Thinking Wars America:
1. The Processing Combatants

Posted by Bob on October 7th, 2007

The presidential candidate needed a domestic agenda. Education is a popular political cornerstone, especially since nobody knows what it does! Nobody knows why it does it! Nobody knows how it does it!

So his political “spinners” designed an educational “scam” directed toward marginalized minority children:

  1. “Dummy-down” a test of achievement so a high percent of kids can pass it.
  2. “Drop-out” those who do not pass it so that it looks like an even higher percentage have passed it.
  3. “Boot-strap” the test by tying it to “The Accountability Movement” and labeling it The Standards of Learning or SOL.
  4. “Gussy-up” the SOL by attaching it to the most elevated of ethical missions, “No Child Left Behind.”
  5. “Bait-and-Switch” the SOL by decentralizing accountability to each of the 50 states.

Voilé! Just like that, the “spinners” had thrown out a “sky-hook” and produced the centerpiece of the candidate’s domestic agenda.

What’s wrong with that, you ask?! Everything! In the vernacular of the Spinners, “This dog don’t hunt!”

For one thing, “show-off” test-makers design tests beyond their own capacities (it’s “The Pauper Principle” to go along with “The Peter Principle”).

For another thing, those fraudulent things which are dedicated to children in need are bound to accomplish the opposite effect indeed! They did! The children fell further behind!

On the one side of The Thinking Wars are those people who lead us retrogressively to the fast-disappearing Conditioned Responding standards of an earlier time. Led by politicians, these “Luddites” would have us achieve “Standards of Learning” defined in terms of requirements of The Industrial Age through which we passed 40 years ago.

On the other side of The Thinking Wars are those people who understand that in America today, nearly 80% of the jobs already require thinking skills. These people see the requirements for thinking escalating from Discriminative Learning Systems to Generative Thinking Systems. This is because the movement of globalization “farms out” production jobs requiring Conditioned Responding to “cheaper” employees from less educated cultures in more attenuated economies. Moreover, increasingly, globalization is also yielding service jobs requiring Discriminative Learning, including delivering services as well as producing products, to learning cultures and commoditizing economies.


  1. Rick Bellingham Says:

    Dear Bob,

    No Child Left Behind was a one dimensional intervention based on conditioned responding or rote memorization designed to prepare children for a past age. Standards are only relevant if you also take into account components, functions, processes, and conditions. Conditioned responding may work for test taking and the industrial age, but it is a limited approach with limiting consequences. The requirements in the global economy, particularly for America with its higher wages, are to continuously generate new ideas in response to changing conditions. Indeed, No Child Left Behind was incomplete, insufficent, and inappropriate for our times.

  2. George P. Banks Says:

    Dear Bob,

    One message I get from Rick Bellingham’s comment is that there is a serious disconnection between the nature and practice of NCLB policy or our nation’s educational direction and the extraordinary demands of rapid change and requirements for which our young people need to be prepared.

    Bob, from Rick’s perspective and your Freedom-cast the point for me is that the leaders and promoters of the “Accountability Movement” have overlooked the most important element of their undertaking, that being their own responsibility and accountability as leaders. I believe any professional educator’s “high quality” education included coursework on educational assessment. From that application of scientific tools we know that one major requirement of assessment is validation. This involves criterion validation (most importantly predictive) or establishing the relationship between our educational assessment results for students and results related to assessments of future criterion performances of these young people in areas such as work productivity and innovation.

    For all of the emphasis on standards and accountability at state and national levels of education, WHERE ARE THE ONGOING PREEDICTIVE VALIDATION STUDIES RELATING WHAT ARE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE LEARNING IN EDUCATION TO WHAT REQUIREMENTS THEY WILL FACE? With this lack of responsibility we are promoting the “at risk” status of minority and disenfranchised students, and we are expanding the ranks of the “at-risk” children to include the so-called “cream of the crop.”

    To me this lack of irresponsibility and accountability looks like, feels like, smells like EDUCATIONAL MALPRACTICE!!!

    Thank you.

    George P.

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