I read an article last fall that compared our current education reform movement with Stalinist education policy. (A reader told me that the link didn’t work. Another reader sent me a different link. Thanks to all! The article is “Stalinizing American Education” by Lawrence Baines, Teachers College Record, September 16, 2011).
There is a part of me that is reluctant to go along with any sort of alarmism, not the alarmism of today’s Henny-Pennies (“the sky is falling, we are failing, failing, failing”), nor the Henny-Pennies of other eras. Unless one is presented with real catastrophe, the best course of action is usually incrementalist and muddling through. Act in haste, repent at leisure. Fix what’s broke, don’t mess with success. That sort of thing.
But the article begins with three statements and asks you to guess which one was made today and which were made by Soviet leaders in the 1930s. And frankly, the reader can’t tell. They all sound exactly the same. They all blame bad teachers for poor pupil performance. They all demand 100% success so all children can learn.
And the author goes further to make additional comparisons between then and now, such as a national curriculum, standardization, frequent standardized testing, emphasis on STEM subjects, and a regime of compliance. The compliance regime banishes the localism that produces innovation and progress.
Does this article make sense? Is it cause for concern? Should we think twice about the road on which we are racing to the top?