kevin rudd hard to be humbleOur elite leaders want others to be like them. In education, they want schools to be what they knew them as. They want all public schools to be like the Scarsdale NY, Weston CT, Riverdale OR, Chappaqua NY, and Briarcliff Manor NY schools that “24/7 Wall Street” named as the wealthiest schools in the country. They like charter schools because they see them as private schools for poor kids. Why not try to spread a little Dalton or Friends Academy love?

Remember, our first Black president did not go to school at Stevenson HS in the Bronx; he attended Punahou School, a private college preparatory school. Arne Duncan did not go to Dyett HS in Chicago; he went to the University of Chicago Lab School. What do they know?

The problem that they continue to ignore? It’s the economy stupid! Or in this case it is the socioeconomic status that provided the opportunities our elite had. So lets examine (again with the help of author William Deresiewicz).

They are groomed. To get into the elite universities and colleges they must be more than intelligent, well tutored, test taking sheep. They are groomed to be leaders. They can’t have just belonged to student government; they had to have been president. They had to be first violin. They had to be captain of their teams. As Deresiewicz puts it, “ You have to come across, in other words, as an oligarch in training, just like the private school boys of a century ago.”

They cant just take required courses. They can’t take courses they may be passionate about. They can’t do experiential learning (unless convinced it helps their interview process). They must take as many AP courses as possible and score as many “5”s as inhumanely possible (again with tutoring). Some even take the SAT in 7th grade to be recruited in high school.

This process has been speeding down a slippery slope for decades. The competition has grown exponentially and parents have been using nitro-injected engines to get their “race to the toppers” across the finish line first. Race To the Top was created by Harvard grads who knew what many had to do to get in. Even the name of the law smacks of the process.

But what of the excellent black sheep? Many have become the best teachers in the best schools trying to help those in the herd see a different path. Others just work as hard as they can to accelerate the shepherding into the Ivy corrals. It is hard to stay the black sheep in the high-pressure environment of these competitive schools as a teacher, counselor, parent, and especially student. Crazy begets crazy as many will attest to. Deresiewicz tells us the following:

  • Parents refuse “to allow their children to go on a field trip, because they couldn’t afford to lose a day of academics” – with “a lot of kids agreeing with them.”
  • “It doesn’t matter if your parents aren’t crazy…because the environment is. Other people’s parents are crazy, so the whole school is crazy.”
  • Most “teachers are trapped in the system.” As their schools “ give the parents what they want, no matter what’s good for the kids.”

Here is the upshot of all of this. These elite public and private schools have been, for generations, producing students who grow up to be corporate and political leaders “constructed with a single goal in mind.” Sociologist Mitchell L. Stevens describes it thusly, “Affluent families fashion an entire way of life of life organized around measurable virtues of children.” “They are not simply teaching to the test, they live it.”

What of their personality traits? William Wordsworth’s famous line, “The child is the father of the man,” says a lot about who we grow up to become. They become what they were made to be in their childhood (which now extends into extended adolescence). Alice Miller tells us in The Drama of the Gifted Child that many parents have made perfection the goal (see Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) with the following results. Their child gives them what they want…or tries. The demand is constant and ongoing. What the child does is never enough. “What, only an A-?”

What happens to this child as an adult? They swing back and forth between what Miller calls “Grandiosity and Depression” or as Deresiewicz calls it “Hotshit/piece of shit”. They create a false self to cover much of this up. In the policy world it comes across as “other directed”, maybe philanthropic or as misguided reformism. However in fact what this covers up is an anger, a cynicism, a “Hobbesian competiveness”, a careeristic attitude combined with a false sense of duty that they call leadership.

As a result, they see education through that prism. To many it has become as one student told Deresiewicz, “not far from game theory, an algorithm to be cracked in order to get to the next level.” People don’t go to schools to learn. They go to climb society’s ladder.

david-sipress-i-hear-it-s-because-we-re-right-and-they-re-wrong-new-yorker-cartoonIs it a surprise therefore that when the children of this system grow up, that they create data based “measurable virtues” for our children and VATS or APPRs for our teachers? Is it a surprise that they measure students and teachers using algorithms as if it was game theory…with students, parents, and teachers in communities not as well off as theirs as the pawns to be sacrificed as they continue to climb their ladders of success?