Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Mechanical Genius" and Education "Reformy" Stuff #SOL16 Day 29/31

*A big thank you to Stacey, Dana, Anna, Betsy, Beth, and Tara for running the SOL blogging challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. 
Tis the season of high-stakes testing. For students in my state, the good times begin rolling next week, at which point our school of nearly 1,500 students will begin the dance of circus clowns mandated by all the education reformites, a.k.a. federal mandates under the revised ESEA and State of Idaho legislature mandates.

Since Idaho tends to be two decades behind times, we're at the zenith of standardized testing. That means our students will take more tests this year than in any previous year and that the stakes are higher now than at any other time since the dark ages of education reform began in 2001 with No Child Left Behind.

To prepare for the testing prom, we met as a staff for professional development, which today meant testing duties. We have two high-stakes tests, the ISAT battery of tests sophomores take and the SAT test the state mandates all juniors take on April 12.

The age of education reform reminds me of "The Mechanical Genius," a story in V. S. Naipaul's Miguel Street.

In the story Bhakcu, the narrator's uncle, likes to work on cars. Indeed, the narrator describes his uncle as always having cars and always working on the cars he acquires.

I don’t think he always approved of the manufacturers’ designs, however, for he was always pulling engines to bits.

The reform-maestros operate like Bhakcu. They acquire and dismantle the nuts and bolts of schools regardless of the school's mechanical worthiness. They swoop in for the acquisition and dismember it until one day it falls right on them, as did one of Bhakcu's cars.

‘Man,’ she whispered, ‘you all right?’ 

He groaned a little more loudly. 

He said, ‘How the hell I all right? You mean you so blind you ain’t see the whole motor-car break up my arse?’ 

Mrs Bhakcu, dutiful wife, began to cry afresh.... 

Hat,’ Mrs Bhakcu called, ‘Hat, come quick. A whole motor-car fall on he?’....‘You know what I always does say,’ Hat said. ‘When you play the ass you bound to catch hell. The blasted car brand-new. What the hell he was tinkering with so?’

Hat arrives to help He (the pronoun Bhakcu's wife uses in place of his name) only to have Bhakcu threaten to "beat up" Hat, the very one there to help lift the car from him.

This paradigm of breaking and fixing and beating continues throughout the story as it has in the21st Century of reform. First, Bhakcu thinks the problem is the crank-shaft, next the brakes, and so on. 

As Hat continues rescuing Bhakcu, educators persist in working within a system politicians insist on breaking and rebreaking. 

Hat said, ‘Look, I just sick of lifting up motor-car from off you, you hear. If you want my advice, you better send for a proper mechanic’ 

Bhakcu wasn’t listening. 

He said to his wife, ‘The crank-shaft was all right. Is something else.’

Still, Bhakcu insists on "fixing" the car. Similarly, after scratching their arses, Congress decided to overhaul No Child Left Behind following a series of waivers for states unable to meet AYP, on the heels of the Opt Out movement, after seeing the failed roll-out of CCSS, etc. But the new reforms, the so-called fixes and ousting of NCLB in favor of a so-called return to state control has done little to stem the tide of destruction. 

To wit: Today our testing coordinator told us that the legislature reversed its initial mandate that students only had to participate in ISAT testing to mandating passing the test as a graduation requirement. High-stakes testing is akin to Bhakcu's new car, the one he's "fixing." 

One day Hat and the narrator saw the car speeding down Miguel Street, unable to stop. Behind the wheel, Bhakcu waved his arms in warning signals. When the car did eventually stop just before crashing, Bhakcu exclaimed: 

‘I did mashing down the brakes since I turn Miguel Street, but the brakes ain’t working. Is a funny thing. I overhaul the brakes just this morning.’ 

Hat said, ‘It have two things for you to do. Overhaul your head or haul your arse away before you get people in trouble.’

Like Bhakcu, the reformsters don't get it. They blame students. Mostly, they blame teachers for the problems they perceive with public education. And it's always public schools that incur their wrath. They beat the ones they damage with their political posturing. Bhakcu beat his wife and justified the beatings by his anger. 

But the real reason for his temper was that he couldn't put back the engine as he had found it. Two or three pieces remained outside and they puzzled him.

Educators and students are left with the detritus of the mechanical geniuses in the refomster movement, left with the pieces that no longer fit. 
Image via Google Images Labeled for Non-commercial reuse.


  1. My heart is saddened to see the similarities between this story and what is happening in education. Our testing madness is upon us also.

    1. When the so-called revision of ESEA came out a couple of months ago I knew it wouldn't make a positive difference. That states had already drunk the Kool-Aid, so here we are torturing our students w/ more of the same madness.

  2. It makes me very sad. I keep hoping the culture will swing the other way. I have been disappointed in what our last two presidents have done with education (I can't really say much about what Bill Clinton may have done, as I wasn't in education long enough by the time Bush was elected). We need a real teacher as Secretary of Education. Here's hoping that will happen after the election.

    1. Clinton's Goals 2000 helped set the stage for Bush's "reforms." I actually think we've been on this anti-public education road since 1983 when "A Nation at Risk" was published. That study has since been debunked repeatedly, but sometimes the crap sticks, regardless of how we try to scrape it off. I totally agree that we need a real teacher leading the Department of Education, and that should have been Linda Darling-Hammond in Obama's cabinet.

  3. You did a great job of comparing our current fiasco with the story. You made some excellent points. Sadly I am not sure how we put this "Geni back in the jar".

  4. You did a great job of comparing our current fiasco with the story. You made some excellent points. Sadly I am not sure how we put this "Geni back in the jar".