When humans gather, things get messy. We try to clarify things, but there is no escaping. Two articles this past week or two caught my attention in juxtaposition as they tackle the human endeavor. One is Why We Love Politics, from David Brooks; the other is Grading Schools Isn’t the Answer. It’s the Problem., from Michael Brick. Both speak to the fact that when humans get things done, it’s usually messy; when they try to reign in the messiness, they make a mess of things.
David Brooks talks of the “nobility of politics” as portrayed in the recent film, Lincoln. “Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good.” Brooks relates the movie’s description of Lincoln “willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise and be slippery and hypocritical, ” all in the name of passing the 13th amendment and ending slavery. Getting on successfully in life, it seems, means understanding human strengths, nobility, prejudice, and weaknesses, and learning how to deal with them to get things done.
Michael Brick says of grading teachers, “It’s a mistake. In the year I spent reporting on John H. Reagan High School in Austin, I came to understand the dangers of judging teachers primarily on standardized test scores. Raw numbers don’t begin to capture what happens in the classroom. And when we reward and punish teachers based on such artificial measures, there is too often an unintended consequence for our kids.”
I am an opponent of the emphasis that is being placed on standardized testing in our schools. What it tries to do, I think, is remove humanity from education, in order to overcome the inconsistency which comes with any human endeavor, but ends up making matters worse.
Mr. Brick describes the decline of Reagan High in Austin, Texas as No Child Behind took hold. At first there was promise, identifying problems at schools like Reagan High. However, “instead of rallying a new national commitment to provide quality public education for all children, the reform movement led to an increasingly punitive high-stakes competition for standardized test scores, school grades and labels.”
Reagan High is seeing a revival, but it is a revival based on the “passion, intelligence, grit and love” of its teachers and administrators. Based on the messy humanness of individuals coming together.
Mr. Brooks adds that, “Politics involves such a perilous stream of character tests: how low can you stoop to conquer without destroying yourself; when should you be loyal to your team and when should you break from it; how do you wrestle with the temptations of fame – that the people who can practice it and remain intact, like Lincoln, Washington or Churchill, are incredibly impressive.”
Put another way, success in the human endeavor depends on special human beings, or humans being special. Lincoln, Washington, and Churchill. And at Reagan High in Austin, coach Derrick Davis, principal Anabel Garza, chemistry teach Candice Kaiser, and music directory Ormide Armstrong.