Education Letter to the Editor

On National Standards: ‘Cant and Pettifoggery’

April 02, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

Rudy Crew, Paul Vallas, and Michael Casserly’s Commentary “The Case for National Standards in American Education” (March 7, 2007) makes no case quite so well as the one that suggests you can ascend to pivotal positions in education in this country with an inordinately shallow understanding of what education is for, and how it functions best.

Teaching and learning is of necessity, and always has been, a local act, one that occurs best when teachers know their students well. Master teachers use such knowledge to make curricular and instructional decisions that make sense given the history and abilities of a student; given where the student and his or her family reside; and, indeed, given where the school itself is located. In short, learning requires context.

Messrs. Crew, Vallas, and Casserly would have us totally decontextualize school curriculum by moving it as far away from the teacher-student relationship as one can possible get—all the way to the national level.

For justification, they fall back on typical cant and pettifoggery. National standards, they write, will enable us to build “a foundation for the future economic well-being of the United States.” And not only this. We will also “give all our young people a real shot at the American dream.” Really? Had we only known this earlier.

If the authors had done no more than take a good look at who supports national standards, it might have raised a few red flags. To the contrary, they insinuate that because the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is supportive, the rest of us should climb on the bandwagon. But you can bet there’s no such ignorance at the Fordham Foundation. They are well aware of the fact that totally decontextualizing America’s curriculum would create an even more deadening school experience—one that would preserve the American plutocracy they exist to protect. Yes, they’re all for national standards, and there’s no mystery there. But school superintendents? That’s indeed sad.

Paul Theobald

Buffalo, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2007 edition of Education Week as On National Standards: ‘Cant and Pettifoggery’