School Age Change: A New Curriculum Destroyed
In March of last year the University of Puerto Rico held an Investigation in Education summit where educators from all over the world were invited. I was lucky enough to be considered to speak in one of the smaller rooms as a concurrent speaker on an investigation I had recently concluded about how video games influence students’ attitudes towards the English language, language skills, and the English language. Many other teachers and scholars from around the world presented on topics like the European university credentials system, how policies on bilingualism affect student linguistic competence in the target language, and literally hundreds of other speakers. I have never felt such an invigorating and scholarly environment as I did there. Even in the big TESOL conferences, where I usually get a rush for being surrounded with wonderful language scholars from around the world, have I not felt the level of excitement I felt at this summit – perhaps because this meeting was one where great thinkers of all disciplines converged to discuss ideas. The only experience that, in my opinion, can rival a summit of researchers in education (which include physicists, marine biologists, mathematicians, philosophers, linguists, and educators from nearly all disciplines) is TED. Now, in this summit the last Keynote Speaker of the entire conference, a position as important and as coveted as the position of the first Keynote of a conference, was a round table discussion that included the (then) current secretary of education, a previous secretary of education, a visiting scholar of world renown, and the dean of the most prestigious school of education in the island. The topics discussed were various in nature and all of the panelists agreed in several points. All of them, with the exception of the (then) current secretary of education who proudly stated “I am only here because I managed to secure a deal for one billion dollars” followed by “if I had not secured that money I would be there in a meeting trying to get it because money is all-powerful” and the visiting scholar of world renown whose pompous elitist egocentric attitude made him come across as a snob, were cordial, likable individuals. This is, of course, just my way of saying that the previous secretary of education and the dean were wonderful people and the other two were some of the most hateful people ever. Now, it well may be that these people whom I so disdain are actually kind people of excellent caliber, and I would not doubt that as my mentor in the teaching of languages from the school of education, one of the best people in existence, was chatting with both of these seemingly unlikable gentlemen in a cordial manner both before and after their round table. So, why do I not like them? Perhaps it was the idea they presented.
Halfway through their round table discussion on the state of education and student conditions, the visiting scholar talked about a program he is developing and was hoping, with the help of various departments of education, implement throughout the nation. This curriculum would have to be implemented not only by steps, but also by states and, possibly, cities, or even schools. The basis of this scholar’s new curriculum were, in simple terms, that some children have speech impediments, mental conditions, or physical problems (which he grouped into developmental problems) that if identified early enough could be treated, but if not identified and left untreated, or if identified in a later stage, could b devastating to a child’s overall development. He stated that three years of age would be an ideal age to evaluate children, as they are old enough to understand what is around them and developed enough to identify if anything in their behavior is off. This would imply, to a sane and reasonable mind of course, a series of tests and evaluations followed by a series of therapies or treatments when necessary. However, this was not the famed scholar’s plan. He continued his “theoretical framework” with the observation that a lot of students in twelve grade simply “waste time”, and that many of them by eleventh grade know what to do with their lives. His proposal for a new curriculum was thus the following, which he stated perhaps not verbatim but close enough that one might get the general idea of his plan:
“If kids start school at three years of age we can identify when there is undesirable behavior and treat it early, if necessary with prescription drugs, before it develops into something more serious. Therefore, we should have kids start going to school at three years of age, have them finish by sixteen, and since times are tough and they want to work we have them go to a technical school or have them start working right off. Of course, this is something that XXXXXX University would have to work with the local departments of education, so we would not be able to force private schools into adopting our plan.”
That might sound lovely if you don’t know what it means, so allow me to provide what this means. This translates into:
“We should force poor people have their kids start school at the age of three so we can indoctrinate them into being subservient. If any of them rebel or misbehave or show creative or intellectual potential we kill it with Ritalin. When they graduate 12th grade we send them off to low wage jobs. Meanwhile, the kids of the rich people go to private schools where they get a real education and then go to the university and study and become lawyers, judges, or bankers.”
The (then) current secretary of education embraced the project, endorsed it, and vowed that he would start working on it as soon as he got to his office (good thing he resigned). The dean and the former secretary did not comment. One of the people in the audience got up during the Q&A session and asked exactly what I had been thinking: “so you mean to say that you endorse making machines out of our students?” The person in the audience was eloquent and well spoken, as I would expect anyone in such an event to be, and challenged the points presented by the famed visiting professor with force until the secretary of education had to back down and say that he would reconsider. Needless to say that the secretary and the scholar were booed and so far no such project has been implemented in Puerto Rico.
However, yesterday I saw a video where some state senator in Utah wants to eliminate twelve grade. This is unacceptable, as it is possibly the first step towards a full indoctrination and mechanization of our children, and if there is one thing we must encourage as educators it is the development of free and critical thought in our children, and if there is one thing we should avoid it is the factorization of skill less citizens who are trained to do a single repetitive job over and over.