Culturally Competent Educational Systems

We really do not have an economic crisis with respect to school funding in Alaska.  We can easily produce the funding necessary to maintain our schools to the extent we decide is appropriate, and as I have mentioned elsewhere (http://opinion.alaskapolicy.net/pardonme/?p=250) the arguments over “sustainable” budgets is largely a smokescreen.

What we do have is a fundamental failure to communicate, and this failure manifests itself among the political elite, the educational elite and the general population, the target of our education policies.

At the political level it has been clear from some time that few if any share a common vision of what education is, and there is a lack of a shared vocabulary with which to even discuss this. I mentioned to Senator Gardner almost a year ago that before trying to discuss inflation-proofing education, she should first attempt to realize a common sense of the nature of education with her colleagues, and while the Legislature has wound its way around lots of issues, I have yet to see any reconciliation as to just what education means.

In the educational world, there is so much Sturm und Drang regarding “reform”, “testing” and so much other nonsense that rational discourse is pushed to the margin. While the concept of data driven decision making is an important one, what it has produced is the manufacture of drivel used to drive policy that the data simply does not support, as well as inadequate research run up this or that flagpole to press one ideological point or another.

But worse by far is our failure to communicate effectively with the general population, the folk who are frankly dubious about the entire idea of education, in no small part because it seems to them, based on what they hear from the elite, that education  “is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

I stopped short in my tracks when I first heard mention of the need for a “culturally competent healthcare system”, largely, to be honest, because I am unnerved by the concept of a racially segregated health system. But the concept does not address so much cultural medicine, as recognizing cultural barriers to medicine. What are the linguistic,m cultural, socio-economic hurdles to facilitating a healthy population.

And it was then that I realized that we have the exact same issue with respect to education.   What we have is really not an economic problem but a cultural problem, and if one took the literature about “culturally competent healthcare systems” and replaced “healthcare” with “educational”, we would have a rather complete picture of the problems we face in education today.

Babel Fish

Babel Fish

While I certainly have a well defined vision of what an education is and why it is necessary, I am just as certain that others in my community don’t share my views, and many think that what I see as necessary for everyone is a ridiculous waste of resources. While some wax smarmy and opine that “the stupid is strong”, that only reinforces the arguments of those who don’t see the inherent value in education, or perhaps more accurately, don’t share Ms. Smarmy’s views. And their arguments are grounded in the economics of our State, where everything especially our politicians, are for sale, and someone who flunked out of high school can brag to their kids that an education is over-rated and is not feeding or clothing them.

It is time to put aside jargon and ideology, to ask Ravitch and Chavous to take a pill, and to actually discuss like intelligent and rational creatures what kind of society we wish to see and how we intend to achieve that society. Then we can invite those who wish to establish a theocracy to emigrate to an emirate and those remaining can then get down to brass tacks and pay for what is needed instead of hurling mindless one liners about as if they actually meant anything.

A Last Supper

Listening to the Alaska House Task Force squabble over their report brings back memories of that vintage Super Bowl bit of Americana evidencing that Americans are the most gullible creatures on Earth.  Perhaps the cleverest application of that bit of MadAve genius might be credited to a comment by Cheryl Bezaire, “ The Lord’s Supper: Tastes Great / Less Filling”, but the leveraging of that piece of inanity is legion. millerlite

What was so ironic about the ad (and it is as chilling now as it was almost 30 years ago) is that the public is suckered into accepting that the discussion is about beer worth drinking. Likewise, whatever the take of a particular faction on the Task Force, the fight on the right takes one thing for granted; education funding must be reformed because the money we spend is not being spent well.  Yes, some argue we need to cut back, and some argue we need to spend smarter,  but they all agree on a matter not in evidence, which is that we need to go on a education funding diet.

It is a bit frightening to suggest that Andrew Halcro is holding down the progressive end of an argument, but that is what happens when one gets sucked into the vortex of “Tastes Great / Less Filling” – even the most self-evident of acknowledgments appears sage as compared to hysterical pronouncements of self-fulfilling prophets.  If you want to avoid a budget crisis, throwing away millions for redundant playgrounds and billions to bribe oil companies will tend to sap the zest out of any savings plan…

But what the whiners and the renders fail to recall is that most Alaskans pay a NET ZERO for all their State and Municipal services.  Let’s just repeat that, shall we?  Most Alaskans pay a NET ZERO for all their State and Municipal services. That is because Alaskans pay no income tax and their payment in other State and Local taxes are largely offset by their receipt of a yearly payment from the State.  Yes, all the gnashing of teeth and the doom and gloom is over the nightmare of the residents of Alaska actually having to assume some personal responsibility with respect to State spending.

The upshot then is that the Task Force is hustling the Alaska public like Miller Lite hustled America; excuse us while we obscure from your view the fact that funding education is really not a problem in that all we have to do is PAY FOR IT.  The argument over whether public education is an investment or a cost (or vice versa) takes advantage of the same ploy; it leads one, as a sheep to slaughter, into arguing over accounting fictions and missing the fact that in the largest sense it is neither.

And therein, perhaps, lies the rub,  because the subtext is that the folk driving the Alaska Legislature not only don’t want to pay for anything, they want others to pay them to do what they want.  Yes, they want the State to pay parents so that parents can shield their kids from things like science. Yikes!

Meanwhile, the Administration is knee-deep in it’s own form of “education reform”, arranging for millions to be spent on outside contractors by State Districts to engage in constructivist assessments. Yes, while on the one hand teachers are advised they must engage only in research based pedagogy, the Alaska Administration of Sean Parnell has launched a mandatory attack on Districts requiring the use of expensive proprietary non-research based ideological methods as for evaluating teaching staff, which teaching staff, already overworked, is now somehow expected to find an additional 10-15 hours a week to play make believe over developmental theories that are not research based.

Are our problems so intractable? We have bozos declining revenues on the one hand, while we have other bozos wasting money on the other hand.  It would seem that the easy answer (though I do NOT subscribe to easy answers) wo0uld be to get the bozos off the bus, and as those bozos all self-identify as Republicans, the choice for Alaskans would seem to be clear. Unfortunately, things are never as clear as they appear to be, which is perhaps the text of the AEA President who cautioned against suggesting that there was anything Revelatory (the topic of the Whore of Babylon having been broached) about the Task Force discussions. No, our Dems would likely be just foolish (they certainly demonstrate such foolishness in their strident whining about assessments.)

The folk gathered around the Table at the Task Force barkfest were there because, at least ostensibly, they figured that they were so bright they could see their way to a “solution” where others could not (or were intentionally obstructing.)The humorous turn here being that we are seeing a race to the bottom between the Administration (reform) and the Legislature (cut.)  Great Taste.  Less filling.

Under the Table things were not perhaps so civil, because the hunt has been on for ways to defund public schools, and where you can’t make that fly under the flag of religious freedom, perhaps you can make that fly under the flag of freedom of educational choice, though the intent, to allow the inculcation of children with delusional commitments to the irrational and supernatural at public expense, is the same.

The Table in Ms. Bezaire’s comment was set for Pesach (Passover) which strangely enough celebrates religious freedom. And ironically enough, we once again have stood the concept of religious freedom on its head as we turn the idea of freedom from theocracy into a device to secure public funding of religious education. Round and round goes the nasty beer as we offer the bracha: Great taste!  Less filling!