Literacy and The Bush Legacy ©

© copyright 2005 Betsy L. Angert

I am baffled by the Bush budget, by the Bush family legacy, by Barbara, by Laura, and by the manner in which each of these mesh.

I remember a time when Barbara Bush was First Lady.  She was outspoken in her strong support of programs that promote literacy.  She was quite concerned for the youth of this country; she feared that many young people were growing up in homes where reading and writing were not habits.  Mrs. Bush was troubled by the realization that parents were not reading to, or with, their offspring.  She concluded that if children did not have literate parents, they were less likely to become literate themselves.  She staunchly suggested that America needed to become academically competent, that this must be a priority, a priority within our homes, and a priority for our Nation.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush was consumed in her concern, so much so that she decided to publicly promote policies that encouraged families to learn together.  Ultimately, she founded The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.  Thus, the Bush legacy for literacy began.

Laura followed Barbara.  Laura Bush is a teacher, a librarian, and a woman committed to the idea of advancing knowledge.  She says her “whole life has been devoted to the advocacy of children.”  Laura looks at reading and writing in manners that seem more expansive than those of her mother-in-law.  For Mrs. Laura Bush the focus on literacy extends beyond the family; our current First Lady speaks of the need to teach reading and writing in our schools.

This Thursday evening, February 10, 2005, Jim Lehrer of The News Hour interviewed Mrs. Bush.  He and the First Lady discussed her most pressing concern, improving the lives of boys.  Throughout the dialogue, she mentioned that much of what is true for boys is also applicable to girls.

In sharing her thoughts, Laura Bush stated that today, many parents are not fully literate.  Frequently, parents cannot read or write and therefore they are not able to model these for their children.  She offered that countless numbers of our young Americans live with single parents, working parents, non-English speaking immigrant parents, parents that cannot or do not actively have the time or ability to teach their children erudition.  Mrs. Bush asserted that schools and communities are often a child’s only resource, hence, role models and mentors are, or must be, found outside the home.  It is for this reason Laura looks beyond the family in her desire to facilitate literacy.  Thus, the legacy continues and grows.

President George W.  Bush may be following Laura or as he said at a recent event, they may actually be walking hand-in-hand. In the text of a speech made by the President and reported in The Washington Post, Mr. Bush stated that he and his wife share “the same passion . . . and that is to put systems in place to encourage every child to learn to read.”  He went on to say, “You cannot achieve in America if you cannot read.  And yet too many of our children cannot read.”  Mr. Bush, along with his wife, and mother, chooses to carry the torch of literacy, and the legacy marches on.

"Native ability without education is like a tree without fruit."
Aristippus [Founder of Cyrenaic School of Philosophy 430 B. C.]

Our current President considers himself a champion in the arena of education.  He believes that his program, “No Child Left Behind,” is the shining light of his career; and he desires to expand it, placing the plan in our Nation’s high schools.  His proponents often offer that NCLB is among the thousand “points of light,” those mentioned by his father, Former President Bush.  The intention of this plan is to emphasize school “accountability”; for George W. Bush believes that if schools can prove that they are accountable than we can validate with certainty, that students are learning.

Says our President, “If you believe every child can learn, then it makes sense to measure to determine whether every child is learning.”  He continues, “That’s called accountability, accountability for results. Accountability is so crucial to achieve our goal for every child learning to read, write, and add and subtract.

In his efforts to ensure that our Nation’s schools are answerable for student learning and literacy, the President constructed this program [NCLB], one that standardizes education, educational policies, and practices.  He professes that standards will result in proficiency. The plan imposes identical criterion for all schools; measures must be met, or schools will suffer the consequences.  There is little to no consideration for the culture of the community; the variance within a student population does not alter this uniform testing structure.  Rural, urban, suburban, and home schools are all assessed as though they are the same. All are treated equally.

Schools are expected to improve. There are rewards for increasing tallies and penalties for other results.  Pupils’ test scores determine success. Students’ progress, portfolios, and overall performance are not examined.  This plan and the President’s ponderings do not consider that better test scores do not necessarily give rise to better schools; nor do they guarantee superior student aptitudes. An idea that is lost in the shuffle, the shuffling of paperwork, is that high test-scores do not reap literacy or authentic learning.

However, this idea is not lost among educators.  In a report titled "No Child Left Behind,” Comments and Concerns, published in October 2002, School Administrators of Iowa addressed this concern.  They stated, “extensive testing doesn’t make students smarter, more knowledgeable, or more likely to succeed.  What it does do is detract from educators’ legitimate efforts to do so.”

Nonetheless, the President continues in his quest, he is expanding his horizons.  No matter what experts in education present, no matter the volume of dissent from districts, diocese, corporations that deliver instructional services, and even from students, Bush continues to believe that incentives for improving scores are incentives for improving schools.

Mr. Bush believes that high-test scores do validate student learning. Thus, President Bush is now asking Congress to increase the funding, the breadth, and scope of “No Child Left Behind,” he is also asking to increase spending for many other school initiatives that measure “success.”

Therefore, my befuddlement; it is my experience that outstanding scores do not truly reflect scholarship and. or literacy. When others share their personal experiences, I discover they are similar to my own.  As I read research and pedagogical presentations, I discern an understanding for my confusion.  There seems to be an agreement, assessing comprehension, and a curriculum is important.  There is also a shared acknowledgement, validating these can be quite a challenge.

Rachel B. Tompkins, President of the Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) in Washington, wrote, “No one argues with the lofty goals of this legislation.  No one argues that accountability is not a good thing.  What is wrong with the No Child Left Behind Act is that its cookie- cutter approach, like many other well-meaning, one-size-fits-all education policies, will almost certainly leave rural schools, and rural children behind.”

This opinion is echoed throughout the land; it is not heard only in rural communities, the same distress is voiced in urban, suburban, and home schools.  Students and staffs are among the protestors, each protesting the limitations of this policy.  Yet, their shouts are as silence, they fall on deaf ears.  It seems to me that many of us are so saturated in a world of statistics, that we have become comfortable with the concept of calculating success.  We believe that statistics represent truth.  As adults, we deal with data.  When we deliberate, we state that we want, “Just the facts.”  We forget that what might be fact for one many be fiction for another.

A concept is stronger than a fact.
Charlotte P. Gillman [1860-1935, Writer]

We forget what we once experienced.  We do not vividly recall the struggles we had as a student.  Therefore, I offer the subsequent scenarios in hopes that they will evoke much reflection.  I believe that these tales are ones that we all, or at least most of us, can relate to.  I also provide theory.

After ruminating on your own experiences of authentic learning and digesting pedagogical principles, please read and review the proposed Bush budget 2006.  Once done, assess for yourself.  If you too experience that “education,” “evaluation,” and “effectiveness,” are all unique entities that they must work together if we are to ensure maximum benefits, if you find it as fascinating as I, that President Bush advocates literacy and learning and then focuses solely on “accountability,” then possibly, you, I, and we as a society can act together; we can choose to truly empower our culture, our classrooms, our communities, and our children.  I hope that we will.

Here is the first of two scenarios that I am presenting.  Please recall a time when you took a test and failed though you knew the material well.  Were you distracted by our own life?  Were you possibly ill?  Did you not sleep well?  Were you experiencing excessive stresses?  Was the exam written in a manner that was less than compatible with the way that you learn?  Were the directions vague or at least, did they seem so to you?  Was the evaluation or the evaluator objective?  Were there other possibilities that caused you to perform poorly?

Perhaps, you are among the rare ones that never failed an exam; therefore, you cannot relate to this tale.  If so, I offer another.  I ask you to remember a time when you studied for an exam; you jammed and crammed your skull full of what you might have thought to be meaningless facts, figures, formulas, and findings.  Possibly, you slept with your head on your books; you may have hoped that the data would diffuse into your brain.  As you walked or drove to class, you continued to force-feed your mind. You wanted to meld with the material. Then, you took the test, and you did well; you did very well. You scored a grade of “A+” and yet, minutes, hours, days, months, and years later you can recall little if any of that information.

The reason: memorization is not learning.  What we commit to memory if not personally real and relevant will not be ours.  We will not and do not retain what we cannot relate to deeply.  We do not incorporate and internalize information that we experience as repetitive, unyielding, or rehearsed.

It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.
Alec Bourne, From A Doctor’s Creed, Deputy Director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Therefore, I propose that accurate evaluations must consider the process and progression of learning; they must consider that understanding does not occur in an instant.  It is vital to accept that what is effective teaching for one student can be a terrible trauma for another.  There must be awareness for the uniqueness of students, staffs, schools, and subjects.  We must acknowledge that “accountability” is a nice idea in the abstract; however, people and pupils are not abstractions.  They are concrete, complex, and the manner in which they achieve comprehension differs.  We must be willing to admit that competency cannot be determined in a single moment.  Nor can the results of a test or two establish true scholarship.  However, “No Child Left Behind” and other Bush proposals for education in 2006 consider none of these.  They focus on “accountability” rather than literacy or learning.

Let us look at the limited perspective of our President and his ideas on literacy.  Mr. Bush focuses on a credo of facts and figures; he muses that these must be delivered, and studied with diligence.  He banishes the likelihood that learning is as Benjamin Bloom offered in his Taxonomy: findings and formulas are only a foundation for knowledge.

A fact in itself is nothing.  It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or the proof which it furnishes.
Claude Bernard [1813-1878 Leading French Physiologist]

To cement these we need to analyze, assimilate, synthesize, and evaluate the material. Then, after engaging in these practices fully, we need to use the information and tools to create anew.  The Bush proposals acknowledge none of this.  As stated earlier, as expressed by the President, and as evident in his plans for education, he only address accountability.  There is no consideration for the stability of scholarship.

Mr. Bush is correct, the groundwork is important; the need to confirm comprehension is vital.  However, he seems to forget that there are ways to present information and to confirm comprehension that are expansive and flexible.  Can we not choose to adopt forms that are more fluid?  Might we think through all the possibilities and probabilities?  Might we also be cognizant of how individuals differ, how schools differ, how situations differ?  Might we modify our methods, and attend to the differences?  Might we prepare for the uniqueness of pupils, of people, of populations, and acknowledge these in our policies?  Might we accept that learners and learning do not simply fit into a box of “standard,” sub-standard, or superior?

Academicians and others acknowledge that there are pedagogical principles that speak to the significant difference in students, the difference in their learning styles?  Educators such as Howard Gardner offer his work with Multiple Intelligences.  These theories provide us with possibilities for improving our schools.  Daniel Goleman speaks of Emotional Intelligence; he presents incredible insights into the process of learning.  Then there are the concepts of Authentic Assessment and Portfolio Reviews.  Each of these addresses the truth of literacy and learning.  Literacy is more than merely being able to read, write, and compute at a basic level.  Literacy and learning are substantive concepts and cannot be scored simply.   Accountability is one part of the taxonomy of evaluation.

I believe that before we assess accountability, we must first, consider our definition and our vision for education.  Do we want to fill the minds of our children with facts, figures, and formulas, those that have little depth and meaning, or would we prefer to cultivate curiosity, creativity, innovation, invention, and imagination?

Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own. – Confucian text

In defining education, I wish to offer two thoughts from a man that most of us experience as a genius, Einstein was a great man, a scientist, and a scholar, though notably, he was a poor student.  His grades did not account for his learning.  Many of his teachers assumed that young Albert was therefore not absorbing information; his understanding was not visible in a conventional sense.  Now, in retrospect, we know that he was grasping all that was placed before him.  He captured the concepts of arithmetic, reading, and writing skills.  He also retained his ability to imagine.  This exalted man, in his later years was often heard to say,
The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education, He also expressed that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Albert Einstein

I wonder how many of us feel much of what Einstein expressed. How much of what we learned in school was a help, how much a hindrance, how much added to our scholarship and to our success?  Did teachers encourage us to think for ourselves?  Did our schooling foster curiosity, creativity, and a flourishing imagination or were these quelled in favor of following the lead of a mandated curriculum?

Did we, as Einstein, receive grades that were not reflections of our learning?  How often did we feel that attempts to calculate our competency were inaccurate?  Did our scores properly evaluate all that we learned?  Did our grades truly assess our achievements?  Were our assignments or the tests we took tailored to the manner in which we learn or were they rote and routine.  Did examinations ask us to regurgitate information just as it had been delivered to us?  Were these appraisals offered only in written forms?  Were we ever evaluated on what we said aloud?  Were our creations a substantial consideration? Is anyone able to objectively calculate our capacity or our creativity?  If exams offer only rigid forms of evaluation, will the results really reveal the acquisition of knowledge?

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.
Ignacio Estrada, Administrator, National University of Colombia

I offer these perspectives and ask each of us, as persons that have been pupils at some time in our lives, and as people that can choose to be either part of the problem or part of the solution, and as voters to consider the possibility that assessing accountability through testing and statistics is extremely limited.  Rarely do these methods accurately determine the quality of scholarship or that of our schools.

When we evaluate literacy strictly through test scores, we are often estimating the ability of students to memorize, to mock, or mimic their mentors.  I believe that education differs from accountability, just as memorization differs from learning.  The two are not synonymous.

I believe that means and medians do not genuinely measure learning, nor do scores and statistics authentically evaluate the effectiveness of an educator or the education.  Assessments do not accurately analyze the credibility of a curriculum.  Often they calculate only the strategy a student uses in test taking or their ability to guesstimate, estimate, and merely memorize material for a moment.  Though test taking is a skill, it does not correlate to problem solving in the “real” world.  Therefore, I ask Mr. Bush, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Members of Congress, Barbara, Laura, parents, former, and present pupils to consider the policy that dictates “accountability” and consider one that creates authenticity in learning and in literacy.  I ask them to also think through their wants and the true Bush legacy.

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
R. M. Hutchins [American Educator, Author, The University of Utopia and The Learning Society, Board Editor for Encyclopedia Britannica]

I beg of you, please ponder the scenarios that I presented.  Reflect upon your own education, and if you are able, acknowledge that there were times that you “knew your stuff’ and yet received scores that did not show this; if there were times that you tested well and yet, now, you recall little if any of what you “learned,” then look at proposed Bush budget 2006 and consider the contrast.  Spending for 2006 focuses on “accountability,” measurements, and means testing.  Monies for literacy, learning, and imaginative lessons were removed.

For your review, I offer the specifics of the Bush budget 2006 as it applies to education, literacy, and “accountability.”

According to the National School Boards Association, in his recent 2006 budget submission, Mr. Bush is requesting $1.5 billion for high school reforms, $1.2 billion to finance a High School Intervention Initiative, and an endowment of $250 million.  These later funds will be used to measure student performances in the areas of reading, language arts, and high school math.  Each of these proposals demonstrates that the President is truly committed to our schools, to literacy, and to the need for greater accountability.

While Mr. Bush wishes to expand and endorse programs that improve our educational system, he also desires to reduce our Nation’s deficit.  The afore-mentioned endorsements are costly, and therefore, the President feels a need to “consolidate, reduce, or eliminate” other programs, even other educational programs.

In his effort to balance the books, he intends to merge, moderate, and purge programs such as . . .

  • Vocational Education [$1.19 billion]
  • Upward Bound, Smaller Learning Communities [$94.5 million]
  • Even Start [$225.1 million] literacy grants
  • Safe and Drug Free Schools State Grants [$437.4 million]
  • Education Technology grants [$496 million]
  • Teacher Quality Enhancement [$68.3 million]
  • Comprehensive School Reform [$205.3 million]

    Among the other programs slated for termination is the Title V, plan.  This is a State Grant for Innovative Programs.  For 2006, the President is requesting an allotment of $100 million.  This contrasts with the 2005 distribution of $198.4 million.  The Administration states that this discrepancy is dictated by the need to address priorities that they consider more serious, mainly, the priority of “accountability."  They offer, “The reduced request reflects a decision to redirect funding to higher-priority activities that are better targeted to national needs and have stronger accountability mechanisms.

    The President is also choosing to eliminate financial support for Teacher Quality Enhancement initiatives.  Currently, these benefits [$68.3 million] are used to “recruit, prepare, license, and support teachers.”  The Administration suggests that the activities initiated within this program can be accomplished through the auspices of other federal programs.

    In total, 150 programs will be impacted.  In a report released by Oxford Analytic report, and published in, “Forty-eight of these are administered by the Education Department.”

    You may wish to read other commentaries on the Bush Budget and its affects on Education.

  • BuzzFlash features, “Bush Budget’s Hit List Includes Children
  • Here’s What’s Left writes of Bush’s Budget Cuts: Education
  • International Reading Association offers a discussion on the Issues in Literacy
  • The Power Of Propaganda ©

    They and he plot, plan, and then the ploy . . .
    Pay pundits to pass on the message.
    Massage the message through the media.
    Create what appears to be a news-broadcast, and is in actuality,
    An advertisement for their, for his, agenda!

    They and he do this with programs such as Medicare.
    They and he seek the support of those most involved and most influential.
    The American Association of Retired Persons,
    An organization that was once an advocate for those that worked hard all their lives,
    So that they might enjoy their elder years,
    Is now, another authorized insurance establishment,
    One with their own interests in mind, and just as his,
    Making more money is behind their actions.

    They and he present programs that stress success,
    [Please read further for the rest of my reflections. See below.]

    Also offered are these reports on Medicare Reform, ‘No Child Left Behind,’ and Social Security.
    Please review "GAO: Bush Administration Illegally Used Taxpayer Funds for Medicare Propaganda"
    Please weigh the words in “The San Diego Union-Tribune, Who will profit from Medicare reform?"
    Please pursue further, ‘Every Child Left Behind,’ By Britt Robson"
    Please ponder this offering, "Washington Post, Administration Paid Commentator, By Howard Kurtz"
    Please read and reflect, New York Times, Social Security Bashing: A Historical Perspective

    After, Another, "Max Speaks" on Social Security and more listen

    Particularly the success of our youth, for they are our future.
    Their words and his well in our hearts, “leave no child behind,”
    Yet, once the structure is in place, throughout the country, children are being left further behind.
    No matter. For they and he know how to set the stage and construct as they desire.
    There are ample protests,
    Professional educators, after experiencing the delivery and inequity of this plan,
    Dissent most loudly.
    They propose addressing the uniqueness of situations, schools, and students.
    Nonetheless, the program is his pride.
    Present an offer to a public figure, one with a wide audience; an offer that he cannot refuse.
    Well, he could if he were a man of ethics; however, he is as he is.
    Have him present the propaganda, the plan, and the precedent.
    Have him sing the praises of “No Child Left Behind,”
    Then, let the people decide;
    However, give them only the information that is deemed desirable.

    Now there is Social Security.
    Slam the substance; damn the dynamics of history, and inflate the hype!
    Say that there is no security in Social Security
    Ignore that we are strong and stable with certainty for at least another thirty years.
    That is if we do not dip into the funds to deflate our deficit.
    Dismiss the changes that were made more than a decade ago, those that shaped a surplus.
    Forget the folly of the past, the less-than-predictable market,
    Overlook the monies available to each and every individual to invest.
    Say that the system is in crisis; create it through the words,
    “Say it often enough, and they will believe” this too.