Sketch by Richard Feynman.
Chicago teachers were justifiably pissed when Governor Rauner’s secret emails related to the SUPES scandal were ordered released to the public by a judge.
The five year old emails were part of a policy debate among members of the Chicago Public Education Fund. The fund is made up of Chicago’s power elite like Ken Griffin and Mellody Hobson. Rauner was also a member when he headed GTCR, a hedge fund, before running for Governor.
The Fund’s support for a program called SUPES eventually led to the $20 million dollar kickback scandal and the indictment of the CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Rauner argued that half of Chicago teachers were illiterate and Chicago principals were incompetent.
That is, of course, a lie.
As I pondered this statement for a while I began to wonder if the Governor thought those numbers were a feature or a bug.
Do education reformers like the Governor and the rest of the Chicago Public Education Fund want our students and our teachers to be literate?
As an Art teacher for 30 years, I taught skills. More than that, I taught visual literacy.
I defined visual literacy as the ability of my students to make and use images as a language that makes meaning of the world. To to be fully present. I wanted them to improve the quality of their own image-making. I wanted them to become more informed at making judgments about the quality of the images they saw. In the words of Art educator Elliot Eisner, I wanted them to be critical connoisseurs. More than that, I wanted them to use Art to be actively engaged in their world.
The great physicist Richard Feynman wrote about learning to draw from an art teacher,
He literally describes how teaching is both art and science.
I noticed that the teacher didn’t tell people much (the only thing he told me was my picture was too small on the page). Instead, he tried to inspire us to experiment with new approaches. I thought of how we teach physics: We have so many techniques—so many mathematical methods—that we never stop telling the students how to do things. On the other hand, the drawing teacher is afraid to tell you anything. If your lines are very heavy, the teacher can’t say, “Your lines are too heavy.” because some artist has figured out a way of making great pictures using heavy lines. The teacher doesn’t want to push you in some particular direction. So the drawing teacher has this problem of communicating how to draw by osmosis and not by instruction, while the physics teacher has the problem of always teaching techniques, rather than the spirit, of how to go about solving physical problems.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as a “continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
It is more than decoding the letters and words on a printed page, just as visual literacy is more than having someone show you how to draw a picture.
So, when the Governor declared Chicago teachers (and by extension our students) illiterate what kind of literacy was he talking about?
Decoding letters and words? Or fully participating in our society?
Nothing about the corporate education reformers suggests that they want teachers and students who are active participants.
To be literate.
They want that reserved for themselves.
When the Governor said teachers were illiterate, was he complaining, bragging or wishing?