Parent: How Was School Today? Student: How Was Work Today? Aronowitz: How Did School Work Today?

In “Against Schooling: Education and Social Class,” Stanley Aronowitz critiques the processes and structures used in schools to purportedly educate students, arguing that these educational communities actually serve as a means of perpetuating the class divisions that we find in society as a whole.  In a strange way, we are preparing students to be a part of society, but the problem is it is as if they are only that—a part—a piece with a place, in a system that is clearly stratified.  In other words, we prepare students to become part of a certain social class, but not part of a solution to the ills that class divisions bring about.  While education itself is obviously not inherently bad or good, the education that students are receiving in schools leads one to ponder exactly what it is we are preparing students to be able to do: define, develop solutions for, and solve real-world problems, or fit into the “American workplace, which has virtually no room for dissent” (107).  The answer to this seems, unfortunately, obvious when considering the evidence around us: “Schools unwittingly reinforce the class bias of schooling by ignoring its content” (107).  It seems that the crux of Aronowitz’ argument is best stated in a great sentence at the end of the first section: “Schools are the stand-in for ‘society,’ the aggregation of individuals who, by contract or by coercion, are subject to governing authorities in return for which they may be admitted into the world albeit on the basis of different degrees of reward” (108).  Likewise, he cites Pierre Bourdieu’s similar argument that “schools reproduce class relations by reinforcing rather than reducing class-based differential access to social and cultural capital” (111).

Aronowitz considers a variety of aspects of this underlying problem.  In “Access to What?”, he discusses the idea that schooling is often seen as a means of mobility within the class system that is encountered upon graduation, and that this is currently quite untrue, given that emphasis on standards-based curriculum and high stakes testing is in fact the “latest means of exclusion.”  The truth of the situation contradicts this belief: “a fairly small number of children of the class of wage labor” are chosen for class mobility (118).  In “Education and Immaterial Labor,” he considers one interesting result of the current public educational atmosphere, arising from the concept that school is the place in which one becomes educated.  Even “the egalitarians” accept the concept that schools should prepare students for “immaterial labor,” a result of the belief that “the price of autonomy…is to accept work as a mode of life; one lives to work, rather than the reverse” (113).

Aronowitz argues that the way out of this cycle is found neither in the conservative educational policy that supports standardized testing (“the antithesis of critical thought”), nor in traditionally progressive practices that result in making curriculum less formal, “watering down course content and de-emphasizing writing” (107).  The solution he poses on pages 120-121 consists of abolishing high-stakes tests that “dominate the curriculum,” incorporating “kids’ knowledge into the curriculum,” and cutting ties to “corporate interests and reconstruct the curriculum along the lines of genuine intellectual endeavor.

Though written in 2004, I would argue that the picture Aronowitz paints is still very much the truth—despite the construction and initiation of the common core and the changing of some assessments, the degree to which public schools prepare students for solving the problems of the real world is debatable.  There is no indication that the social construct and curriculum of any given public school is purposefully designed to overcome the barriers and divisions that result from being grouped, sectioned off, or labeled according to performance on some standardized test (a form of assessment which is inevitably not only very narrow in scope regarding the skills and thinking assessed, but also built on standards that “presuppose students’ prior possession of cultural capital,” something that is usually the benefit of a professional or upper-class background).  In a sense, as long as there is multiple choice, students will be grouped based on whether or not they filled in or clicked on the correct bubble, and these measures cannot possibly take into account “home backgrounds in which reading and writing are virtually absent” (110). Such “handicaps” were just mentioned at a steering meeting I attended yesterday regarding the fact that students don’t do summer reading, and presumably just do not read at all over the summer (or read things such as Facebook posts and tweets). What might be considered the opposite of standardized testing or standards-based curriculum, shown by an assignment such as just having students write a series of random personal narratives, isn’t sufficient either.  In other words, schools (and the communities in which they exist) have not addressed the fact that the rich continue to get richer.

The best of the outcomes that both ends of the spectrum presumably aim to produce (students who not only think for themselves, but know how to make that thinking work in their favor), I would argue, can be achieved through student-centered, constructivist, problem-based learning that is tailored to students’ multiple intelligences.  A string of fancy words, perhaps, and the concepts behind them aren’t supported by everyone, but learning how to confront the messy problems that life offers and learning skills through and for one’s strengths seems to make sense to me.  That said, I’m not sure how this would “look” in the schools we have now.  Additionally, such a concept might be so new and different from the ingrained philosophies of teaching, that it might be considered “Utopian,” but Arononowitz addresses this in the end: “of course, they are [Utopian].  But as many have argued, Utopian thought is the condition for change.  Without the ‘impossible,’ there is little chance for reform” (121).  It seems strange, however, to argue against an idea for improvement simply by saying that improvement might be one of its outcomes!  Utopia doesn’t exist, but who wouldn’t want to be closer to it?

The following might be questions to consider (of course, there is a lot to think about):

  • To what extent do our schools perpetuate class structures that already exist?  What are some specific structures or processes in place that clearly contribute to these divisions?
  • In a previous blog entry, I mentioned that much of instruction is built around the idea of deficits that students are said to have—weaknesses, lack of knowledge, lack of ability, assumptions regarding background.  In this context, learning itself might be seen as that which “fills in the blanks.”  In what ways might this kind of thinking contribute, or be made to contribute, to the creation of social classes in schools?
  • Are the issues of class that we see in schools a derivative of the larger societal tensions that sometimes occur between equality and capitalism, “out of many, one” vs. rugged individualism, that exist outside of them?  Is it possible to have a school that would emphasize the best of its society without directly or indirectly perpetuating that society’s shortcomings?
  • Why do we continue to structure schools and curriculum in such a way that it becomes perplexing to adequately answer questions about how relevant material actually is or will be to students’ lives, nevermind their ability to improve quality of life?

Here’s a photo of the school house at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont.  Most of the classrooms at my place of work are arranged in the same layout–a row of desks with the all-knowing blackboard at the front!

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11 thoughts on “Parent: How Was School Today? Student: How Was Work Today? Aronowitz: How Did School Work Today?

  1. Thanks for all the thoughts – I found this reading complex, mainly because there was so much there!

    I agree with Aronowitz that one solution to making education work for our society is to we abolish high-stakes testing. I would also note that since 2004 the ties to corporations have gotten even worse and it feels like all we are doing is teaching to the test. In Boston we have the MCAS but we also have city wide “predictive” assessments at the beginning and middle of the year, as well as a city wide final exam. All told, it amounts to something like 20 hours of ELA and math testing. And who makes these tests? Pearson – why is Pearson controlling what we teach to our kids? What does this prepare our students for (besides more testing, which is likely coming down the pipe with Common Core.

    I also agreed with Aronowitz’s point “That, in the main, even the most privileged elementary and secondary schools are ill-equipped to compensate for home backgrounds in which reading and writing are virtually absent, has become a matter of indifference for school authorities.” I would go a step farther and say that this has also become a matter of indifferent for politicians and the media. I keep hearing that urban students perform bad on standardized tests because urban teachers are “ineffective.” It seems that everyone wants to talk about teacher-effectiveness and means of evaluation for teachers, but there is no dialogue in place about the reading, writing and content knowledge that happens at home. Perhaps because teacher evaluations seems like something we could legally gather data on, whereas a “home evaluation” simply is not. I don’t mean to shift blame, but rather to question why the rhetoric in the media is so anti-teachers these days.

    To answer the question of whether or not schools perpetuate class distinctions: I don’t know. Part of me says yes, but the idealistic part of me looks at so many of our students that are involved in great things – spending their weekends reading and thinking about complex issues for the debate team for example, and they are breaking the mold from their class. In those opportunities, I see leadership, development and the kind of skills necessary for someone transition between classes.

  2. What a thought-provoking post, Todd! I particularly appreciate your willingness to hang onto Utopian thinking in the schools – we need idealism these days, which, as this article points out, is often difficult to sustain within the institutional structures that seem to be working against us. I am curious to know, though, what you and the rest think about Aronowitz’s proposals for reforming teacher training. He says the following:

    “[W]e need a regime of teacher education founded on the idea that the educator must be educated well. It would surely entail abolishing the current curricula of most education schools, if not the schools themselves. Teacher training should be embedded in general education, not in ‘methods,’ many of which are useless; instruction should include knowledge other than credential and bring the union/movement/organic intellectuals into the classroom” (121).

    Much of what he seems to be suggesting here I agree with, but I don’t understand what he means by “embedd[ing]” teacher training “in general education.” He opposes this to “methods,” which might mean that he wants teachers more focused on content-area training as opposed to the methods courses that preservice teachers take in education programs. I agree that the structures of education schools have often failed teachers, but I have encountered very few teachers that I felt were not “well trained.”

    And this gets to Sue’s point about the “anti-teacher” rhetoric that’s out there. I do worry that even those progressives like Aronowitz are pursuing critiques that tend to shift blame to the teachers themselves. I know that teachers are not Aronowitz’s target – the schooling institutions are – but as members of the schooling establishment, they seem to be complicit in what he is calling its oppressive nature. While I worry about this implication, I think it’s useful to consider his early point about “the jewels of the Enlightenment,” in which students are “encouraged to engage in independent, critical thinking” (106). While this is a goal we have for all of our students, this kind of educational outcome has been transformed into an ideology for many critics of the public schools. They feel that the public schools have failed to foster the individuality and therefore have turned to private interests as a solution. This is one reason why, Sue, I think that there is such strong rhetoric against teachers, because these are professionals who are fighting not just for individual empowerment, but for social justice. In other words, if a parent views schooling as a service for his/her child, the communal identity of the school and its purpose is merely secondary to their child’s movement up the vocational ladder. Teachers in the public schools are there to teach EVERYONE, and they are dedicated to community values, empowerment, and justice, which are focused on the many, not the few.

    In other words, I worry that we are attacking a public school system from both sides, right and left. What we need, I believe, are opportunities for teachers, as the professionals that they are, to shape the kind of curricula and assessment mechanisms that they have been trained to produce. As Sue aptly suggests, why are we trusting private interests like Pearson to do what’s best for our students? Pearson’s goals are driven by the market – that means that learning outcomes and any notion of “education for all” will always be subservient to the profit margin.

  3. First and foremost, let me just say that the Aronowitz article is one of the most depressing things I have read in a very long time. Despite the grand suggestions he gives for transforming school from “credential mills and institutions of control to sites of education that prepare young people to see themselves as active participants in the world,” Aronowitz’s tone sounds utterly defeated. Not to mention the fact that I read the article on the heels of receiving some bleak advice from a colleague and veteran teacher who has decided to retire (very) early: “Get out of here while you still have some life in you.” Aronowitz says on page 119 that “Even talented, dedicated teachers have difficulty reaching kids and convincing them that the life of the mind may hold unexpected rewards,” which I believe my colleague would say is an understatement. Maybe it is because I am only in my third year of teaching and am often surrounded by other young, dedicated idealists like those in our class, but I am unwilling to take my colleague’s “advice” seriously.

    At the same time, reading this article made me feel naïve for teaching poems like Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” in a way that misleads students into believing that Horatio Alger stories are possible for all. However, I am not ready to give up on this possibility for even a single one of my students. I feel like as soon as I do, I will become as defeated as my colleague. I teach in an underfunded urban district, and I often discuss education and teaching with my brother who teaches in an affluent suburban district. While we both have daily headaches, one thing I have never heard him complain about is lack of resources or access for the majority of his students. It does not make sense to me how or why property taxes continue to fund public education and perpetuate social mobility as only a myth. The solution to this problem is not in the hands me nor my students, but requires a “movement of parents, students, teachers, and labor armed with a political program to force legislators to adequately fund schooling at the federal, state, and local levels.” I have heard it argued that lack of equal education for the rich and poor is the Civil Rights Movement of our day, and I totally agree.

    In response to the author as well as Todd, Sue, and Alex, I totally agree that abolition of high-stakes tests and their connection to corporations is one part of the solution. I am a career changer who spent four years after college working for Pearson Education. When I left the company, I did so because of a general discomfort with policy, but now as an educator and student of education, I see far more problems with the conglomerate I used to support. Thinking about the current NCLB education system, I can only think of Einstein’s quote that, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Like Alex mentioned, I am not sure that Aronowitz is correct when he argues that teachers need more content-area training. If there is training we need, it is in methods to combat these institutional issues that impede our ability to prepare our students to lead fulfilling lives.

  4. I don’t think there are very many teachers who would oppose abolishing standardized testing. This “assembly line” approach to education perhaps hints at the assembly line, of sorts, this educational model is preparing our students for. Unfortunately, as eluded in this article, a career on the assembly line is increasingly leading to a career of unemployment.

    I also believe these tests do reinforce an educational system “built around the idea of deficits,” highlighting student “weaknesses, lack of knowledge, [and] lack of ability.” Upon identifies these students, many schools slowly begin to create class structures within the school itself through “tracking”, often camouflaging this with words like “honors.” The students that don’t make the cut, are herded together and passed on from grade to grade, until senior (assuming they make it that far), and then told to go to college, without giving thought to their chances of success.

    The teachers working with these students struggle with making this irrelevant content relevant, and when students struggle and become over overly apathetic (as they believe this education serves no practical purpose in their lives), teachers are left with this “defeated” outlook. This lack of optimism seems to deflate the idea that a utopian vision is possible, but I believe it is a prerequisite to be an exceptional educator. We must all envision the world that is not to keep ourselves pushing forward. Otherwise, we are just keeping a sinking ship from taking on too much water.

    Our current system seems to promote the Darwinian survival of the fittest ideal. Our educational structure is aligned closely with our selfish minded economic capitalist model and national pride on individualism. Perhaps we need to alter the curriculum to enhance critical thinking on collaborative tasks.

    Most importantly, I do believe things do need to become more relevant. Not that the material today is not relevant, but the way in which it is conveyed does not reveal this to the student. We need to also build a more visible bridge to the outside world. “The ties to corporations have gotten even worse” which I believe is a source of the problem. We tend to see education in a vacuum, not connected to the world in which we are preparing them for. Students often agree with some of the articles points, that they learn more out of school than in it—specifically how the “source of working-class kids’ education is not the school but . . . the home, and the neighborhood” (111)

  5. I found this article in particular to raise many questions. Aronowitz notes the two extreme approaches schools take, one being standardized testing and the other being a more progressive approach that sometimes leads to watering down the curriculum. I think when schools only focus on one approach we leave many students out. Education seems to always follow this pattern, swinging from one extreme solution to another. Isn’t there a happy medium between the two? Can’t a student-centered approach have high academic standards at the same time? We are not meeting students’ needs by choosing one over the other.

    I also found Aronowitz’s quote on page 4 concerning about students from working-class backgrounds. “Typically graduating from third tier, non- research colleges and universities their training does not entail acquiring knowledge connected with substantial intellectual work: theory, extensive writing and independent research. Students leaving these institutions find jobs as line supervisors, computer technicians, teachers, nurses, social workers and other niches in the social service professions.” I found this concerning because I don’t understand what is wrong with going to a “third tier college” and being a nurse or a teacher? I think college is important, but I don’t think going to a more expensive college is any better. Aronowitz also mentioned how students have to go to less expensive colleges because they also have to work part time to put themselves through college. I think that people who work while in college have much better life skills, work ethic, and knowledge of the work world for when they graduate than students who go to more expensive colleges because their parents can afford it, but leave college with no work experience. Today, so many people have college degrees that I think it is the degree is meaningless without the the work experience. I found much of this article so negative. Though I agreed with some of Aronowtiz’s points that schools are reproducing social class, I also thought that some of his ideas were too negative and not realistic, like the comments about third-tier colleges not being enough any more.

    • Jen,
      Although I also find it slightly disconcerting that Aronowitz may be making sweeping generalizations about the intellectual discipline of students at third-tier universities, I think I may agree with an underlying message. If I’m reading this correctly, Aronowitz is making the point that many students believe that a degree from a third-tier school will give them the same access and opportunities afforded anyone with a college degree. However, given the current structure, getting a degree from a first-tier school means getting a level of social/economic capital that is, in fact, well above those in the secondary and tertiary tier; the injustice comes in the fact that most of those who go to the “elite” schools were raised in circumstances of privilege.

      When I was an undergraduate student at Emmanuel College, I had a professor who reveled in fulfilling the role of the tough-as-nails, I’m-not-a-pessimist-I’m-a-realist-curmudgeon. And although I tried not to take everything he said too seriously, I’ll never forget a speech he gave us about not being complacent with earning a degree from Emmanuel. Although I’m paraphrasing, the basic gist of his speech was that even the most decorated of graduates from Emmanuel College – double major, minor, sick internship – would themselves having more difficulty getting a job than Harvard students who dropped out after two years.

      Moreover, I also think there’s something to Aronowitz’s call for abolishing across-the-board standardized tests, as I’m the sort of aspiring free-spirit who shudders at the thought of quantifying education. Moreover, I also agree with Aronowitz’s assertion that there can still be evaluations, such as the essay, which “is a fine measure of both writing ability and of the student’s grasp of literature, social science, and history” (120). In fact, as am English teacher I believe that there would be tremendous value in assigning, evaluating, and developing more writing. Unfortunately, to do this effectively would require smaller classes (which, in turn, requires more teachers — see: more money).

      One of the most productive classes I ever taught was a ten-student Creative Writing class which was almost scrapped due to the low numbers. But because of these low numbers, the class was able to create an unbelievable rapport, workshop as a whole, and develop writing skills on a level I haven’t replicated since.

      So my final vote is for smaller classes and more meaningful teacher-student interactions!

  6. Todd, excellent overview of the reading! I would agree with everyone that has posted thus far on the topic of high-stakes testing, saying there should be a better way to assess students.

    Thinking locally, I would have to say that BPS is somewhat responsible for perpetuating class structures and making the deficits of students known. I am not saying that the teachers are doing so, just the system. By having the ISEE exam for entrance to one of the 3 exam schools, the system is really showing kids that the academically advanced move on to bigger and better things by attending a more rigorous school, while the mediocre stay mediocre by attending a school that is considered average. If a student is admitted to one of the BPS exam schools, automatically that student knows, whether working class or not, that he/she is academically above average than most students in the system. This student is more likely than most students in the BPS to be upwardly mobile. On the other hand, students who do not do well on the exam, or choose not to take it, will likely attend another BPS high school (if they do not choose private, charter, etc.). This student will already know that he/she is not as advanced as some kids in the system, and will not necessarily attend what BPS calls an academically advanced school. This student is likely to know that he or she will possibly not achieve upward mobility. Of course, all of this is based on a standardized test that is “the antithesis of critical thought” (107). Also, there are many other factors that can cause students to have positive or negative thoughts about their schools and themselves, but the ISEE exam in the BPS is used to advance some and exclude many. It puts thoughts into the heads of students, parents, community members, etc. that if a student does not go to an exam school, he/she will be less likely to be well-educated and advance in life.

    I was also fascinated by Aronowitz’s comment on neighborhoods. He says, “In some instances, those who break from their club and enter the regime of school knowledge risk being drummed out of a lifetime of relationships with peers” (117). I have found in my experience that students from similar neighborhoods, races, and backgrounds stick together. I have seen students that seem to be afraid of losing that social support if they become too academically advanced. So, these students seem not to take school seriously, but do take their interpersonal realtionships seriously. They goof off in school; yet, have a safe community to fall back on. I would say that this is the group of students that Aronowitz is addressing in this quote. However, I have seen students from similar backgrounds, especially from the working class, band together to push each other to do well in school. I like seeing this because they have the same social support, but they also have academic support. I believe it is because sometimes the parents of the working class see school as a chance for their kids to move up in the world, so they push them extremely hard. These select parents do not question the system, so the students have a positive perspective on education. There may be other reasons, but I just thought of these students when I read that quote. Obviously, I know plenty of students, including myself originally, that fit the “type” of student that Aronowitz is talking about in the quote.

    • One thing that struck me about the Aronowitz article, especially in light of Tuesday’s class, is the idea of the “working class intellectual,” someone who works with their hands, knows a trade, but still reads and engages with literature. Aronowitz mentions a few examples of working class intellectuals that he knows, but lists very few recent examples. Is that a result of the stereotypes we carry about the working class? Does the category of “working class intellectual” still exist? Aronowitz focused on the idea that these people read literature, both classic and modern. Has television replaced books to the extent that the working class intellectual

      The points raised about high stakes testing in Aronowitz’s article led to questions about another hierarchical system: meritocracies. I agree with Brian’s comment that BPS and other districts that have exam schools perpetuate the meritocracy by sending the “excellent” students to the exam schools, and the “mediocre” or “average” students to average schools. There are, however, some benefits to exam schools in that they do contain students from all social classes. Nevertheless, an ideal school system would consist of schools that are all at the caliber of exam schools. Alex’s comment that “we need idealism these days,” rings very true for me. Schools seem to focus more and more on test scores, grades, and pushing the students up to the next level. During my student teaching, I was encouraged to give students second, third, and fourth chances to complete homework. Though I do not mind giving students extra chances, many of these chances were given at the end of the term, when students looked at their grades and realized that they were failing the class. The week before grades were due, students poured into the classroom over their lunch break to make up work. Why? Because they were worried about the point value of their work. In an ideal world, if they had been concerned about their learning and intellectual development, the work would not be crammed into the last few days of the term. They would not be satisfied with an empty checkmark affirming that they completed the work. In an ideal world, the focus would be on the learning, not on the grades, and it would not be acceptable to allow students to cram a semester’s worth of work into a week; cramming is not a substitute for learning.

      I believe that, despite my traditional background in education, I would lean more to the side of alternative learning environments where the focus is on learning, discovery, and self-motivation. I think that, yes, these types of teaching styles can lead to the curriculum being watered down, but they can also lead to meaningful, self-driven learning for the sake of knowledge. Even a “watered down” curriculum that focuses on helping students develop a love a learning and the basic skills to pursue independent learning would, ideally, offer students a more equal and positive learning experience.

  7. Todd, what a thoughtful analysis. I simultaneously enjoyed and was frustrated by this essay.

    There was one line in it that stuck with me like a bug in my eye: “…working-class students are able, even encouraged, to enter colleges and universities at the bottom of the academic hierarchy…thus fulfilling the formal pledge of equal opportunity for class mobility even as most of these institutions suppress the intellectual content that would fulfill the mobility promise” (110).

    What intellectual content is that? Is there a magic curriculum that facilitates class mobility?

    As a PR/communications employee of UMass Boston, I know our selling point is that we were founded to provide students from disadvantaged backgrounds access to world-class education. Aronowitz makes me feel like a fraud. What are we preparing our students for? Impenetrable class barriers to becoming professors, doctors, lawyers, or other upper-class professionals? Unemployment? Are we just taking a ton of money (a point Aronowitz does not address but that would support his argument) from our undergraduate students to give them just enough education to show them that the world is unfair and they’re stuck where they are? Are we preparing well behaved cogs? If I felt any of this was completely true I couldn’t still work here.

    I do agree that our educational system is designed to perpetuate inequality, perhaps especially at the K-12 level. I think that the most important lesson we can teach any student is that there almost as many ways to live a successful, productive, fulfilling life as there are people on the planet. Our system teaches our kids about… three of those ways. And teachers are not given much leeway to teach beyond tests. I don’t know what to do about it; it seems like Aronowitz doesn’t either.

  8. Thanks everyone for all of your responses! I thought I might give a reply regarding a few of the issues being brought up (there’s a lot of them!).

    First, regarding the issue of teachers being complicit in the shortcomings of the systems that Aronowitz critiques, I have to say this is sometimes true. However, I don’t think it is necessarily true for all teachers, all schools, and so on. I’m sure you all know of a teacher somewhere who doesn’t care to try new things, who needs no masters degree afetr being grandfathered in, who will be a fan of Thorndikean philosophy until the end (retirement a couple years away, and runs his/her classroom as a dressed-down drill sergeant (I think Alex mentioned one rather strict professor he had had in the past). Likewise, there is what might be considered a different generation of teachers (such as all of us) who are respectful and hardworking employees, held up to high standards with or without reasonable support, perhaps evaluated based on otherwise rather knit-picky (sp?) criteria (such as at my work, where it might be an issue for the teacher if a student in the class has a bottle of water out, has something on that might be a jacket, etc.). Thus, while I can certainly understand the frustration that might be felt by those who could be in the latter group, I also find frustration with those who are in the former. In addition, while I am frequently skeptical of those who feel prone to critiquing the system without having spent a great deal of time (or any!) in it, I am also prone to thinking that a good idea is a good idea and it doesn’t necessarily matter where it comes from, teacher or not. I guess what matters then, though, is that the opinions of educators are taken into account seriously when considering the value of a concept–I don’t think schools should be run in a dictatorial fashion by an Aronowitz ordering us around via megaphone from the rafters of the gym. Because, however, that is what it sometimes feels like when we are told by administration to do something, it is no wonder that we might take offense to being blamed for any of the mess that the system displays. The job rarely feels like part of a democracy, even when our ideas are *said* to be taken into account. Thus, it’s like getting blamed for not stirring the soup right three days after it’s been eaten, after having followed a given recipe. Had one not followed the recipe in the first place, he or she would have been out of a job.

    Likewise, the kinds of changes that Aronowitz hints at obviously mean a good amount of adjustment and change on the part of teachers. This kind of change has never been taken into account when considering teacher pay, which is too low to begin with. It is as though the argument sometimes is simply that it will be better for the students and how it will affect the livelihood of the teachers through additional hours is irrelevant. What is actually irrelevant is that idea of a “summer off,” that we leave school at “2:30,” and that we have wonderful benefits. While certainly one could have a less lucrative job, the expectations and problems we deal with aren’t equated with the most reasonable wages. Thus, we have another source of resentment.

    With regard to the success of education schools, the common complaint I hear is that what is learned in education classes is often far from what one encounters in the classroom. Like with Aronowitz, it’s as if the ideas are outpacing the reality of education. How exactly does one go from a high-stakes testing environment to one that has other sources of assessment? How, then, should teachers be trained? We are given all of these wonderful ideas, philosophical options, and we come down to earth when we walk into our classrooms.

    In my own experience, my teaching has benefitted the most from my own desire to teach beyond the kind of ridiculousness that test-prep is, to have faith in the kinds of thinking students do and learn will in fact have far greater benefits than practicing multiple choice and open response. I also was given an opportunity to design my own curriculum when I was asked to start the IB literature program at my school–doing so kept me interested in the job at the right time. Likewise, my teaching has been greatly influenced through the Creative and Critical Thinking courses I have taken–these gave me some support for the kinds of ideas I was leaning towards all along–the importance of thinking dispositions, problem-based learning, and the idea of the teacher being a guide, a kind of worker of the controlled chaos that I believe the best learning often has.

    A lot to talk about!

  9. I too agree with Aronowitz’s point and so many of the comments that advocate for the abolition of standardized tests, because I do think that our emphasis on these high-stakes assessments, and the “Common Core,” or whatever new policy or philosophy that will be soon infiltrate our classrooms, only serves to strengthen the barriers between social classes. I find it especially disheartening because even when teachers have the best of intentions, and so want to teach in such a way that aligns with Aronowitz’s ideas about critical thinking and relevant curriculum that capitalizes on prior knowledge—we don’t really have the choice to do so in any real way. Sure, I know that I try very hard to give my students these types of learning experiences, and that pockets of “genuine education,” as Aronowitz refers to it, occur throughout my school, but the reality is that it’s something that we have to “squeeze in” to a curriculum dictated by a test.

    Although I would love to throw aside the curriculum, I also know that, while thinking about these issues is critical, at the end of the day, I must prepare my students the best that I can for the way in which I know they will be judged in future settings—whether that is school or the professional world. As Sue discussed, the blame does seem to be on the teachers, and, although I agree with a lot of the theory, I can’t help but feel inclined to drown in the pessimism of it all, and shout, “You may be right! But I still have to prepare my kids to do as best as they can in this completely unfair, unjust, immoral system!” The way I see it, I can either do so in the best way that I know how, or risk widening an already disturbingly wide achievement gap and giving our students less opportunity to climb the steep class ladder. Yes, teachers can affect change in small ways, but until the standardized tests are eliminated—and unfortunately, I don’t feel that we are headed at all in that direction just yet, then these kinds of theories are incredibly frustrating.

    I also must say that I really have a problem with this implicit notion in the essay—and one that I feel I hear often in many arenas of life—that all of society’s ills are solvable in the classroom. That skillful pedagogy, one that offers children a “genuine” education, will eliminate our society’s inherent inequities. I don’t deny that the school, as such an important institution, does play a critical role, I just think that it needs to be acknowledged that all of the social problems of our world spill into our classrooms on a daily basis, that, in the face of such overwhelming pessimism around class mobility and agency of the poor or working class—we cannot just simply solve the world’s problems with fantastic lesson plans and assessments. These discussions cannot occur in a vacuum and we need to take a careful look at the surrounding societal structures and ways that we can fight issues of class injustice in other ways before we put the entire burden on the shoulders of urban teachers.

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