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Re: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act

Let me sound a slightly skeptical note, though with the greatest admiration for the efforts of Kris and other sophisticated educators to influence policy in Washington. Maybe some of these points may also be informative for the non-US xmca-ers.

I don't really think that US educational policy is about learning. It is a branch of SOCIAL policy. It is, for politicians and many voters, about equity, justice, moral values, quality of the labor force. Conservatives by and large won the battle from the 1970s-90s over the definition of educational quality: it means knowledge and skills, as assessed by simple, mass-administered tests. They succeeded because what they proposed was very close to common folk-wisdom about schooling. They proposed what they did to prevent education from becoming about learning how to critique and change the status quo.

Within the framework they established, the liberal left looked to see how they (we?) could still use education as an tool for social justice. The answer basically, from Head Start to NCLB (the Bush-era policy) was to try to insure that children from poor families got enough extra programs to help them compete with middle-class kids in the world of testable knowledge/skills. I think that is the course that Obama is still on. It seems likely to me that his personal experience would be telling him that kids in under-resourced communities go to school relatively unprepared for its demands, and so pre-school programs should be targeted to diagnostically specific needs relative to predictable school demands. That how the language of the proposed bill sounds to me.

Politicians, senators, and even higher level staff people probably don't know much about learning theory and don't have the time to learn. If it is theory or models that use unfamiliar ideas, all the less likely to be able to persuade or communicate. Neuroscience evidence for early social learning or artifact-hybridity in development may as well be discourse from Mars in their world. National political policy I think cannot be realistically expected to embody advanced learning theories. That discourse should have its practical effects far more locally, in terms of what teachers get taught about good practice in schools, and maybe what others who are trying to innovate new approaches to education that go beyond the classroom-only paradigm take into account.

Apart from trying to avoid overly narrow language (and more importantly, administrative interpretation of language) about what kinds of programs can get federal funding, I think the core issues at the national policy level ought to be more about goals. Equal learning opportunity in practice is a widely shared goal; the means to it are much debated. What is less addressed, I think, is whether knowledge and skills acquisition should be in itself the primary educational goal. So long as that conservative principle is maintained, social equity goals will lead to bad educational practice for all, and especially for those most in need.

Reading, for example, is NOT "fundamental". It is a diversion from serious educational thinking. (R.I.F. was a slogan long supported by the right, though not only by them.) Reading is a tool, to be learned and used as part of larger inquiries and activities with goals that mean something to the learners. Those could be play goals, or self- empowerment goals, or altruistic goals. So long as what schools will demand of kids on arrival is that they be prepared to learn decontextualized de-coding skills (i.e. "reading"), and do well on tests of these that are even more isolated from anything with larger meaning, then all pre-school preparation programs will be targeted at preparing students for mindlessness. And social equity and social justice agendas in social policy will support this.

It's not about the means. It's about the goals.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Dec 13, 2009, at 11:12 PM, mike cole wrote:

So Catherine thinks we should turn our attention to national education
policies and knows what is wrong. Michael agrees.
Peg has a different interpretation. Others have different views.
What we agree on is that we are not happy with what is transpiring.

In lieu of discussing what it means if biology and culture are intertwined
in ways that make humans hybrids, and implications of such ideas for
understanding the process of development in highly
industrialized countries, never mind the majority of human kind, it is
suggested we address this problem and stop discussion of all other issues.

How would you who want to shift the discussion have us, in our professional capacities, change direction so that we are not just purveying academic
drivel for self advancement? With what authority and to what effect?

This is a fine place to discuss such matters. Pick a header and lead the
discussion so that it is effective. Happy to engage.

But at the same time, i *will *complete reading seriously the final papers of my students, i *will* seek as soon as possible to bring us back to the issues of cognitive style and education that the paper under discussion is supposed to be addressing, I *will* continue working with my grad students over vacation to support the people without food to eat or shoes for their kids in the housing project which is the center of LCHC efforts for the past two years, and I *will *continue to try to understand the implications of
our knowledge of
early infant development and its interweaving of cultural and biological
wellsprings of development. In addition to, not in lieu,
of anything.

Kris has asked for concrete suggestions and she is in a position to carry them into the White house. My suggestions focus on collaborations between universities and their communities to address simultaneously the problems of
higher education which break my
heart when I am on the UCSD campus and the problems of elementary education which break my heart when i work with my students in the community. Kris
knows this line of thinking well.

Apart from lamentations, who is suggesting we do what on what grounds?

Back to work.

On Sun, Dec 13, 2009 at 9:04 PM, Michael Glassman <MGlassman@ehe.osu.edu >wrote:

I really think that this legislation is, among other things, historically insensitive. Do people really think, given our society's history with assessment tests, that these tests are not going to be geared towards middle class values? Do people really think that these tests are not going to be used to label and differentiate groups? Do people really think that these assessments are not going to be used to in some way reinforce a deficit model for children who don't do well on the tests? The fact that these tests are being conducted at such a young age makes these ideas even more

These senators Brown and Franken and Murray have their hearts in the right place, but our discourse on education in the United States has become so
convoluted and narrow and so dominated by a faux realist perspective
(actually an unholy combination of realist and idealist) that even
legislators who mean well are I think making thoughtless mistakes. It still pains me that Ted Kennedy and George Miller were major forces behind NCLB. There are many reasons for this I think, not the least of which is control of public discourse by a relatively small group of educators - but just because you are giving money towards education initiatives does not mean
that you are helping the cause of universal education.



From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of cconnery@ithaca.edu
Sent: Sun 12/13/2009 10:10 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act

Hi Peg and others:

Here is the specific language under section 9, e,1,c of the LEARN Act:


(1) IN GENERAL.-An eligible entity that receives a subgrant under this section shall use the subgrant funds consistent with the plan proposed in
subsection (c) to carry out the following activities:
(C) SCREENING ASSESSMENTS AND MEASURES.-Acquiring, providing training for, and implementing screening assessments or other appropriate measures to
determine whether children from birth through kindergarten entry are
developing appropriate early language and literacy skills.

The question is, "WHO will determine what is appropriate and HOW will they
assess it?" This goes to the heart of Vygotsky's work.


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