Side-Effects of Education Trends

May 15, 2019 by

In his article “If Education Advocacy Were More Like Pharmaceutical Ads”, the Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio whimsically speculates how “social and emotional learning”, “school choice”,  “no excuses charter schools,”  “project-based learning” and “restorative justice” would be promoted if “advocates were required to temper their pitches with warning labels akin to pharmaceutical ads and those tiny-font fold-outs that come with your meds.  Make your case, See yourself…but then comes the legally required disclaimers and warnings about potentially harmful side effects.”

Some trends in education have a scientific-sounding patina but are empty jargon, but others are practices that spring from valid research that are tested in the “laboratory” of classrooms. Pondiscio effectively uses the vessel of levity to transport a cargo of serious ideas.

Here’s the side-effects he would list for “social-emotional learning”. Imagine reading them as they crawl across your television screen in blurred tiny letters or as they appear fixed on the screen to read, accompanied by “white noise”allowing you seconds to read an essay-worth of disclaimers.

Not a problem, since enforcement of “truth in advertising” rules is a thing of the past, although they are still on the books.

Here goes:

Social-Emotional Learning “may include reduced academic expectations and lower standards for student behavior. Excessive use of SEL can lead to suspension of moral judgment among teachers, with a possibility of stunting character development in students. Imprecise definitions of SEL may cause chafing and irritation. Interest in SEL has been associated with…acute incidents of fad-driven opportunism. Ask your school district about SEL”.

Terrific wit under a thin veil of earnestness, not unlike allegory and satire.

Pondiscio says “the lengthy disclaimers and legalese in advertising…assist consumers to make informed choices and put us on guard. A little of that would go a long way toward helping to make education reform more widely accepted…Nearly every problem in schools was the solution to a previous problem.”

Technically meeting a legal requirement has become the ticket to eluding real accountability not eliciting it, in our revised world.  No need for the spirit when you have the letter.

Pondiscio is right to recommend that there be more candor about the “side-effects” of the implementation of education programs and modalities, but his desire that this be done as a means to encourage education “reform” to get more firmly rooted, is a worthwhile goal only if it is the right kind of reform.

There’s a lot of evil being done in the name of “reform.”

One point that needs to be made is that pharmaceutical advertising and the marketing of education are presented in such a way as to meet only the minimum  standards of the law, but are designed to be unintelligible even as they get a “pass” on compliance.

Unintelligibility of their message is their liberation from the responsibility of possessing one.That’s the problem with some many “fresh ideas” in education, notwithstanding the focus groups, contractors, vendors and managers.

Cynicism is the virulent serum of modern advertising.

Packaging should not be the main ingredient in medicine or education “reform”. For the latter, a new prescription is warranted: manufacture and dosage based on legitimate and untainted research.

Ron Isaac

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