Public Education’s Berlin Wall Moment is Fast Approaching

As teachers and students begin to gear up for the return to school this September, most if not all of them are filled with something that, while sometimes present in life, is now completely dominating: dread. This dread is a direct result of the present “Corporatist Model” that is currently working its way through our public schools. For people who do not quite understand the basis of this dread, let me explain.

The Corporatist Model of Schooling goes by many names and has many promoters; most not being educators. It is the belief that our schools are wholly, totally and completely responsible for all personal, academic and ultimately professional results of the students that cycle through them. But it goes much deeper than that; in a quest for control, this model stipulates that every moment of every class, every interation, every day, must be accounted for. Every lesson must be planned with scientific precision, and documented thoroughly. Every assignment and interaction with students must be comprehensively rated, quantified, and analyzed. Each teacher really isn’t an educator or mentor; he or she is more or less of a document machine, creating funneling documents to mid-level administrators for comment, revision and evaluation. Teachers then keep detailed files on their students and their work and rate them according to statistical models, again to be processed by mid-level administrators and scrutinized, critiqued, redone. Teachers don’t really consult with one another except to engage in “common planning” or “statistical inquiry.” Their meetings with superiors are typically cold, stressful and filled with jargon while minutes are taken at gatherings to be held against educators later. There is no community anymore, because it has been destroyed and replaced by an atmosphere of fear, loathing and fatalism.

Of course, the end result is how the students will perform on high stakes tests, because again, teachers are ultimately held responsible for the results. Forget that many students come to school without breakfast, abused, furious, tired, high, sick or injured. It is all on the teachers.

Let me tell you how this all ends, because it won’t end well. We have a precedent, and it’s not a small one.

The Corporatist Model is perhaps misnamed, because though workers at Microsoft or General Motors might find this institutional/statistically-based model familiar, most who know it don’t live in America. They live in places like Vietnam, Russia, Bulgaria and Cuba. There, people were victimized by an equally controlling philosophy that sought to regulate every aspect of their lives, from daily regimens to national economic policy. It was called Communism. And it failed, miserably, everywhere.  

Like Communism before it, the Corporatist Model of Education embraces a completely false set of assumptions, all centering around control. But when it comes to managing the upbringing, educating and nurturing of human beings, while guides are helpful, massive bureaucratization, micromanaging and regulation does not produce the desired results; and typically produces negative ones. The skillset needed for a population to function well in a Democracy can never emerge out of such nonsensical regimentation. Critical thinking, creativity, and a genuine enthusiasm for learning, as well as an appreciation of the world around us, can’t be drilled into someone’s head. The skills to successfully survive at Microsoft? Perhaps those can.

People who have lived under Communist regimes will of course attest to the violence used by rulers, but they will also tell you of the drab, miserable day-to-day sterile mode of existence. Orwell writes of it in his masterpiece 1984. It is a world of number counting and counters, unwavering dehumanization through constant petty criticism, accompanied by fear and stale ideas. It is an atmosphere where anyone with any spark of creativity or passion is instantly identified and flushed out. It is a place where change and justice might be preached in theory but ruthlessly suppressed in practice.

Communism has largely run its destructive course through history, at least the Soviet brand. Few people take it seriously anymore, because as a value system it is so utterly soulless. It only produced results under great and intense duress, and those results were shabby at best. And when there were achievements (like Sputnik), they were never followed up. The system eventually caught up and arrested all forms of excellence.  

We are already seeing the same effects of failure in our Corporatist-minded schools. This model has been working its way through the system for almost a decade now, and its leaders, like Lenin and Stalin before them, are largely disdained and discredited. Michelle Rhee, once the darling of the movement, was chased out of Washington, D.C. Superintendent Cami Anderson, Newark’s-once highly regarded ‘reformer’ is universally despised except by New Jersey’s arrogant, equally disgraced governor Chris Christie. She rules a deteriorating regime in an atmosphere of terror that sees the same sort of purges and irrational leadership worthy of Stalin’s times. Even in the suburbs, school boards like Highland Park are going as far as to buy out Superintendents who preach the same nonsense.

It will collapse, this model. It won’t fade out. It will fall. It does real damage to all involved. The level of failure is emerging, and it is massive. It has reverberated all the way down to our teaching academies. Young, intelligent, ambitious people are running away from public education, and frankly, I don’t blame them. They’re dodging a bullet by entering professions and industries where merit and creativity are actually rewarded.

Years from now, perhaps as few as three or five, we will look back with remorse on this Corporatist Educational Model that declared war on our best and brightest educators and students – only to sputter and fail. We’re almost there.  

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