hypothesize that in addition those who have gone through the childhood diseases have better general immunity and are less susceptible to other adult diseases ranging from MS to cancer.

With the single variable approach - the reduction in the childhood diseases - no studies are made of such "side effects" as compromised adult immunity. If we ask about the costs, the answer is 'who knows?'

So to make my own position clear: I am not anti-vaccine. I am totally for the tetanus vaccine - which actually provides better long term immunity than the disease itself. I am for the polio vaccine - because polio was a really nasty business - I saw my friends dropping like flies in the summers of the 1950s, and saw the vaccine wiping polio out.

I am not a dissenter on the MMR vaccine. But I don't know enough to endorse it wholeheartedly. I want to know more about it's long term effects.

What am i against? The pattern of manufactured crisis, gross oversimplification, single variable 'science', magic bullet solutions, and coercive implementation.

~Leonard Waks

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Gene V Glass

Gene V Glass is a lecturer in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education of San José State University. He is also currently a Senior Researcher at the National Educ...