child’s play in the NCLB era

I Just read through the Center on Education Policy’s “Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era” report. The report examines the effect that the No Child Left Behind act has had on curriculum and instructional time in public education in the 5 years since it was enacted. Unfortunately, the affect hasn’t been good – as one could imagine, there has been a large decrease in time spent on subjects/activities that are not the focus of federal oversight (i.e. social studies, science, art and music, physical education, lunch and/or recess) and an increase in time spent on those that are (i.e. English language arts & Math).

According to the report:

To accommodate this increased time in ELA and math, 44% of districts reported cutting time from one or more other subjects or activities (social studies, science, art and music, physical education, lunch and/or recess) at the elementary level. Again, the decreases reported by these districts were relatively large, adding up to a total of 141 minutes per week across all of these subjects, on average, or nearly 30 minutes per day. These decreases represent an average reduction of 31% in the total instructional time devoted to these subjects since 2001-02.

The report also indicates that the average number of minutes-per-week devoted to art/music, physical education and lunch/recess combined (among the school districts surveyed) was 490. Thats 13 minutes less than the total minutes-per-week devoted to English language arts alone (503 minutes-per-week). This is a large reduction in the amount of time dedicated to creative play during the school day. As the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) has noted, the role of play in development is an important one. Play, according to Vygotsky, creates a zone of proximal development which allows the child to act “above his daily behavior.” Through play, children can rework and act-out the social practices which they encounter in everyday life – particularly in school-life. What kind of learning can take place in an environment where children are only given the opportunity to receive information and spit it back out through testing? Its good to know that our lawmakers are hard at work reauthorizing this piece of legislation…

young people: victims, criminals… red herring

While reading Walter Lippmann’s “A Preface to Politics” my attention was mainly drawn to his discussion of the red herring. The red herring — a metaphor used to describe the obfuscation of, or distraction from, a particular object(ive) — is portrayed by Lippmann (1913, p261) as both “pest” and “benefit,” as a political maneuver which can be employed as “a matter of misrepresentation and spite” or as an “honest attempt to enlarge the scope of politics.” Having just given a presentation at the University of Surrey, which discussed the role of young people as both red herring and cultural innovators in current ‘debates’ over cyberspatial regulation, I took my unexpected discovery of Lippmann’s red herring analysis as sign of synchronicity.

Mitt Romney — former Governor of Massachusetts and current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination — has been noted for his upbeat, gee-whiz campaign style, channeling 1950s nostalgia and a return to the “good ol’ days.” A recent campaign ad titled “Ocean” (which caught my eye on c-span the other day) puts “the children” front and center. With imagery of children playing in the ocean, Mitt’s voice informs the public of his desire “to clean up the waters in which our children have been swimming.” Way to go Mitt!!! As a former Bostonian I’ve waited a long time for you to come around on environmental issues, so how do we clean up all the pollutants which permeate the waters in which our children have been swimming? What’s that Mitt – with censorship…?

Ah yes, pornography. Of course Mitt doesn’t want to actually “clean up” the waters in which our children swim, he just wants to “clean up” the media – to hell with the real water! Quoting a Peggy Noonan article (article here) written after the Columbine shootings, Mitt warns about the media “cesspool” in which our children are swimming and and states his intent “to keep pornography from coming up on their computers.” Hardly an instant of “enlarging the scope of politics” this use of young people as red herring serves as a distraction from the issues of media censorship and government surveillance and instead misrepresents them as a simple matter of protecting our children. Additionally, this discourse portrays young people as helpless victims who need to be saved — demoralizing their sense of agency — in order to rationalize an erosion of the public’s civil liberties. While Mitt’s commercial is just one example from a single presidential candidate, this discourse has been frequently employed by both media (such as NBC’s To Catch A Predator or Time Magazine’s “Cyberporn” issue) and the state to command the public’s attention. Look no further than the U.S. Attorney General and FBI Director’s recent argument that Google must turn over all emails, internet traffic records and internet search data to the government in order to battle the national threat of child pornography.Laying the civil liberties argument aside (for the moment), this “save the children!” harangue is having a chilling affect on childhood, particularly within youth spaces such as the home and the school. As Cindi Katz (2007) has argued, a sense of ontological insecurity is being socially reproduced in both parenting practices and childhood, transforming the home into a reflection of the state and thus normalizing the process of surveillance during childhood. Torin Monahan (2006) adds, that such practices — particularly within schools — portray young people as either “victims or criminals” who must be “protected or controlled.


But such a duality presents a false choice since neither option portrays the young person as a “citizen” who could actually be “engaged.” Either through processes of protection or control, agency is removed from the young person and feeds a citizenry that is either dependent on the state to filter its information, or one that is subjected to consistent “risk management” by the state. Under both conditions, a sense of ontological fear and insecurity is promoted, surveillance is normalized, and political disengagement becomes standardized. What was that about cleaning up the water Mitt???

Rather than using young people as a political ploy to prevent a real debate over the role of commerce and the state in surveillance and censorship, perhaps we should be engaging young people in the debate. After all, if they are the ones swimming in this “water” wouldn’t their input provide some much needed first-hand experience? Its seems to me that engaging young people as participants (not as victims or as criminals) in this “debate” would only serve to enlarge its scope and legitimate its outcome. What say you Mitt?

to catch a predator

Back in 2002, a school system in Tennessee paid Edutech Inc. a reported $131,590 to install CCTV surveillance cameras in its 7 schools. In at least one of these schools, the cameras were installed in the locker rooms. The recordings of 10-14 year-old boys and girls, which were produced from this covert surveillance, were stored on an unprotected computer which was accessible and were indeed accessed from outside and inside the school via the internet. Thus in their attempt to “save the children” one school’s careless surveillance actually produced and distributed child pornography. As one angry parent noted “It’s the parents’ position that no one … has the right to photograph their children getting undressed and no one has the right to make those images accessible over the Internet.”

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