Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt the Myth of School Reform

Diane Ravitch critiqued the punitive uses of accountability to fire teachers and close schools, as well as replacing public schools with charter schools and relying on superstar teachers, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010). In the book Ravitch sharply broke with policies she had formerly espoused...

A few years ago, when I was blogging at Education Week with Deborah Meier, a reader introduced the term FUD. I had never heard of it. It is a marketing technique used in business and politics to harm your competition. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. The reader said that those who were trying to create a market-based system to replace public education were using FUD to undermine public confidence in public education. They were selling the false narrative that our public schools are obsolete and failing.
This insight inspired me to write Reign of Error, to show that the “reform” narrative is a fraud. Test scores on NAEP are at their highest point in history for white, black, Hispanic and Asian students. Graduation rates are the highest in history for these groups. The dropout rate is at an historic low point.
Why the FUD campaign against one of our nation’s most treasured democratic institutions? It helps the competition. It makes people so desperate that they will seek out unproven alternatives. It makes the public gullible when they hear phony claims about miracle schools, where everyone graduates and everyone gets high test scores, and everyone goes to a four-year college. No such school exists. The “miracle school” usually has a high suspension rate, a high expulsion rate, a high attrition rate and such schools usually do not replace the kids they somehow got rid of. Some “miracle schools” have never graduated anyone because they have only elementary schools, but that doesn’t stop the claims and boasting.
It turns out that there is actually a scholar studying the phenomenon of the “the cultural production of ignorance.” He hasn’t looked at the attack on public schools, but his work shows how propaganda may be skillfully deployed to confuse and mislead the public. Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times writes about the work of Robert Proctor of Stanford University:
Robert Proctor doesn’t think ignorance is bliss. He thinks that what you don’t know can hurt you. And that there’s more ignorance around than there used to be, and that its purveyors have gotten much better at filling our heads with nonsense. Proctor, a professor of the history of science at Stanford, is one of the world’s leading experts in agnotology, a neologism signifying the study of the cultural production of ignorance. It’s a rich field, especially today when whole industries devote themselves to sowing public misinformation and doubt about their products and activities.
Read the rest of the article here. And watch her appearance on Moyer's & Company on your local PBS channel this weekend. 

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