Beware the Roadbuilders 2021

Beware the roadbuilders. They are not here to serve you, they are on their way to bulldoze right over you.

Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

I entered the classroom as a high school English teacher in Upstate South Carolina in the fall of 1984, coinciding with the start of the high-stakes accountability movement in my home state as well as across the U.S.

Many people identify the Nation at Risk report under Ronald Reagan as ground zero for the accountability movement that entrenched patterns of school reform lasting until today — ever-changing standards, ever-changing high-stakes tests, and a never-ending refrain that schools are failing.

George W. Bush brought state-level education reform/accountability to the federal level with the bi-partisan No Child Left Behind, and then Barack Obama doubled down on the same basic concepts and approaches despite decades of accountability measures not working.

As a result, when I entered the world of blogging and public commentary during Obama’s administration, I found two enduring and powerful metaphors for the essential flaws of the accountability/education reform movement.

One is from Oscar Wilde: “But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.”

And the other is inspired by a scene from Alice Walker’s , detailed in a letter from Nettie to Celie:

From this, I drew a conclusion that has served as a guiding metaphor for my criticism of the education reform movement and the title of one of my books, (Garn Press): “Beware the roadbuilders. They are not here to serve you, they are on their way to bulldoze right over you.”

I have come back to this metaphor as both ongoing criticism and confirmation that accountability is a failed approach to education reform.

One element of the tension between the accountability/education reform movement and those of us committed to education and social reform grounded in equity (and not accountability) is the that universal public education has a long history of failing marginalized and oppressed populations of students, reflecting the larger failures of communities, states, and the broader U.S. to serve marginalized and oppressed people.

It is 2021, and in my home state of SC, the metaphor I have depended on is being vividly and callously brought to reality:

It is 2021, and I must reach the same conclusion I drew in 2014:

Recommended

‘White Men’s Roads Through Black Men’s Homes’: Advancing Racial Equity Through Highway Reconstruction, Deborah N. Archer

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/