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Thompson: Rick Hess & The Education Food Chain

image from upload.wikimedia.orgRick Hess, the H.L. Mencken of modern education writers, didn't expect the Common Core debate to get so passionate.  Hess's Common Core and the Food Pyramid reminds us that standards are just words on paper.  They don't matter much.

I made the same mistake for the same reason. How could anyone believe that improved standards could drive transformational improvements? But, I never thought of Hess's wonderful metaphor. 

Believing that Common Core standards could be a game-changer is like hoping the food pyramid would end obesity. According to Hess, the only way the food chart could significantly improve health would be to hold parents accountable for feeding their children in a nutritious way.

Hess indicts Common Core boosters for pretending that they're just proposing a food pyramid chart. What Common Core-ites "are really after is to reorder schooling, soup to nuts."

The battle, Hess notes, is not about "committee-generated verbiage," but about the test-based accountability that is attached to Common Core. The only way that the new standards could live up to their hype is by using Common Core test results for sanctioning schools, firing teachers, and compelling them to change what students read and do.  Despite the reformers' rhetoric, Hess correctly observes, "they have made clear that this is exactly what they have in mind."

In other words, teachers aren't resisting the food pyramid. We oppose our our placement at the bottom of the food chain.

Hess's incisive vision and blunt talk is the reason why he is my favorite reformer. Even when he is at his curmudgeonly worse, that is a welcome break from the moralistic fervor of the overall reform movement. Common Core-ites, for instance, were not satisfied with standards and assessments to teach with. They insist on their standards and tests worth teaching to. They insist on being the self-anointed guarantors that accountability is imposed to their satisfaction.  

In this one post, however, after explaining much of Common Core-ites' confusion, Hess personifies another of their key flaws. The food pyramid analogy also exemplifies the essence of of the reform logic. It is another example of their bifurcation of problems into either - or conundrums.  According to corporate reformers, either persuasion is the whole answer, or top-down micromanaging is the only alternative. According to Hess, apparently, since a step-by-step gradualism disappoints, we need to gamble with creative destruction.

Supposedly, we either follow Hess, who ridicules Michelle Obama's consciousness-raising and other nutrition advocates, or have the government impose consequences. In health and education, incrementalism is not viewed as an option.  We can't trust educators, experts, families, governments, nonprofits, and our messy democracy to evolve towards a healthier, smarter world. So, prideful corporate reformers foist their neat ideas on the unwashed. 

But, Hess's solution is to ...  

Well, I can't figure out what Hess wants in terms of policies for improving society. He seems to like fighting for fighting's sake.  Fortunately for Hess, his teammates give him plenty of reasons to argue with them.  There doesn't seem to be anything personal about Hess's anti-teacher positions or his jabs at his teammates.  That's just the way the game is played.

Often, after reading a post like Common Core and the Food Pyramid, I wish Hess would switch sides and bring his wit to a "big tent" coalition of the realistic.  On the other hand, as long as he is so clear-eyed in spoofing his allies' pretensions, there is no harm in Hess remaining on the reformers' side as he urinates into their tent.-JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via. 

Image via Wikipedia



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That was quite a good read! Would prove really helpful for students at all stages.

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