Having completed Christensen’s book “Disrupting Class”, I wanted to ruminate on it for a moment. I found the final chapter to be representative of the whole book: the author identifies some important issues in education but proposes solutions that ignore much of the practical and political reality surrounding education.
For instance, he argues that district schools should not view charters as competition so that they can allow themselves to learn from them. This completely avoids two important facts: 1) Many charter school organizations view themselves as competing against district schools, making it pretty hard for district schools to not reciprocate. 2) Even if the charter organizations themselves don’t see themselves that way, there are politicians and influential voices in education who absolutely want charters and privatized schools to replace public schools. Though Christensen later acknowledges briefly the folly of directly comparing district and charter schools and basing policy on such comparisons, his argument plays right into the hands of those who would do just that.
Furthermore, when Christensen correctly points out that charter schools are better able to innovate and try something new, he fails to point out that this is the case largely because of legal exemptions which charters receive in terms of instruction, curriculum, etc, which district schools do not receive. Certainly, there are structural barriers to innovation in district schools, but many of those could and would be alleviated if those schools were allowed the same freedom under (or from) the law that charters are granted.
Also, Christensen argues both for schools that teach in a very specific way to a very specific student population. First of all, though I certainly don’t think this was his intent, he is making an argument for (though not necessarily racial) some form of segregation in schools. Now, if it’s by learning style, I don’t think that’s inherently unethical or anything like that, but when we start grouping students by their “life circumstances” then we get into dangerous territory.
While, again, a suggestion for such customization has its strengths, it directly flies in the face of another of Christensen’s suggestions: allowing parents to choose their child’s school each year. If both recommendations were followed, schools would take the time to train teachers in a very specific pedagogical style to fit the very specific pedagogical needs of their very specific student body. There would need to be a number of teachers trained in that manner proportionate to the number of students whose parents had placed them in that school. If, for instance, there was a significant change in how many parents wanted their children to attend each school from one year to the next, the district would then need to dramatically retrain large numbers of teachers in a very short period of time in order to deliver the type and quality of instruction the the author calls for. Obviously, this would create unsustainable and totally impractical staffing needs.
Once again, I think the problems Christensen finds are very important ones which need to be addressed by our society. Where I find fault, though, is that his solutions are often impractical and/or they give fuel to a certain conservative, Ayn Rand-ish view of the world which contends that education needs to fix its own problems as well as society’s and if it doesn’t it should be eliminated.