Sunday, November 10, 2019

Show-Trial Rhetoric Took Down Ascend Charter's Founder - The Atlantic

Show-Trial Rhetoric Took Down Ascend Charter's Founder - The Atlantic

The Show-Trial Rhetoric That Took Down a Charter-School Founder
About 10 years ago, Steven Wilson founded the Ascend charter school in Brooklyn. Ascend is now a network with 15 schools; they serve mostly poor kids of color from kindergarten to high-school age, and they work. Test scores there outstrip New York City averages. Some charter schools have become notorious for excessively punitive discipline; Ascend examined and revised its disciplinary practices in response.
Social justice in action, no? But Wilson is white, he sees excesses in the far left’s take on classroom education, he deigned to say so in an obscure blog post this summer—and he seems to have been fired as a result.
The group “Friends of Ascend” initiated a petition titled “Hold the CEO of Ascend Public Charter Schools Accountable for White Supremacist Rhetoric.” More than 500 signed it, and out Wilson went. Julia Bator, a co-chair of the Ascend board, told staff that the board’s “decision is not the result of a single event or a simple reaction to recent unrest.” She said in an interview with Chalkbeat that the board examined Wilson’s record after the blog post and that Ascend had fallen behind on “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” However, I suspect that minus the blog post, Wilson would still have his job, and the petition remains Exhibit A of what has become an extremely problematic—to recruit a term popular with the set in question—form of expression in modern educated America.
In his blog post, Wilson makes a series of rather well-known points against progressive educational philosophy, familiar from E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacyand Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. Wilson decries how the pushback against traditional education, with its rote learning and culturally narrow range of perspectives, has often entailed a pendulum swing too far in the other direction, toward a gauzy “student-focused” approach that deemphasizes the authority of the teacher or, most disturbingly, the learning of facts.
Wilson’s problem is with people such as Rousseau and John Dewey and even Dwight D. Eisenhower, who espoused what Wilson considers anti-intellectual ideas about how and what children should learn. (These targets make for a distinctly odd assemblage in a blog post that Friends of Ascend has tarred as white supremacist.) Wilson also notes that some civil-rights advocates have taken a cue from this current in educational philosophy, and he takes a swipe at identity-obsessed activists. That is what got him fired—but it’s only the basis of utter misunderstanding.
The writers of the petition only fitfully comprehend even the basic logic of Wilson’s points. Wilson observes in his blog post that “liberal education is under fresh attack, this time as ‘whiteness.’” The petition states, “This claim equates a liberal education with ‘whiteness,’” the very opposite of Wilson’s argument. “The underlying message here,” say the petition writers, “is that a liberal education is whiteness, whiteness is therefore intellectual, and any challenge to a liberal education is a challenge to whiteness, so any challenge to whiteness is anti-intellectual.” Even following the rather tortuous logic here, Wilson gives no indication of thinking that all challenges to something as vast as white hegemony qualify as anti-intellectualism.
Wilson also notes that in the past, some civil-rights activists wanted to relax scholastic requirements for poor black students. They supposed that the burdens of racism were so onerous that it was unreasonable to require “students of color to undertake demanding academic work,” and they suggested that schools stress visual and active learning over reading and discussion. The petitioners claim that this observation is “historically inaccurate.” But history backs Wilson up, and makes for odd reading from the vantage point of 2019. In 1987, for instance, the New York State Board of Regents distributed a booklet claiming that black kids prefer “inferential reasoning rather than deductive or inductive reasoning” and  CONTINUE READING: Show-Trial Rhetoric Took Down Ascend Charter's Founder - The Atlantic

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