When Vice President Al Gore challenged George W. Bush by announcing that "[t]he time for generalities without specifics . . . is over," that it was "time to put up or shut up," some might have expected the candidates to fling down the gauntlet in education - by all accounts the number one campaign issue. Suppose they had dispensed with their sound bites about "school choice," "national standards," and "safe schools" and demonstrated a knowledge of the wrenching problems over which people are agonizing.
The media's obsession with bloopers has forced today's candidates to focus more on avoiding controversy than on engaging in substantive dialogue. Okay, so somebody gets the job anyway. Now let's find out what they really know. Here are the 20 most contentious education issues, posed as Q and A's (a grading scale follows):
- Why are school tests (including those from previous years) held tighter than the Pentagon Papers (i.e., exempted from the Freedom of Information Act) so that parents are refused access even after-the-fact?
- What is it called when school tests and surveys ask what magazines are in their homes, whether parents have a dishwasher, and the family's favorite vacation spots?
- What is "predictive computer technology," and how is it useful to experts in determining a student's future employability under School-to-Work legislation?
- What is the primary focus of college course work for prospective educators, including curriculum and testing specialists?
- What is "thought disruption" and how does it impact learning?
- What is "cognitive dissonance," and how does it compromise parent-school cooperation?
- How have terms like "remedial" and "handicap" been redefined so that parents erroneously believe their child will get special help?
- How "individualized" is an IEP (Individual Education Plan), and what rights do parents have once they sign it?
- What legal loophole permits the federal government to become involved in state and local curriculum?
- What is a psychological "marker" (used in behavioral screening devices), and why is "strong religious belief" considered a marker for mental illness?
- What level of privacy does the term "confidential" confer?
- What federal law prevents Information Brokers from combing secure databases for "value and lifestyle" information and cross-matching it with political criteria or other public and private records?
- What is "data-laundering"?
- How far has school-related computer cross-matching come?
- What are the two primary axioms of advertising, and how are they applied by educators?
- How could schools assure nondiscriminatory testing and placement?
- What is the most important ethic that today's teachers are expected to transmit?
- What links Goals 2000, Outcome- Based Education and the School-to- Work/Careers Act?
- What are the long-term effects of psychiatric drugs on growing bodies?
- What do education experts consider the primary purpose of education?
- The rationale is that the validity of all tests and surveys will be compromised if a layperson sees any of them.
- Psychographics: "the study of social class based on the demographics of income, race, religion, and personality traits."
- By combining responses, pupils provide via self-reports and situational questionnaires with psychographic data, statisticians say they can predict how a child will likely react to future events. This capability can be turned into a political litmus test by college and job recruiters.
- Behavioral psychology.
- "Thought disruption," a technique launched in 1940s Germany, means interrupting the train of thought so that logic cannot proceed. The continual interruptions built into the school day impede a child's ability to concentrate.
- "Cognitive dissonance" means an unresolvable conflict resulting from attempts to reconcile two opposing "truths" simultaneously. When educators discredit parental teachings, youngsters cannot choose between two opposing "authorities."
- These are buzz-terms for warehousing kids deemed "uneducable" by the system. Teacher training deals with emotions, not learning methodology.
- Signing an IEP gives the school control over future education-related decisions and provides virtually no individualized help.
- "Compelling state interest."
- Markers are "risk factors." Firm religious belief has been linked to the dogmatic, authoritarian, and delusional personality.
- Confidential means "need to know," not "anonymous." Data, including a person's identity, are shared with "approved" entities.
- No federal law currently prevents database searches and cross-matches. Legal experts are having trouble differentiating between legitimate and illegitimate cross-matching.
- "Data-laundering": Deleting or changing data surreptitiously to circumvent #12, above.
- The SPEEDE/ExPRESS is the largest school collection-and-transfer "engine." WORKLINK, developed by the Educational Testing Service, provides a link to employers.
- The primary axioms are: (1) "All consumer behavior is predictable," and (2) "Consumer behavior can be changed." Advertisers were the first to employ psychographics as a means of targeting a market. The key is finding what makes the target population tick. School "tests" and surveys, rife with opinion-oriented questions, provide this key. Curriculum becomes the advertising package for social change.
- Nondiscriminatory practices center on learning processes - (i.e., spatial reasoning, perceptual speed, auditory memory, etc.).
- "Interdependence" - i.e., the group is more important than the individual and consensus more important than principle.
- Funding: Legislators who vote for one inadvertently vote for all three.
- Psychiatric drugs haven't been around long enough to know.
- "To change the students' fixed beliefs." (Dr. Benjamin Bloom)
Grading Scale (correct answers):
19-20 = Fit for public office
17-18 = Study up for debates
14-16 = Easily manipulated by special interests
12-13 = Frankly, my dear, you don't know diddly about schools.
B. K. Eakman, a former teacher-turned- science editor and speechwriter, is the author of Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education (Huntington House). An edited version of this article has appeared in the Washington Times and Insight Magazine.