Monday, March 5, 2007

The Paradox of Conservative Pegadogy and Liberal Ideals

I have just begun reading Mike Rose's Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America. I can already tell that I'm going to love it,or at least find it immensely intriguing, because in his introduction Rose discusses the unfairness of the overtly negative attacks on the public school systems. (This was published in 1995, and I think the nastiness directed towards public school officials and educators has only gotten worse.) Rose basically takes the position that while we should acknowledge that there are problems with the system and that there are ineffective, poorly trained and/or overly cynical teachers, we should also celebrate the compassion, dedication, and hard work that many of these people put into their jobs. Only by acknowledging the good as well as the bad, will we be able to critically analyze the situation and improve it for the better.

This is an important issue to me, because it seems that lately the public school systems have become a public dumping ground for many politicians and media figures who seem to be having a contest as to who can come up with the nastiest, most ridiculous accusations and insults directed towards teachers and administrators. Much of this is politically motivated, of course. Conservative figures often have a field day griping about teachers' unions and the lack of "qualified" teachers in the classrooms (qualified by whose standards?) My own belief about the American education system is that it has suffered greatly under the current administration: I have so many gripes about "No Child Left Behind" that it's not even worth listing them here, and I'm not even a public school teacher (yet, anyways.)

I found Donald Lazere's article "Back to Basics" fascinating because he delves right into the politics of education and literacy. Lazere's piece is so interesting because while he freely admits to being a "leftist" educational theorist, he is also able to objectively critique the positions of many of his fellow leftists. For example, he describes the "anomaly" of upper-middle class professors and intellectuals with their privileged standing espousing revolutionary and radical ideas to their poorer, working-class, less privileged students (126). He also notes how counter- intuitive it is for professors to want to avoid "forcing" the conventions of academic discourse and standard English on their working-class students, when it is precisely the mastery of these standards that will enable the working-class to both succeed economically and to grasp and critically understand the reality of their situations.