SUBSCRIPT: 50 foot women, giant ants in the Los Angeles sewers, and Arne Duncan's ridiculous approach to reality — The 'scaling up' fallacy.

Just about every mother knows that a family will rarely have to shop for elementary children's shoes at adult size 17 or 21, so most people who have actually taught in real classrooms with real human children know that just about nothing can be made to fit every child. That's why the same people who brought us Enron, the con, and the housing bubble are now working as hard as they can to convince the public that the best people to lead schools and school systems are people with the least experience in actually teaching real human children in classrooms. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan can be counted on, in his stump speech, to tell the world (and every gullible audience) how much he learned helping out after school in a fairly limited tutoring program run by his hippie Mom.

No public school teaching polluted Arne'd praxis from kindergarten through college. He went from the University of Chicago Lab School (courtesy of the fact that his Dad was a professor there) to Harvard to the head of the third largest school system in the USA without once having had to pass through a year with 30 or 40 real children in front of him in a sweaty Chicago public school classroom.

One of the cinematic giants of the 1950s was the giant whatchamacallit — be it ant, fly, or woman. But the basic fallacy of the genre, which every child knew as fiction, was that certain things can't be "scaled up" beyond certain real world limits. The 1958 science fiction blockbuster "Attack of the 50-foot Woman" was based on the "scaling up" fallacy. Large mammals and other animals in the real world of gravity on Earth are limited in height and other size features by their mass, as anyone who has ever viewed the massive mammal fossils — or dinosaurs — knows. Ants are "strong" in the same proportions, but can't be "scaled up" to the size of those in the 1954 classic "Them!" without undermining their other mechanical features. Arne Duncan never took that course, so "Race To The Top" just wasted billions of public dollars and millions of hours' work because of one stupid mistake. And it wasn't from New Jersey.The further these guys are from the real world, the more qualified they become to boss everyone else around.

The fact has always been known, even to common sense, that scaling up only can go so far.

But people with power who are woefully ignorant of reality, like Arne Duncan is of classroom and school reality, are immune from it. So we have the mess we're in now.

One of the main problems is that with the demise of news reporting in the USA, most reporters are mired in the myths they believe, and for every reporter there are a dozen public relations flacks feeding easy-to-use stories to get those stories into the mainstream. Whether the story line is "Value-Added" (which collapses in the face of the reality of testing at the classroom level) or "scaling up", the simplistic version of reality pushed by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the executives like Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and Ron Huberman will have a simple-minded appeal.

But none of their extrapolations has any reality beyond their teacher-bashing fantasies. In June 2009, Arne Duncan proclaimed in Chicago that he was going to save American children from the 5,000 "worst" schools in the USA, and only Substance reported it while CORE (then one year away from leading the Chicago Teachers Union) risked arrest to protest it. Duncan's simple-minded math (5,000 of the 100,000 American schools are the "best" while — naturally — 5,000 are the "worst" and in order to save the children from the "worst" — as measured by simplistic test scores) can be turned around, closed, with the teachers all scapegoated.

Instead of being hauled out of town for teacher bashing and oversimplifying a complex reality, Duncan was able to turn that stupid version of reality — ignoring all outside factors, especially the vicious impact of race and class on children in the USA — into national policy, "Race to the Top." But Duncan's teacher bashing career began long before "Race To The Top" in Chicago, as he was allowed, over massive protests, to close more than two dozens schools, humiliate their teachers (and other staff including principals) and subject the schools to a ruthless corporate scam called "turnaround."

The 1954 science fiction blockbuster "Them!" was about giant ants, created by the nuclear weapons testing of the USA, that endangered the entire human race as they spread from the New Mexico desert to the sewers of Los Angeles. While wonderful as science fiction, the genre (dozens of movies about giant mutant thingies) rested on a fallacy that is now being replicated as fact by the U.S. Department of Education. Substance apologizes for the blurry reproduction of the move poster here.At the base of all of these are fallacies like "scaling up." Just as you can't increase the height of a human woman to 50 feet without changing her morphology completely (because of the increase in the mass of the mammal, he legs would have to become the size of those of a apotasaurous, which wouldn't look good in a bikini), so you can't "scale up" the simplistic versions of reality that have been the stuff of corporate propaganda since Substance first debunked the Marva Collins Hoax 25 years ago, when it was being promoted by the neo-liberal vanguard as the CBS show "60 Minutes."

What is necessary now is to challenge each of these idiocies, and to call out the men and women — from the U.S. Department of Education to the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University — for the frauds they are. Because of the collapse of some of the other myths that were promoted by the same corporate leaders, it's easier now to bring these facts to a majority of the people, even it they are still denied by those who control the airwaves and most of the print media.

The time to begin was a long time ago, but now is probably the time to really push forward, and have fun doing it.

Every time Arne Duncan mouths another one of his vicious platitudes, let's call him out and have fun doing it. After a time, he'll be too embarrassed to mention that tutoring program his Mom had him work in as proper training for the leader of public education in the USA. And from city to city, every fraud in the Arne Duncan tradition — from Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee to Chicago's Ron Huberman — should get the same treatment. Hopefully, more and more of us can also have fun doing it. 


August 29, 2010 at 1:33 PM

By: spamdingle


There are two glaringly obvious parts to this editorial. Duncan and Huberman cannot lead schools given that they know nothing about them. I'd love to see him take a class for 10 weeks. He should do a unit on public transportation or something else he knows nothing about. No one talks about this. What the hell? I bring this up whenever I get the chance, and people are appalled, or scared. I can't tell which.

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