When Mark and I began exploring the concept of schools as ecosystems, we thought we had a pretty great idea. We wanted to replace the current educational reform narrative— which focuses on how schools and teachers can produce “better” students– with one that focuses on how to produce healthy, sustainable educational environments.
Two big assumptions lay beneath this thinking. One, that our readers will agree that cultivating and caring for the natural world is a good idea. Two, that our readers will agree that, like the environment, public education has an intrinsic value.
Of course, many people don’t agree with us. Value-added thinking rests, after all, on the assumption that public schools and their students are intrinsically worthless. They only become valuable when they produce improved test scores.
Similarly, many people agree with Mitt Romney, who believes that the earth has no inherent value. Speaking last month in Nevada, Romney described his confusion about the government’s stake in that state’s national parks, forests, and public lands:
I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada…Unless there’s a valid and legitimate and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.
So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land…But where government ownership of the land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable.
Romney’s thinking echoes the value-added educational approach in a few key ways:
1. He hasn’t studied it: In other words, he’s speaking from ignorance. This mirrors the value-added advocates who either ignore or disregard all of the studies and data indicating that their approach doesn’t help schools or students.
2. He wants to destroy the planet: Not surprisingly, the only “legitimate and compelling” purposes that Romney sees for the earth involve incredibly destructive processes like coal and gold mining. These industries have done immeasurable harm to our planet, and much of that harm may be irreparable. Similarly, the value-added folks have shown a remarkable zeal for dismantling schools in cities across the country, doing immeasurable harm to those schools’ students and communities.
3. He thinks we’re idiots: Romney couches his approach to land management in terms of the public good. I’m sure, if asked, he’ll argue that coal and gold mining are industries where workers are treated well, work in safe conditions and earn a fair share of their companies’ profits. Similarly, the value-added zealots talk to parents, teachers, and students like we’re morons, when they even acknowledge our existence.
4. He has no soul: I’m not talking about Romney’s singing here. I’m speaking quite literally: Romney is a vampire. Anyone argues that the earth exists only to be sucked dry for the benefit of a few landowners is a true, old-school villain. Strangely, the value-added vampires are still human enough to recognize some value in our planet, but they think that students and teachers are only worth as much as the test scores they produce.
How do we respond to folks who lack the capacity to see the value of what happens in our schools everyday, unless it’s presented to them as a two-digit number? Who can’t see the value in showing a student how to love Shakespeare, or line drawing, or algebra? Treat them like vampires: expose them and their followers to the light of day until they shrivel up and disappear.