Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ed Porn

There is something vaguely pornographic about "what's wrong with kids/schools today" articles like William Deresiewicz's The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. As with porn, there are a wide selection of fetishes to choose from, and what Deresiewicz is peddling is one of my favorite varieties. In particular, it is just too easy to decide passages like this are about me:

Some students end up at second-tier schools because they’re exactly like students at Harvard or Yale, only less gifted or driven. But others end up there because they have a more independent spirit. They didn’t get straight A’s because they couldn’t be bothered to give everything in every class. They concentrated on the ones that meant the most to them or on a single strong extracurricular passion or on projects that had nothing to do with school or even with looking good on a college application. Maybe they just sat in their room, reading a lot and writing in their journal. These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resum├ęs.

Oh yeah, William, you know what I like!

Beyond the self-satisfying wankery, however, I think this piece does in particular provide an excellent frame for understanding Teach for America, although it requires a somewhat subtle reading, because TFA is not a manifestation of the problems Deresiewicz outlines, it is clearly a response, but it is a response which still fits precisely into the parameters of the world he describes. It fits into his larger picture like a puzzle piece.

Which is not to say, thus, TFA is bad, but I think the article provides rich context for understanding TFA. Particularly if you are observing from, say, Australia.

1 comment:

Bill Kerr said...

thanks :-)

I accept that rubbing shoulders with the oppressed is different from changing your whole world view, built up through zillions of thread of social class. I really like Mao's essay about this, Talks at Yenan forum on literature and art , but I guess that's not on the TFA reading list.

Nevertheless, Noel Pearson, who has proposed 'Teach for Australia' with some significant variations from 'Teach for America' does understand these issues