The institution that brought us the business-school case study, Harvard Business School, was itself the subject of a front-page case study in The New York Times earlier this month. The case study is not about a pricing strategy, leveraged buyout, or marketing plan. It describes a multi-year, organization-wide initiative on gender equity.
A pressing problem triggered the school’s self-examination: Year after year, women were entering the MBA program with the same test scores, experiences, achievements, and aptitudes as men but then receiving lower grades. As a result, far fewer women were attaining the Baker Scholar distinction of being in the top five percent of the class—a prestigious award that opens doors to jobs and career opportunities. Did women’s lower grades suggest something in the school’s culture might still be limiting women even 50 years after they were first admitted?
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" Yet making organizational change is complex and nuanced – and probably doomed to fail if launched with an expectation of a quick fix ….we could not improve our culture without engaging our students in the process. They understand the student culture at a granular level—they live it every day, they own it. And they have been amazing partners: They hold our feet to the fire, and they have undertaken a host of initiatives on their own to improve students’ educational and social experiences. ….
But we aren’t finished: Our culture is a work in progress.
America’s culture wars are sustained in no small part by the narrative power of outrage. The Revisionaries, a 2012 documentary released last week on VOD, deftly capitalizes on that fact. Focusing on the revisions to the Texas state K-12 textbook standards pushed through by right-wing members of the 15-member elected Texas State Board of Education, the film is both riveting and infuriating.
Don McLeroy, a dentist who was elected by voters in his local district and then appointed to be chairman of the board by Governor Rick Perry, is the leader of the radical right members. He’s also a young-earth creationist who believes that there was enough room on the ark for all the dinosaurs — at the end of the film he’s walking off the cubits for his Sunday school class to show them how all the creatures would fit. For the science standards, he and his allies include language questioning evolution. In social studies, they try to downplay deist Thomas Jefferson’s role in influencing American government in favor of Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas, cut out references to women and minorities, and glorify the sainted Ronald Reagan.
Texas state standards are hugely important; essentially they determine which textbooks can be used throughout the state. Texas is a massive market, with 4.8 million students. Moreover, that market is strongly centralized. Only approved textbooks can be purchased with state funds. If schools want to use other books, they need to pay for them themselves. One textbook representative interviewed in the film notes that, as a result, if a publisher gets a book on the approved list it can often make back its costs through Texas sales alone. As a result, publishers are desperate to get in the Texas market, and try their best to massage their texts to meet state standards, no matter how loopy. These Texas-tailored texts then are sold to school districts throughout the U.S. Thus, McLeroy’s conviction that the earth is 6,000 years old and that Reagan was a genius have had a fairly direct effect on the education of public school students throughout the country.
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"On the contrary, for me, working on textbooks and exams, the major difficulty is not catering to the far right. It’s catering to a nebulous, ill-defined fear of offending anyone. Obviously, when freelance writing or finding test passages for kids of whatever age, I know my work will be rejected if I mention evolution. But I’m also not allowed to mention snakes, or violent storms, or cancer, or racial discrimination, or magic. Authority figures, including teachers and Woodrow Wilson, can never be questioned. Pop culture can’t be mentioned. Living people can’t be mentioned. Death can’t be mentioned. As Diane Ravitch said in her still-relevant 2004 book The Language Police, there is “an elaborate, well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and broadly implemented by textbook publishers, testing agencies, professional associations, states, and the federal government.” Or, to put it another way, the people in charge have apparently agreed that the ideal educational content is a bland, colorless paste.”
"Again, the common thread between the Texas and Chicago education systems isn’t creationist culture warriors. Rather, it’s sheer arbitrariness. McLeroy, textbook publishers afraid of snakes, and Rahm Emanuel don’t share many opinions in common. But the one thing they agree on, it seems like, is that education must be subjected to all-encompassing bureaucratic control. As Jal Mehta has said in his recent book The Allure of Order, reform efforts for over a century have consistently focused on removing power from teachers and putting them in the hands of somebody — anybody — else.”
Bertrand Russell on education and the human spirit.
Neither acquiescence in skepticism nor acquiescence in dogma is what education should produce. What it should produce is a belief that knowledge is attainable in a measure, though with difficulty; that much of what passes for knowledge at any given time is likely to be more or less mistaken, but that the mistakes can be rectified by care and industry.