A Hidden Agenda
Last week, I wrote about education consulting firms, these behemoths that are worming their way into the collective education psyche. It seems that if you are a school district, and you are not paying millions of dollars to be told what you should be doing by a group of people with an angle, then you are missing a vital part of the education connection. Why are taxpayer-supported public school districts in this country choosing to go down this rabbit hole? It’s partly because everyone feels the squeeze of legislative mandates that make little sense. But it’s also because modern-day charlatans have discovered how easy it is to sound like you might have a winning strategy when what you really have is a deceitfully crafted agenda. From a teacher’s perspective, these consulting firms represent extra work that does little for student improvement. Read last week’s column for more on this. From a wider perspective, it is clear that these firms are on a mission: to change the priorities in and the trajectory of education. Let’s look at one consulting firm’s website to see how. Education Elements, based in California, uses language that makes learning sound very complex. Here is a diagram from their webpage called Curriculum Strategies:
The descriptions that go along with these ideas sound, unsurprisingly, like they were generated by the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984. If you can’t remember that novel we baby boomers all read in high school, it is a scary treatise of what happens when words are used to manipulate a populace. Not just words, but the value in knowing what words mean.
Doublethink, a term Orwell coined for his novel, means “the ability to simultaneously hold two opposing ideas in one's mind and believe in them both” (CliffsNotes.com). Modern political analysts developed a variation they call “doublespeak” – the ability to advocate for what appear to be opposing concepts while assuring participants these concepts do not contradict each other.
The result is that those who receive the message, and initially understand the impossibility of it, slowly begin to doubt their own common sense. They are eventually gaslighted into accepting what the Party [in this case, the school district and consulting firm] assure them is both desirable and doable. Neither of these, usually, is the case.
Further down the same webpage (edelements.com) we finally see a mission statement which makes it clear what the agenda of Education Elements is:
Equity in educational outcomes,
and philosophies that value teacher desire over parent input.
Nowhere do the words ‘home’ or ‘parent’ appear in this mission statement. Instead, we have this: “Ultimately, the teacher should decide on the right mix of instructional practices and materials needed to facilitate learning experiences that meet students’ needs.”
The teacher should decide? What if she doesn’t value phonics, and instead believes that watching videos to experience the vast richness of world cultures provides the best education?
Another term you don’t see is ‘achievement’. For most of us, ‘students’ needs’ always meant “the need to achieve academically so you can be successful in life”. That has been subtly changing over the last 13 years. Ever since the 2009 federal mandate known as the Every Student Succeeds Act amended No Child Left Behind to prioritize growth over grade level achievement, education elites have jumped onto a new brand of doublespeak:
Maintaining the quality of education will not be compromised even though… • teachers are not required to prove they are teaching content material, • schools are placing more value on equity than on skills acquisition, and • students are not held accountable for the effort they put into learning the material and passing the tests.
These three concepts work against the quality of education, but consulting firms like Education Elements have manipulated words carefully and deceitfully to convince school boards and district officials that they do not.
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