Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Bumper Sticker Campaign Day II

Yesterday I began my weeklong bumper sticker campaign. The idea is that the Republicans have mastered the technique of what I call bumper sticker speaking. They respond with short, mono-syllabic sentences to the tough questions. Things like "pro-life," "mission accomplished," "last throes," and my personal favorite, "No Child Left Behind." It doesn't have to mean a damn thing and is most often untrue, but it fits on a bumper sticker, can be made into a soundbite for the evening news, and can be easily used in commericals.

Yesterday's topic was abortion, (and judging by the less than enthusiastic response in the comments I'm forced to think that we may be in trouble) so today I'd like to discuss education. How do we counter NCLB?

Let me give you a little background first. My first experiences in teaching came in the Aldine Independent School District in the northeast section of Houston, Texas. What I saw there went against everything I had ever been taught about education. It was a system of high-stakes assessment with the teachers bearing the sole responsibility for failure. It was eight straight months of preparing for a single test. So I left. Now, imagine my horror when George W. Bush declared himself a candidate for the presidency and one of his platforms was education reform. I knew what that meant. Little did I know that this would be only the first of many many points on which I would disagree with this man.

But back to the problem at hand. The Republicans now control the political language thanks to the brevity of the American attention span. Therefore, No Child Left Behind strikes a chord. It sounds like a wonderful thing. It's short, easy to remember, and implies that the former administration was doing just that; leaving children behind. But we know that its bullshit. Continual testing of our children does no more to address the educational problems faced by our nation than the constant shouting in the ear of a deaf person does to address hearing loss. We're approaching the problem from the wrong side.

The basic premise behind NCLB is that by focusing on the output, we can improve the input. But as they say in the technology field: G.I.G.O. (Garbage in, garbage out.) This is not to imply that our teachers aren't doing a good job, but it's meant to show that the input will always determine the output. So, in my opinion, the focus of education reform shouldn't be on testing, but on fundamentals. By getting control of the input, only then will we be able to control the output. But with the focus on the other end of the equation, too many schools are foregoing the extra time needed to master the basics and are focusing on test materials. It's akin to building a house on a foundation that's only half done. However, this doesn't fit on a bumper sticker.

So here it is. Your second challenge. What would you put on your education bumper sticker?

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