As a champion of Enlightenment ideals, Immanuel Kant (1724-1809) stated that the period’s motto was “Dare to Know”: Dare to use your reason and think for yourself. This ideal has shaped modern intellectual thought for two centuries but today it is being replaced by “group-think,” “think tanks” and “propaganda mills” known as cable news networks.
It has been said that there are two ways to live life. The first is to believe everything you hear, and the second is to believe nothing you hear. Both ways prevent a person from thinking. Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.”
As a professional educator for more than 30 years, one of my goals in teaching is to get young people to think for themselves, to use critical thinking. I believe this single educational tenet, critical thinking, is responsible for all human achievement and vitally important to fully educate our children today.
Unfortunately, rather than designing a means to promote critical thinking, so-called education reformers are mandating students take tests — never-ending bubble tests with the express purpose of compiling data to see how well the teachers taught to the test. I am a believer in tests, but when the primary reason for schools to exist is to take tests and garner data, it hampers teachers from teaching critical-thinking skills. When the test numbers are poor, the quick and easy answer is that it is due to bad teaching. This dazzling logic is behind the “race to the bottom” as illustrated in places like Wisconsin, Kansas and Illinois, which are leading the way to mediocrity as their K-12 school budgets are squeezed.
A month ago Missourians in all counties soundly voted no on Amendment 3. What many Missourians may not know is that one person, the apparently bored multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield from St. Louis, was the driver behind this despicable proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution. This amendment, with its deceitful wording and indirect attack on our children, failed because informed teachers, school administrators, PTAs, school boards, professional teacher organizations and people across Missouri voted. Sinquefield said he would bring it back next year because he thinks it’s a good idea. I’m not sure what part of no he didn’t understand, but watch out for further subterfuge.
For those who dare to think and reason for themselves, this kind of education reform is really not about educating our children at all. It’s about money and lots of it. According to the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, K-12 public school education is an emerging market with $500 billion waiting to be made from public coffers. This “business opportunity” flies in the face of the thousands of dedicated professional educators across Missouri. Endless testing — meaningless, time-wasting data collection resulting in burned-out teachers — is not the answer.
To Sinquefield, this is a money game. You run the playbook that has worked “so well” in gutting K-12 education in the previously mentioned states. It works like this: 1) Impose impossible demands on teachers with endless testing and data collection. 2) Blame teachers and trash their integrity. 3) Discredit and disempower teachers’ professional support networks (the National Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association). 4) Replace public schools with for-profit schools (and laugh all the way to the bank).
As Missouri residents, we need to be on guard for the next attempt to take over our schools. Support our teachers and school boards — not misguided multimillionaires — and let them do education reform.
James Wrolstad currently teaches music. He lives in Liberty with his wife of 39 years.