Use Your Powers for Good, Not Evil

In this op-ed piece, “Best and Brightest Teachers Key to Solving US Education Crisis,” in the “Politics: Opinion” section of the US News & World Report website, publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman proposes some frightening education reforms. Zuckerman, who is a billionaire from his work in magazine publishing and real estate, handles this subject as though he is describing the everybody-wins wave of the future, where highly educated, highly motivated, well-paid teachers are accessible to all children. The problems occur when I add up his statements about the positive ideals of utilizing technology in the classroom, increasing teacher pay, recruiting the “brightest” people into the field of education, and improving access to educational offerings. I read that he is proposing to turn the teaching profession into a Gestapo, where the best teachers are cherry-picked early and trained for long periods of time for the important work of educating huge numbers of children via technology. Furthermore, he adds that state-level certification and unions stand in the way of his great ideas, and that allowing “bad” teachers to remain in classrooms is the travesty. Zuckerman is proposing total centralized control of the education system and the people in charge of it.

Zuckerman also makes the statement: “Learning would no longer have to start, as it does today, when the student enters the classroom and end when the school bell rings.” I have to ask, why does he think that no learning occurs at home? I also have to ask, why aren’t the students doing their homework? His statement also presumes that the only thing we can call “learning” revolves around the material taught in schools. At home, my parents taught me to swim, to take care of our yard and house, to work on small motors, to ride a bicycle, to cook, to balance a checkbook, and more. Does Zuckerman imagine that today’s children have parents so inept and intellectually flaccid that no learning is occurring outside of school? If so, maybe that’s why the kids aren’t performing well at school!

I worry immensely about the scenario Zuckerman suggests: having a small, elite group of teachers instructing thousands of students via videoconferencing, with the elimination of state-level controls and of unions. It sounds like the perfect scenario for mass-scale indoctrination and for revisionist history. A few centralized political leaders could monopolize what information is taught, how, and by whom – standardized, unified content and delivery with few or no deviations, and the centralized ability to monitor all of the screens – while removing all structures and institutions that could provide impediments, resistance or criticism. Read the book or watch the film 1984. Zuckerman’s ideas smack of the same thinking. Assuming that no learning occurs at home, and that handpicking the “best” people to be teachers and paying them well to teach via two-way flat-screen TVs in every classroom is eerily similar to Orwell’s nightmarish prediction.

And of course . . . it would be for our own good and the improvement of society.

 

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