Are Stalin and Arne Duncan comrades in education arms?

A teacher sent me a link to a provocative article in the Teachers College Record by University of Oklahoma professor Lawrence Baines comparing the education reform movement in the United States today with that of the 1930s Soviet Union.

Author of  “The Teachers We Need,” Baines cites many shared trends — nationalized curriculum, frequent standardized tests, achievement level tracking by demographics,  emphasis on the teaching of science, math, and technology and less teacher autonomy but greater accountability.

From the lengthy piece, which you ought to read if you have time:

Of the following three statements, which refer to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and which refer to America today?

1. “Teachers are asked to achieve significant academic growth for all students at the same time that they instruct students with ever-more diverse needs….The stakes are huge—and the time to cling to the status quo has passed.”

2. “We had to have a campaign for 100 percent successful teaching…all students must learn.”

3. “Poor work by the school and poor achievement by the entire class and by individual pupils are the direct result of poor work by the teacher.”

Although all three of the above sentiments could be attributable to current officeholders in Washington, D.C., only the first is American—from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (Duncan 2010, January). The second and third are policy statements which emanated from old Soviet policy papers on educational reform (Ewing, 2001, p. 487).

In the 1930s, the Soviet Union was mired in recession. Poverty and unemployment, especially among the peasant class, were rampant. Although the existing educational system was efficient and progressive, especially considering schools’ negligible funding, most Soviet children did not attend school. The Soviet government, led by Joseph Stalin, instigated a series of educational reforms designed to obliterate the established educational system and to create a new centralized structure that would increase literacy, create “good citizens,” and transform the Soviet Union into a global power, particularly in the areas of science, mathematics, and technology. The similarities of Soviet educational initiatives in the 1930s to American educational reform today are as discomfiting as they are striking.

Here is another excerpt on the similar rhetoric:

Try to identify who said what below—Comrade Stalin or President Obama.

1. “There is no doubt that our educational institutions will soon be turning out thousands of new technicians and engineers, new leaders for our industries.”

2. “Improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers and scientists and innovators who are going to help transform our economy and our lives for the better.”

3. “Galileo changed the world when he pointed his telescope to the sky and now it’s your turn.”

4. “In the course of its development science has known not a few courageous men who were able to break down the old and create the new, despite all obstacles, despite everything. Such scientists as Galileo…are widely known.”

Key: Joseph Stalin said the first (Stalin, 1954/c1934). President Obama said the second (Obama, 2009, November 23) and the third (2009, October 8), and Stalin said the fourth (Stalin, 1978/c1940, pp. 329-330).

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

42 comments Add your comment

carlosgvv

November 15th, 2011
12:38 pm

All these statements must stand on their own and be judged by their content, regardless of who said them. It is a common error to assume that an historically evil person, like Stalin, could never have said anything we would all agree with.

Once Again

November 15th, 2011
12:51 pm

Government run schools are by definition SOCIALIST. Their funding comes from theft (taxes), the payment of that funding is involuntary, the amount paid is based on the value of property, not the amount of services “purchased”, attendance is mandatory (with some exceptions that have been hard fought). Parents love being able to transfer responsibility for raising their children to the state so they can blame the state when their kids fail. They love being able to buy the bigscreen TV, the nice house, the nice clothes, etc. with the money they save having the government steal from their neighbors and local businesses to pay for their children’s education. They love being able to think they are being “good” parents by buying a house in a good neighborhood that keeps their kids from having to associate with blacks/whites/mexicans/jews/catholics/italians/or whatever “worries” them the most. They like thinking that by supporting “free public schooling” they are being somehow more noble than those parents that homeschool or send their kids to private school to ensure they get a good education – as if somehow having an uneducated failure is a sign of “nobility.”

Quote Stalin, Obama, Bush, Hitler, Mussolini, or whomever you will. Totalitarian leaders everywhere and all through history correctly saw private schooling as a threat to the institutional order of the state and its power and thus did whatever they could to encourage participation in government-run schools/indoctrination centers. In fact, right after he siezed all the guns, Hitler shut all the private schools. The man knew what it takes to control the independently minded folks. Today they get a lot of help from the government controlled media too.

yuzeyurbrane

November 15th, 2011
12:55 pm

Every Russian immigrant I have met has been well educated.

Inman Park Boy

November 15th, 2011
1:10 pm

I would not equate Mr. Duncan (or his predecessors) with Stalin. However, after a lifetime of working in schools I am of the opinion that “local” is usually wiser than “federal” when it comes to a workable education policy. We simply cannot assume that the meeds of children in Harlem are the same as the needs of children in Marietta. The disconnect is that federal policy allows for no multi-culturalism, no local wisdom, no dissent! It’s like dealing with the “all-knowing Oz,” trying to work with those people.

joe

November 15th, 2011
1:11 pm

Most Russians and other Eastern block countries have a high work ethic…unlike a large part of US workers…The reason you see former Russian Doctors and scientists doing manual labor jobs here is because they’d rather live in a free country. Our citizens take that for granted every single day…need proof of that? look at the occupy protesters…they have no idea how good they have it here if they would just work hard. Nothing replaces hard work, initiative and personal responsibility.

Moreland Elementary

November 15th, 2011
1:13 pm

@yuzeyurbane Ignore the immigrants; they’re atypical. Go instead to the Russian countryside. You’ll find many ill educated people there, I promise.

Wesley T.

November 15th, 2011
1:28 pm

This article is irresponsible and misleading. None of the statements are particularly Left or Right, they’re simply common boilerplate stuff on widely-held goals within the education sphere: STEM, improving teachers, encouraging creativity and innovation, etc. Presenting the material in this way reeks of a Fox News-ish ploy to put Pres. Obama on the screen next to someone we don’t like (Stalin, OBL, France, etc.) as a way of subtly implying they’re one and the same.

historydawg

November 15th, 2011
1:29 pm

@Onceagain, please read a history book. “Government” schools were invented and conceived of as a way to support republics. All of our founder fathers, though they disagreed on many things, believed in public education. Hence we have the birth of public education in the world at the same time as the birth of new American Republic. Taxes are not theft; communities, when they were truly American and cared for their neighbors (unlike yourself), gladly supported the education of their community. You have conflated many parts of our society that you don’t agree with and rewritten the past. It is shameful, prideful, and idiotic (as the classical Greeks defined idios).

Inman

November 15th, 2011
1:32 pm

Enter your comments here

jarvis

November 15th, 2011
1:32 pm

Stalin was more thug dictator than he was an actual Communist.
Makes you wonder if that’s a good or bad thing when comparing his statements to our President’s.

Eyenstine

November 15th, 2011
1:33 pm

@Once Again – Dude, are you related to one of those militia guys they just caught up in Cleveland, GA?

Inman Park Boy

November 15th, 2011
1:34 pm

From “Education Today”, here’s a good indication of the way Congress thinks about schools (in this case, school lunches”:

“Pizza would be considered a vegetable on school lunch trays under new changes to school meals proposed by Congress late yesterday. And lawmakers who wanted no limits on how many starchy vegetables students are served also got their wish.”

An we trust them to make good policy for education???

#occupy my desk...

November 15th, 2011
1:36 pm

yuzeyurbrane & Joe – wow. you all have obviously not spent any time in Eastern Europe and certainly not during the Eastern Bloc days. A) Russian education reform was bred to feed the system, not expand the horizons of its citizens. B) there was a phrase in Russia that was typical “we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” the rates of unemployment and alcoholism in Eastern Europe was and continues to be staggering – largely because people have had government subsidization to fall back on. C) the Russian surgeon you know who is a landscaper is not doing that because he yearns to be free. Eastern Bloc schools turned out MDs who were so incredibly inept that they are banned from practicing medicine in the US or Western Europe. All he has to do is take the boards and he can practice medicine – but he wouldn’t remotely be able to pass them. Remember, there is was no malpractice law in the Eastern Bloc, It is incredibly sad to me that my friends on the left make statements like this – a general European utopia idealogy. That is what is occupying the White House and why we will be a shell of a country in a decade.

historydawg

November 15th, 2011
1:36 pm

@onceagain. Private education has always been used to support tradition, the status quo, etc. Aristocracy and theocracy were all buttressed in Europe by private education. And in twentieth-century Georgia, private education upheld segregation. Please think before you post. Understand that socialism was invented in the mid-1800s long after the American common school was a grassroots movement to educated elementary students and state constitutions were written to include this responsibility. Why continue to shrug off your responsibilities as a citizen?

#occupy my desk...

November 15th, 2011
1:39 pm

Inman Park Boy – why is the school responsible for feeding children, isn’t that my job as a parent? Do we all even consider that asking schools to be Mom, Dad, Cook, Teacher, Big Brother, Friend and Counselor will result in poor quality in all aspects? It’s a camel – a horse designed by committee that excels at nothing.

Teacher Reader

November 15th, 2011
1:45 pm

Being a teacher that left teaching because of the standards, focus on the standards, and not on educating the children, this article resonated with me. I listen to the occupy people across the country and they are by and large educated in public schools, or are poor little rich kids who have not a clue. Our public school are promoting socialization and don’t really want our children to be able to think or reason on their own. There is a reason for this, and it’s not because they want people to rely on themselves.

historydawg

November 15th, 2011
1:46 pm

Communist and American educational systems are built upon very different principles, though the rhetoric of science and math has long mesmerized folks. Stalin thought the USSR was backward and wanted to catch up to the West in terms of economics, technology, etc. He used education to make the best engineers in order for them to serve the state. Totalitarian leaders, like Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini, all used schools to indoctrinate students in a particular ideology. The premise of American educational institutions has historically been to prepare students to vote and live responsibly in the Republic. Certainly the rhetoric of science has dominated, and goals of “Achievement” and “Competition” reflect the capitalist interests which have always championed their own goals among American schools (e.g. Gates, Winfrey, etc.). NCLB and the standards movement have certainly threatened the dreams that early Americans had for public education, but I would imagine that American teachers are more interested in subverting the forces that suppress creativity (e.g., standardized exams), rather than teaching a particular ideology. Even today, American systems of education from K to University are valued for their unique ability to train students to think critically and creatively.

Teacher Reader

November 15th, 2011
1:54 pm

Historydawg, you must not have been in an elementary classroom in DeKalb. We were not to teach our children to think critically or be creative. We were to teach standards the way that the district wanted them taught-period. Our text books, especially history, are riddled with errors and only parts of history are taught, because if it’s not a standard or tested, we’re not able to teach it. Sorry, but after 15 years in the classroom and being able to teach my students less and less, it was time to leave, as I wanted to help my students to think, understand history, love writing and reading, and enjoy math, but under the standards movement, this is not going to happen.

The Snark

November 15th, 2011
1:59 pm

The kindest thing that can be said for this “provocative article” is that it adds nothing to the debate over improving our schools. I have no use for this business of insulting people you disagree with by associating them with historical figures of evil. Hitler used to rant about the evils of Communism — shall I collect his statements on the subject and put them side by side with those of, say, Ronald Reagan? What a waste of time.

allen981

November 15th, 2011
2:23 pm

Hardly a waste of time, Snark. Makes us think about what’s important in education.

Bottom line, local control is best, with methodology in place to repair/assist clearly underperforming schools.

Local is best because it means control by parents and others directly involved with local schools. And parents, not the government, are the key to a good education.

My kids went to public schools K through 12, but yet I consider them at least 50 percent home schooled. That’s because my wife and I took the time to know what our kids were studying and reinforce the school curriculum with actitivies at home. They got the benefit of both the cultural benefit of being highly involved in an organized school, backed up with support at home.

BlueMoon

November 15th, 2011
2:34 pm

I believe what is being missed in most of the posts here is the value of local control over that of a totalitarian state, in this instance the US Govt.

I believe anyone that can sit down and say to themselves that every student, in every state, in every city, in every town and in every community learns exactly the same is absolutely insane.

We can either be lead or lead ourselves and to do that the first thing that must happen is to eliminate the Dept of Education. Turn every school district loose to teach its kids in the best way they see fit and when high performing districts are identified, the lower performing districts can then emulate part or all of what the successful district is doing.

That’s what freedom does…it turns loose the creativity of the people and unleashes competition. We either go with one size fits all or we go with constantly/consistently upgrading our schools on a yearly basis through competitive means. That’s why people want vouchers…you think administrators (through fear of losing their jobs through low enrollment) wouldn’t change their teaching methods and materials to that of a better district?

This isn’t rocket science…you just have to remember it’s all about freedom.

Speed Racer

November 15th, 2011
2:36 pm

The only way to improve public schools is to blow up the system. Homeschooling and private schooling are the answers. Public schools serve the lowest common denominator. Useless.

allen981

November 15th, 2011
2:59 pm

Hey Speed, if you want society as a whole to improve, aren’t public schools essential?

Unless someone is qualified as an educator – classes, a degree – they have no business home schooling kids. And, I firmly believe it’s a disservice to the child, who, no matter how hard the parents try, is deprived of social interaction that cannot be replicated in a home environment.

That interaction can mean getting slapped down by a bully or having great success. The world is a tough place, and kids cannot learn to deal with it getting part time tutoring from mom and dad.

Private schools? I’ve seen more cases of kids with $50,000 high school educations driving a truck than I have Rhodes scholars.

Get your kids in a good public school, supplement their studies at home, get them involved in structure of the school, and kids will turn out better.

Mine did; public schools helped generate one ‘C’ level corporate executive (daughter) with two advanced degrees and one highly successful litigating attorney (son) who passed the bar at 23.

teacher&mom

November 15th, 2011
3:00 pm

Arne Duncan is a destructive force. I can’t decide if he is a clueless puppet or a manipulative genius.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/microsoft-wins-teach-campaign-from-education-dept/2011/11/13/gIQA5t5bMN_blog.html

Todd

November 15th, 2011
3:09 pm

yuzeyurbrane

November 15th, 2011
3:15 pm

The main reason some doctors from other countries are working in lesser jobs here is that the AMA acts like a medieval guild in artificially restricting foreign trained doctors from entry into their profession here. One of the reasons for out of control health costs.

Teacher Reader

November 15th, 2011
3:25 pm

@ allen981 You need to look into homeschooling more before you speak about something that you know nothing about. My teaching degree does not mean a thing when I homeschool. Homeschool children get socialization in homeschool groups, sports that they participate in, scouting, church, and being out in the community. Do you understand socialization in a public school? My students learned that it was okay to be disrespectful towards other, destroying bathrooms, and bullying others. You see in many public schools there is little to no discipline. Homeschoolers often out perform public school students on standardized tests. The curriculum that I have looked at for homeschooling is often better than I had access to as a public school teacher. A parent is much better prepared to teach their children, than a teacher who has taken more than one time to pass the teachers certification exams which are super easy.

Our public schools aren’t going to improve. The teacher’s unions (yes, I know that GA has no union, but the GEA, is still part of the NEA, which is a union, in most of the states in the country) do not want improvements. The NEA is not about improving education, but improving what teachers get from being a teacher. Those in charge of education on the National level, have no classroom/teaching experience, and therefore do not understand what is happening in our schools. Those on the school board in many communities also have no clue, and use their power to get friends and family jobs and spend money that is not theirs, instead of keeping their eye on educating children. Think about how few times you hear a school board meeting focus on educating the children and not focused on spending money.

After teaching 15 years, I will not put my children in a public school. There is no way, that I can allow my child to not be educated or to get misinformation. Public schools have changed significantly over the 18 years that I graduated from a public high school. Theses changes are not for the better, as what our children really know is far less.

DawgDad

November 15th, 2011
3:26 pm

BlueMoon: Well stated.

The Snark

November 15th, 2011
3:28 pm

You folks who want to “blow up” the school system and get rid of the supposedly “totalitarian” American government should go visit Somalia or Yemen. You take a lot for granted.

Beverly Fraud

November 15th, 2011
5:49 pm

Forget comparisons to Stalin; this is the same Arne Duncan who TWICE came to APS to politically prop up Beverly Hall LONG after anyone with even a SHRED of integrity knew that the “APS miracle” was a DIRECT result of widespread, massive SYSTEMIC cheating.

Of course that didn’t stop some at the AJC of all but FAWNING over Duncan’s presence and completely abdicating their role as a SELF proclaimed “watchdog of the public interest”

Not sure what was more pathetic; Duncan’s attempt to prop up Hall, or the refusal of some at the AJC to call him on it.

SPARKY

November 15th, 2011
5:54 pm

Hitler liked dogs. Obama likes dogs.

Ergo Obama is similar to Hitler.

Is this a joke post, Maureen?

Truth in Moderation

November 15th, 2011
9:09 pm

Well, the President finally told the truth. Thanks to our $16 trillion debt, “we’re all Asians now!”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBGRiB4PEjk&t=35m17s

Middle Grades Math Teacher

November 15th, 2011
9:25 pm

@Speed Racer — if the public schools are abolished, where will the “lowest common denominator” go? To the private schools, of course. The problems will still be there, they’ll just be transferred.

hello.life

November 15th, 2011
9:47 pm

Think the teacher is to blame (probably not the case…)? Read the textbook yourself. Don’t understand it? Reread and/or Google. Oh my, I can actually learn on my own? Who would have thought…

allen981

November 15th, 2011
10:29 pm

Teacher Reader, I know you mean well, but if anything, you make my case. Yes, you home school, with the benefit of 15 years of teaching and a degree. What about the mom and dad with barely a high school education who decide to keep their kids home? They have that right, and often do, and that’s a disservice to the child.

My kids encountered disrespect from others, they encountered the ‘bad’ kids to wanted to destroy a bathroom. But as adults, they encounter people who do not believe or act as they would all the time. Now, they have the strength to deal with those situations.

Both faced similar challenges in college; they were prepared, stuck to their guns, and graduated with high GPAs. Yes, some – a relatively small percentage – do outperform kids from a traditional educational environment. But most do not, simply because most parents are not prepared nor willing to invest the time and energy that you have.

Often, home schooling is used as an excuse to allow a child to excel at a sport or hobby. A 15 year old shouldn’t be spending all day at a golf course or a tennis court. They need to be in school, getting some balance in their lives.

We all want to protect our kids from the bad and give them every advantage. Public school – and all its challenges and shortcomings – was the right choice for my children.

One side note (and I realize that at this late time few will see this). As my daughter approached middle school age, we faced a decision about schools and chose to move away from a district with rapid demographic change. Two houses down, good friends and neighbors made the opposite choice, electing to keep their highly intelligent daughter in a school that seemed to be going rapidly downhill.

The result? That child, white, graduated from a school that was 95 percent black by her senior year, with rapidly declining test scores. Yet, she excelled academically, graduated from a leading academic Southern university as number 1 in her class, and how is a leading pediatrician.

Like it or not, kids who routinely face the real world are better prepared for life. Playing sports or participating in activities in a structured groups of home schooled kids does not replace the wisdom of learning to live in an imperfect world.

Public school gave my kids a strong foundation. They are highly successful, have a strong faith in God, and anyone who thinks home schooling would have been better for them is plain wrong.

While I’m on my soapbox, there’s one other pet peeve about home schooling. If we don’t support public schools, where will the child of a drug addicted mother go for an education? I’m a Republican, but I believe we all have some responsibility to others as well, and supporting public education with our time and support – and the participation of our children – is absolutely essential for the long term health of this nation.

Let me be even more blunt: home schooling is a selfish attempt to control the lives of your children. It’s for the parents, not the kids.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 16th, 2011
7:00 am

“Are Stalin and Arne Duncan comrades in education arms?”

To that I must state NYET! Stalin was much more intelligent than Duncan and prettier!!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 16th, 2011
7:01 am

Middle Grades Math Teacher

November 15th, 2011
9:25 pm

Good Point. I like it!!

Terry Krugman

November 16th, 2011
8:29 am

I am one of the very few native -born Americans to have lived in the former USSR. While it was a pretty awful place, I was impressed by a few things: 1) a great subway system; 2) first-rate museums, and 3) a highly-educated and well-read population, many of whom had a better understanding of history and world affairs than we did, despite the ubiquitous censorship and closed borders.
My Russian friends had read copious amount of American and British lit in school, but generally books whose authors were either critical of the US or who were themselves socialist: Mark Twain, Richard Wright,Jack London, Charles Dickens, etc.
We once visited a ‘pioneer camp’ ( the Marxist answer to the Boy Scouts) which youngsters attended after school to learn everything from math to ballet; in the arts and crafts class students were molding busts. Lenin, Marx, Engels, Brezhnev were the favorites…

AMD

November 16th, 2011
10:26 am

I have met a lot of immigrants from the former Soviet Union (educated over there in their Communist era). They are well-educated software engineers, doctors and other professionals. Communism is evil, but that doesn’t mean the suffering people don’t know how to run a good math/science educational program. Another interesting observation of mine is this. Some of the brightest mathematicians in the U.S. today are from former Communist countries. That’s because the brightest in a Communist country feel the safest to study pure math as it’s not politically charged.

Kimbra Rancourt

November 17th, 2011
5:40 am

Great post, i’ve just shared this on Facebook. The hip hop artists in 2011 just don’t kick it with as much feeling as old school Hip Hop guys.

Anonmom

November 17th, 2011
10:21 pm

Mr. K: Do you know if the former USSR had everyone on the “same track” or if they “tracked” ala the British System? There are lots of systems that have their top students really excelling but I don’t think that they all educate everyone equally — I think in Italy, for example, come high school — those interested in certain trades “peel off” for trade school and those headed more for a college track move on (literally in some cases, needed to find boarding in other cities or towns) for an appropriate high school for their “chosen” line of high school. We’ve heard rumors that China is also “losing” their “peasantry” and not educating their “lower” classes. So as we have this USSR/USA discussion — I’d like to know if the USSR was also doing this or if they were really highly educating everyone. If they were highly educating everyone and had found a way to really close the “achievement gap” between peasants and upper class — we should figure out how they did that and get to it… I’m sure there were some methods that wouldn’t appeal to us but there may be some things we could learn….. So, I’d like some more information from someone who was on the ground…..

Mitch

November 21st, 2011
10:01 pm

We are a diverse nation and should teach our people what they need and can use. I would rather have five percent of the students super good in math and science. Teach the others how to make a living and be useful. There are a thousand careers that do not need math or science. We tend to write people off who do not excell in Math. Big msitake.