Testing has become the key concept in American education, and it threatens to overtake the ideal of an open society around the world. People love to hold everyone else accountable, while constantly fighting the surveillance and oversight for themselves. This hypocrisy hinges on the desire for control. It is the antithesis of personal freedom, but the absolute definition of personal power.
In the school system, this kind of abusive dissonance resonates through the organizational structure. Students fear teachers. Teachers fear principals. Principals fear superintendents. Superintendents fear school boards. School boards fear voters (sometimes). The disruptive chaos that grows within this redundant and reinforcing system of paranoia defeats any possibility of true educational growth.
In a new book on the legacies of education titled “Beloved Educators,” a group of accomplished professionals praise the teachers (often within segregated school systems) who shaped the habits of mind and the expectations of excellence that made their career success possible. One of the common themes in the various testimonials was the consistent love and praise students received as they attempted to reach their goals. Too often, educators have accepted the political premise of accountability for the ills in a wasteful school system – often regardless of any evidence to the contrary in the actual district they serve. Two generations of administrators have now come and gone nationwide, collecting massive payoffs for messages of discipline and accountability (think Joe Clark from “Lean on Me”), while utterly failing to embrace the lessons of uplift and appreciation that made segregated schools with virtually no resources more successful almost a century ago.
Imagine schools where the students love their teachers. Teachers might come to love their principals. Principals could love their superintendents. Superintendents would love … well, maybe the process would only reach so far up the ladder. The core equation remains valid, however. Education only works when it is based in an ethic of loving service. It can never work within a system of disciplinary fascism where leadership relies on fear.
Accountability as measured by testing tools that deaden the educational process bankrupts the larger social processes of creativity and growth. As a result, millions of students act out of frustration in their school years and then replicate the processes of alienation in their homes and with their children. The cycle can only be broken by the misguided administrative leaders who have subscribed to the deadly fallacies of failing schools. It is never the students or the teachers who fail – only the administrators and politicians elected to serve them.
Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth in 2012 (www.icmetrogrowth.com) and is the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on LinkedIn, Twitter (@worldprofessor/@icmgrowth), Facebook, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).