Waking Dream

I have been trying vainly to figure out what’s the story with Edland. Consider some puzzling features that require figuring out.

1.The core words in the argot of Edland (Edubabble), by which Edlanders conduct business (of transforming their words into countless materials, programs, and activities), are meaningless. They have no empirical referent; you look but nothing is there.

Learning styles.  [No such thing.]

Multiple intelligences.  [Another word for talents.]

Holistic.  [Whatever you want it to mean.]

Naturalistic.  [Like bark or mud.]

Authentic.  ["Goodnight Moon" not Moby Dick.]

Child-centered.  [Yadda yadda.]

Knowledge construction.  [Stupidity construction.]

Engaged.  [Interested]

Meaningful.  [Piffle.]

Standard.  [A big mystery.]

Criterion.  [An enigma.]

Objective.  [See benchmark.]

Benchmark   [See objective.]

Integrated.  [Means nothing.]

Seamless.  [Like a tubesock.]

Demonstrate.  [tap dance]

Research.  [Scribbling.]

Innovation.  [100 years old.]

Initiative.  [See innovation.]

Rubric.  [Rubarb.]

Evidence.  [Anything at all will do.]

Brain-based.  [Liver-based.]

All flapdoodle. Egregious piffle.  Higher-order bilge.

2. Words that DO have objective meaning--that is, something IS there that two or more observers can see and agree upon--are shunned in Edland.  Words like

Systematic instruction.

Explicit instruction.

Distributed practice.

Skill elements.

Integration of elements into routines.


Error correction.

Forms of knowledge (e.g., concepts and rules are defined by their logical structure).

Communication formats (routine sequences for communicating/teaching concepts, rules, and strategies).

3. Curricula (e.g., whole language, fuzzy math, multicultural social studies), instructional methods (heterogeneous grouping, sustained silent reading, cooperative math groups), assessment methods (portfolios), teacher training programs, etc., are put forward (e.g., by education schools and state agencies) and are adopted by schools, without any field testing.  And, these tragic flops are maintained tenaciously in the absence of any hard data that they work. They are even sustained in the presence of hard data that they do NOT work.

4.Curricula (e.g., direct instruction reading, math, and science), instructional methods (direct, focused teaching; temporary homogeneous skill groups), and assessment methods (mastery tests) that ARE effective are either not adopted or are abandoned even in the face of hard data showing that they work  AND DO move children in the direction of school, district, or state mission statements.

5. Incessant activity at state, district, and local levels, and in schools of education (e.g., planning new programs; “aligning” every aspect of a program with “standards”; writing reports; hosting conferences, workshops and all manner of “professional development”) has absolutely NO effect on the quality of teacher preparation or student achievement.

6. Enormous amounts of money are spent (e.g., by schools of education) to boost and celebrate Edland's "significant contributions to society," but nary a penny or a minute is spent actually to improve the skills of persons in impoverished areas, single parents, or persons forced to change careers.

7. After more than a century, Edland still has not defined in a clear way what beneficent outcomes it will provide (e.g., exactly what teachers will be able to do and exactly what students will learn) in exchange for billions of bucks given to it every year.

Puzzling? You bet! 

"Puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others we known not of.." [Hamlet.]

I thought he had a handle on it when I proposed that Edlanders are simply the laziest people on earth.

Or that Edland was best understood as a political phenomenon--a powerful establishment controlling everything from ideas to classroom actions.

Or that Edland could be seen as an enormous pageant of fleeting images.

But something happened in class tonight that shocked me from my stylish black rayon shirt (14.99 at T.J. Maxx) down to my midnight blue socks. It was a class in Reading in Secondary Schools. A colleague (a very smart and excellent man in all respects) and I have spent almost a month showing students how to use a remedial curriculum called Corrective Reading. In addition, we are gradually working up a set of procedures these future teachers can use to improve reading skills when they don't have a whole remedial program such as Corrective Reading.

Now, I know that many kids in middle and high school place into Corrective Reading Decoding level A--the lowest level--which is about at a FIRST grade level. So, I began to write on the board the specific early reading skills the class would have to know how to teach--phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondence, sounding out words. All stuff I’ve blabbed about to the dismay and heartache of many Valiant Readers.

If teachers do not have Corrective Reading materials, they will at least need SCRIPTS for teaching the basic skills. So, my colleague and I were planning to teach the class to design the scripts. And then IT HIT ME! The book Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons would do the job.

So, I ran (or, to be more precise, I sauntered to my office in a decorous fashion, as is my wont) and grabbed) one of my many copies of 100 easy lessons. Lo, and also behold, our students could use this book to TEACH (and follow the insanity closely here) THE BASIC READING SKILLS TO MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS.

Yes, it would work perfectly! A book MEANT to teach FIVE year old kids would be JUST the ticket for students 12 to 18! After from 11 to 17 years of “schooling” many kids NEED a book designed for tykes who can't button their pants. Needed by kids who drive cars, get pregnant, buy beer, VOTE!

Just what kind of thing IS this? You have to work really hard to keep kids THAT ignorant.

You know those dreams where you are trying to run and it is soooo hard and you are pulling yourself along the ground by your fingernails? And you wake up soaking wet--from sweat I mean? No? Well I have them fairly often.  I must be working like a dog in the dream, and I’m getting nowhere.

And that’s the answer.

Edland is a waking dream. A “matrix” reality where everyone is dreaming they are awake and all the dreamers are co-producing the collective dream.

Yes, the materials and activities and endless “conversations” in Edland are real enough. But dreams need a material foundation--dreamers and beds and blankets to trap your legs. Just as dreamers in “the matrix” needed a material world to sustain their dream state.

The dreamy imagery of life-long learners, the airy talk of seamless curricula and authentic experiences, the empty standards and rubrics and mission statements--all these are kept alive and are communicated and are continually reified at the conferences, during the endless meetings, in the yearly reports, in the syllabi, and in the journals.

The dreamers are not always asleep. As soon as they leave the building and start their car, the OTHER reality--everyday life--is operative. Where you don’t want your physician to construct knowledge--but just plain KNOW what ails you. Where you buy a car only AFTER you look it up in Consumer Reports. Where turning the steering wheel to the right makes the car turn to the right--in a law-like fashion.

But next day, when they see that familiar building (bed) and hear the continuous soothing sonorous lullaby (“We are initiating a new program to foster a closer alignment of our rubric with the standards…”) they immediately fall asleep and contribute to the collective dreaming.

And the dreamers will never wake up.  Nothing (so far) can shake them from images and dream-communities that are so comforting and so protecting.

I think the best thing to do is steal their pants and chain the doors shut so they can't get out.

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