Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Manufactured Optimism and School Reform

Barbara Ehrenreich in In These Times:

Couldn’t this positive thinking be what corporate culture wants everyone to believe, but at the top, people are still totally rational?

That is what I was assuming when I started this research. I thought, “It’s got to be rational at the top. Someone has to keep an eye on the bottom line.” Historically, the science of management was that in a rational enterprise, we have spreadsheets, we have decision-trees and we base decisions on careful analysis.

But then all that was swept aside for a new notion of what management is about. The word they use is “leadership.” The CEO and the top people are not there so much to analyze and plan but to inspire people. They claimed to have this uncanny ability to sense opportunities. It was a shock, to find the extent to which corporate culture has been infiltrated not only by positive thinking, but by mysticism. The idea is that now things are moving so fast in this era of globalization, that there’s no time to think anymore. So you increasingly find CEOs gathering in sweat lodges or drumming circles or going on “vision quests” to get in touch with their inner-Genghis Khan or whatever they were looking for.

This is yet another thread on the "understanding business model school reformers" theme.

For all the emphasis on data, there is a strong strand of "the power of positive thinking." Faith that students will magically rise to meet higher standards. Focusing inner city kindergarteners on college uber alles will raise them to prosperity. Professional development -- and hiring practices -- based on teachers being true believers that "all children can learn" (exactly what that phrase connotes is a research project in itself).

Unfortunately, in education, this optimism has a monstrous side -- if we really, truly believe that all kids need, and indeed, the only thing that will help them is a great school, then we don't need to worry about inequality, poverty, discrimination, urban public policy, access to health care, malnutrition, etc.

Regardless, this doesn't come from nowhere, it comes from the ideology of the business world.

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