The Silencing of the Lambs
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Volume III, Number 3, March, 2005

The Silencing of the Lambs

Travel the nation and chat with teachers and principals "off the record" and comments about NCLB/Helter-Skelter range from mild disgust to profound distress and horror at the damage being done to children and schools, yet one sees little of this disgust and horror surfacing in the national press.

The mass media will pass along the glowing comments of federal officials and think tanks. It will cover the growing rebellion against NCLB in state legislatures in places like Utah. But the reactions of professional educators is a virtually uncovered story.

How could this be? How can the press and the policy makers ignore the experts?

By Jamie McKenzie
(about author)

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved

Photographs © 2005, Gretchen Offutt, all rights reserved.

Education - Everybody Fancies Themselves an Expert

NCLB is a poorly considered effort designed by people who do not understand schools, school change, children or learning. Republican and Democrats in Congress are equally complicit for this absurd and damaging experiment which equates growth and school change with the simple imposition of demanding tests in a few subjects.

The early returns are horribly disappointing as state after state reports pleasing statistics about levels of proficiency that cannot withstand scrutiny. (See the article "The Performance Gap" reports a Rand study showing a huge gap between state test scores and NAEP results. The gap is much bigger in some states than in others.) We are seeing wholesale manipulation of numbers to create impressions, substituting make-up and made-up for substance.

The invasion of schools by outside pseudo-reformers is as sensible as reforming surgery and hospitals by turning over the effort to a bunch of talented automobile mechanics. Shove the surgeons and the medical experts aside and let those untutored and ignorant of medicine change things for the better.

It would be unthinkable if it were hospitals, but everyone fancies themselves an expert when it comes to schools, so we brush aside the educational experts, declare them obsolete and heed the instructions of political economists and right wing ideologues who see schools as a great place to try out free market theories.

Who are the Real Educational Experts?

The people who have worked in schools for decades and devoted lifetimes to studying the best ways to teach children are the ones with the best grasp of effective practice.

To name a few of these experts, take a look at the authors of Many Children Left Behind, some of the most respected American educational thinkers of our times: Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond, George Wood, Alfie Kohn, Stan Karp, Monty Neil and Theodore R. Sizer.

But why stop with the sages? Along with the best educational thinkers and writers of the past few decades, why not consult the classroom teachers who are still working with children? Why not value their insights and reactions?

Why not spend more time asking school leaders what they think?

Why have both political parties discounted the wisdom of those who work in schools?

And why are those who work in schools so silent?

How did They Silence the Lambs?

Photographs © 2005, Gretchen Offutt, all rights reserved.

Those who work in schools are quick to complain about NCLB when speaking off the record, but it is difficult to find many who will write their local newspaper or visit their Congressional Reps to share stories of damage and decline.

This silence is one of the most disturbing aspects of the NCLB/Helter-Skelter experience.

Off the record, many educators will confess that they fear the consequences of speaking out against NCLB.

Criticism of NCLB by educators is often portrayed as defensiveness or bigotry. The NCLB juggernaut rolls over opposition like a Sherman tank.

The previous Secretary of Education stooped to accusing opponents of "the soft bigotry of low expectations" and called the NEA a "bunch of terrorists." President Bush also used the term "the soft bigotry of low expectations" to dispense with opponents of his policy.

We have the Emperor's New Clothes repackaged for a new century and a Brave New World, as NCLB is sold as a program to benefit children while it is really a wrecking ball designed to destroy the public system and open the floodgates to privatization.

When Lambs Learn to Scream

Most educators find it difficult to enter the policy fray as they see their profession sliding into the Abyss. Trained to look at policy matters dispassionately, they are troubled by a call to arms, hesitant to rebel, to question and to counter-attack, but time is running short and the negative impact of NCLB is mounting.

The lambs must end their silence. They must learn to scream for the sake of the children and the schools.

They must heed the example of groups like the National Council for the Teaching of English who have taken a strong public position opposing the doctrinaire and wrong-minded approach to reading pushed by the federal reading initiative called "Reading First."

Read the NCTE position paper by clicking here.

The damage being done to children will be felt for decades as the curriculum narrows and many children are fed slim diets of basic reading and math. The consequences for a democratic society are devastating.

It is time to scream, to protest, to challenge and to demand repeal or dramatic reform of this tragic law. It is time to elect Republicans or Democrats who will vote against NCLB and demand educational reform that is grounded in reality and sound research rather than fantasy and ideology.

Photograph © 2005, Gretchen Offutt, all rights reserved.

© 2005, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.