Obama and the Teachers

Whenever I hear someone talking about the need to “get back to the basics” a little part of my brain answers, “Yes, that’s it! Let’s get back to the basics: class sizes need to be smaller and teachers need to be better paid!” That’s not what the phrase means, of course; usually, “the basics” mean simplifying education so that it can be easily measured on a standardized test. Most often, too, that means that writing disappears from the radar. Writing is harder to standardize.

Testing, to paraphrase William Gibson, is a consensual hallucination; if we believe in it, it takes on a semblance of reality. You can test reading comprehension on a test that can be easily mass-produced and administered. It’s nearly impossible to test writing skills that way. Even worse, and perhaps not surprisingly. these standardized tests are used to try to break the power of teachers (read: teachers’ unions) over the schools. It’s not just K-12, either.

Capitalism reflexivity believes in administrative rather than worker control. In the capitalist imagination, administrative control is flexible, rational, and efficient; worker control is rigid, irrational, and inefficient. In the name of the greater good, then, teachers must kept in check. It’s not surprising then, that, the Obama administration’s “Community College Summit” seems so completely out of touch with the realities of adjunct teaching.

This is about the capitalist agenda of administrative control, not learning. The New Faculty Majority is asking teachers to go to the White House blog and vote for posts that emphasize the concerns of adjunct and part-time teachers, which are the majority. it’s an interesting exercise and I hope that we can succeed in changing the administration’s views. That tricky business of power is not going to go away, though. Administrations are organized; we need to be too.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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