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I'm author of The Snipesville Chronicles. I'm also a published academic historian, but don't hold that against me.Oh, and I'm a Brit. I just happen to live in Georgia.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education? Oh, Great. Not.

I know I'm not alone in being deeply disappointed with, indeed angered by, President Obama's appointment of Arne Duncan as secretary of education. Here's a man from a privileged background (the private University of Chicago Lab School, which was full of faculty kids like himself, followed by Harvard), who has never spent a day as a teacher, whose "qualifications" are in the dubious fields of educational policy (the sort of rubbish that explains why we're in a mess to start with), and whose Wikipedia bio gives us many anecdotes about his basketball playing and coaching prowess, with nothing to indicate that this is someone who gives an iota of a damn about the humanities.
His early pronouncements do nothing to reassure me, starting with his suggestion that we ought to compare our education system with those of India and China, with the implication that ours will be found wanting.
Excuse me?
Last time I looked, Chinese education still betrays its roots in Confucianism and in the depressingly authoritarian culture that has been China's Achilles heel from the first Emperor to the present. It values mindless obedience and memorization. I don't care if it creates jobs (Yeah, great, let's all live in factory dorms, and get up early for calisthenics.) And India? Don't get me started. Hey, what happened to Japan, who, we were told twenty years ago, had a school system that supposedly guaranteed a national economic success story? Notice how we don't talk about that anymore. And anyway, lying behind the suggestion is an obsession with churning out workers: The last thing America (and that includes its economy) needs is for the education system to become more job-obsessed and less conducive to creativity.
Nobody knows better than I how badly off our schools are. But Arne Duncan's prescriptions (a longer school year and yet more bloody tests) is NOT the answer. It's OK for the President, whose kids go to one of the country's finest schools, but it is NOT okay by the rest of us. Many parents--me included--have voted with our feet, and taken our kids to private schools or, as in my case, are reluctantly homeschooling them to save them from the worksheet purgatory that is elementary education. Nothing that Arne Duncan has said will speed my child's return to public schools, or slow the exodus of committed teachers, for whom June, July, and August are the only things standing between them and mental breakdown.
Let's hope for as little damage as possible to an already disastrous system. And wake me when he's gone.

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