New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Stuck in the Pipeline

April 08, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Robert C. Koehler

Reclaiming the Future for Young People … and Us All

by Robert C. Koehler

Are the bad ideas dead yet? You know, the ones that have been hollowing out the country’s soul for the last 30 years.

In Atlanta, they just indicted 35 teachers, principals and administrators, including a former superintendent, for routinely altering their students’ standardized test results — and in all likelihood this massive fraud is an aberration only because the cheaters got caught.

Everything is at stake in these tests, so perhaps it’s dawning on us that fraud — by adults — is inevitable, but there’s a bigger issue here that continues to escape public outrage: The tests are stupid. They measure virtually nothing that matters, but monopolize the classroom politically. Teachers, under enormous pressure, are forced to teach to the tests rather than, you know, teach critical thinking or creative expression; and education is reduced to something rote, linear, and boring.

Standardized testing is part of the era of backlash the Reagan presidency ushered in, which has stopped progressive thinking in its political tracks. As our social problems have grown more complex over the last three decades, we’ve met them with increasingly simplistic solutions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of public education, which has become the plaything of political fanatics.

Indeed, high-stakes testing, in tandem with “zero tolerance,” militarized security and sadistic underfunding, has succeeded in warping public education beyond recognition, especially in low-income, zero-political-clout neighborhoods. And the result is kids in prison, kids on the streets, kids with no future.

And the result of that is violent urban neighborhoods. Last week I wrote about an audacious initiative by residents of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood to end violence in their community in ten years. Step one: Begin addressing the glaring social wound of “disconnected youth,” that is, young people — especially young people of color — who are neither in school nor have a job.

“Zero tolerance discipline and high-stakes testing policies have similar philosophical underpinnings and similar destructive results,” according to “Both stem from a 1980s movement to impose more punitive policies in both criminal justice and public education. Together, they have helped turn schools into hostile environments for many students. The end result is a ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ in which large numbers of students are pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Too many young people end up in prison, at a cost many times greater than that of a good education. It’s a senseless waste of resources and human potential, damaging to both individuals and society.”

And an extraordinary statement from an organization called Youth of Color makes this observation personal, giving resonance to a national week of action to end the school-to-prison pipeline and demilitarize school security:

“Too many of us have been shot and shot at. We have buried our friends and our family members. Nearly all of us have been to more funerals than graduations. No one wants the violence to stop more than we do.”

The statement continues: “We have been handcuffed and humiliated in front of other students and staff for ‘offenses’ as small as being late to school; detained in police interrogation rooms at our school; expelled from school for carrying nail clippers, markers or baseball caps; and arrested — even in elementary schools — for fights that used to be solved in the principal’s office. . . . These policies haven’t protected us, helped us to graduate or taught us anything about preventing violence. They have taught us to fear a badge, to hate school and to give up on our education.”

The time has come to declare an end to this entire era — of militarized racism, violent solutions to everything, the ever-widening schism between “us” and “them.” Any politician who kowtows to this simplistic agenda, or “bargains” with it, has made himself or herself irrelevant to a sustainable and healthy future, and should be declared thus.

Ending violence in our communities is a realistic focal point and immediately draws our attention to our bedeviled, militarized public education system. It’s not that the system didn’t have plenty of problems before the Reagan era, including historic racism and sexism, blindness toward bullying and a limited understanding of childhood development, but before we could get a handle on real change, backlash politics intervened, adding insult to injury.

Now we have to undo the recent damage, which has turned public education into a crisis. That means dumping the pretend science of high-stakes testing and valuing rather than criminalizing students of color; it also means moving from punishment- to healing-based systems of maintaining order, taking police and armed security guards out of the hallways and learning to value and respect young people more than we value metal detectors and surveillance cameras.

Before we can do anything else, we have to get our future out of the pipeline.

Robert C. Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer, and a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at [email protected], visit his website at, or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.

0 Comments to “Stuck in the Pipeline”

  1. More than 80 percent of West Philadelphia’s overwhelmingly African American student population comes from disadvantaged backgrounds. Four in ten don’t graduate. So the Philadelphia school district partnered with the nonprofit Philadelphia Academies, and in 1997, West Philadelphia High’s Academy of Applied Automotive and Mechanical Science (one of 24 such schools-within-a-school in the system) began a yearlong after-school project with an audacious goal: building an electric car. After their retrofitted battery-powered Saturn won a competition in 2002, the group turned its attention to creating an environmentally friendly hybrid that would be both fast and cool.

    A student group that includes high school dropouts and former gangbangers, these urban, inner-city kids take a rigorous science and math curriculum, including applied mathematics, physics, and electronics.

    For several years running, West Philadelphia’s cars have won top honors in the Tour de Sol, a national green car competition, defeating not only teams from colleges and universities, but also production vehicles from Toyota and Honda. The Academy turns out higher numbers of college-bound students than the school as a whole.

    In 2012, the West Philly Hybrid X Team won the Green Grand Prix at Watkins Glen NY – a competition billed as the only road rally for alternate-fuel vehicles in the United States – with their highly tuned Factory Five GTM powered by a Volkswagen TDI engine running on 100% biodiesel, beating all entries, even the much-touted Chevy Volt, GM’s fuel cell powered SUV and the Tesla Roadster, and averaged over 100 miles per gallon.

  2. We have to change public education as Robert demands.
    We have to adopt different strategies for learning as Robert Riversong illustrates. But the changes require alternative perspectives on education and learning.
    Paolo Friere, and Ivan Illich, declared that education has to be about learning communities, involving everybody, young and old, in the processes of learning new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. A closed, didactic prescriptive system, such as a national curriculum, is not adequate to these objectives.
    Such an alternative education is to move towards an open, process-based, negotiated curriculum which is based upon general learning outcomes, key skills and collaboration and participation.
    This involves a change from seeing education as teaching to seeing education as learning.
    Education as learning
    Education as Dialogue
    Education as Problem solving
    Education as negotiated curricula
    Education as Liberation
    Education as Virtual Learning
    Education as Green Living
    This alternative approach is not based on selection, streaming and meritocracy. It is based on mixed ability, topic-based, curriculum approaches in which the teacher, the learner and the community identify what is to be learned. These strategies are based on a respect for diversity; a recognition of our interdependence; that learners are in cooperation not competition; and that we are all learners.
    In fact, learning is living and takes place everywhere.
    In case you think that these ideas are ‘too modern’, it is worth reminding ourselves that they were also developed in the USA [1900 – 1950] by John Dewey, an instrumentalist, a pragmatist, who held that we learn through experience, by doing, and argued that greater emphasis should be placed on problem solving and critical thinking skills. Dewey emphasised that ‘teaching’ is too concerned with the delivery of knowledge. This needs to be balanced by a much greater concern with the students’ actual experiences, and active learning. He was an exponent of ‘experiential education’ based on project based learning, with the learners as active researchers.
    Education and Learning. The work of Bruner confirmed that the learner is active. Whereas ‘Teaching’ assumes that ‘learners’ are passive…..doing as they are told! Bruner emphasized that learning is a social process.
    What is learning? Learning is an active, social process in which students construct new ideas or concepts based on their current knowledge. The student selects the information, forms hypotheses and then integrates this new material into their own existing knowledge and mental constructs. This is a continual process.
    Learning occurs in three stages:
    Enactive – in which children need to experience the concrete (manipulating objects in their hands, touching a real dog) in order to understand.
    Iconic – students are able to represent materials graphically or mentally (they can do basic addition problems in their heads).
    Symbolic – students are able to use logic, higher order thinking skills and symbol systems, and understand statements like ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’.

    How are skills and knowledge acquired? These things are not acquired gradually, but more in a staircase pattern which consists of spurts and rests. Spurts are caused by certain concepts being understood. These concepts have to be mastered before others are acquired, before there is movement to the next step. These steps are not linked to age but more toward environment. Bruner felt that knowledge was best acquired when students were allowed to discover it on their own.
    ‘Learning as discovery’, arising from active social processes, will talk about learning spaces, not teaching rooms. These spaces can be in the field, forest, street, museum and classroom. The learners will not be organized in rows but in flexible patterns. Sometimes all age groups will be together, other times friends, and family groups. The knowledge is not prescribed, it is to be discovered. The teacher is not at a high desk at the front of the room, but is sitting with the learners: sometimes the learner, the leader, the adviser. Lessons are not a series of prescriptions, but a complex series of problems to be solved jointly. For those with access, the library is the world wide web with up-to-the minute information, facts, statistics. For others, the creative use of the local community and neighborhood can provide personal experiences and local knowledge from which to encourage investigation, and an innovative database. The communities of learners are actively involved in negotiating their studies with teachers who see their role as co-learners, organizing and structuring the learning experiences. This means that the teachers must themselves become learners, developing their skills in planning the presentation of problems and devising a supportive structure to guide learners in their explorations.
    go to……Discourse: Social Ecology/Education


1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. New Clear Vision (@newclearvision) 08 04 13

  • Welcome to NCV

    A (relatively) NEW blog filled with (generally) CLEAR intentions and a (positive) VISION for the future.
  • Latest Posts


    Since launching in 2010, we featured many inspiring writers on cutting-edge issues. In times of escalating crises, we sought to remain proactive rather than perpetually reactive, to not give more power to those who would co-opt the agenda, and to try turning visions in practice. We can critique what is and offer insights into what could be, without becoming embittered in the process. We weren't partisan, but we'll always stand on the side of those who desire peace with justice. We're not posting anymore new content as of 2017, but our archive will remain up and you can still find us on social media. We'll see you in the interwebs...
  • New! Thematic ‘Zines

  • Tags

  • Archives

  • NCV Bookmarks

    Peace Ecology
  • Green by DreamHost

    carbon neutral * renewable energy
    Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost.