What follows is my first crack at articulating what I call the Official Dogma of Education. The Official Dogma is a set of presumptions and values that operate in the background of our educational discourse and which are accepted as true by most everyone without often being voiced out loud. The Official Dogma is ideology, in the old sense – that is, these are political stances that are not recognized as such; they are human points of view that are unconsciously accepted as truths of the universe. The idea is not that any individual person has ever expressed these beliefs explicitly. Indeed, the point of the Official Dogma is that its tacit nature helps to make it impossible for us to examine and critique it. The Official Dogma and its constituent elements are not universally accepted by all individuals, but an embrace of something like the Official Dogma is bipartisan, cross-ideological, and generally uncontroversial in contemporary American life. In particular, the Official Dogma is the doctrine of institutions. It is the philosophy of the nonprofits, the corporations, the political parties, the unsigned editorials and the corporate mission statements, the institutional cultures of organizations that shape policy. The Official Dogma, in other words, is the educational philosophy of managerialism, which is the truly dominant ideology of our times.
I expect that I will tinker with and refine this many times in the future.
The Official Dogma of Education
1. All students regardless of context have essentially the same prerequisite ability to meet arbitrary performance benchmarks in all educational tasks. The persistence of variation in academic outcomes is the result of pathology, whether systemic (bad schools, bad teachers) or individual (bad work ethic, lack of grit, refusal to delay gratification).
2. Academic outcomes are permanently and universally plastic; that is, no matter where they are currently, any given student or group of students can be moved to any rank or performance benchmark in any given academic ranking or task.
3. As there is limited or no ability to affect parents and parenting through policy, parents and parenting are not to be discussed in consideration of academic outcomes.
4. Academic outcomes are dominantly or exclusively the product of school-side variables or teacher-side variables, not student-side. That is, teachers and schools control most or all of the variation in quantitative educational metrics for any given student.
5. Accordingly, teachers and schools are to blame for achievement gaps between groups, a failure to excel in international academic comparisons, or a general sense that students are not learning sufficiently. Efforts to address these issues are thus to be exclusively focused on teachers, schools, and their presumed failings.
6. The purpose of education, from a policy perspective, is predominately or purely financial/vocational; civic education, humanistic inquiry, socialization, aesthetic appreciation, cultivation of emotional intelligence or compassion, or similar are presumed to be of secondary importance if they are deemed important at all.
7. To the degree that the non-financial/vocational virtues listed in point 6 are to be valued, they are to be valued as proxies/predictors, not for their own sake. Skills in subjects like the arts or humanities are presumed to be valuable only to the degree that they buttress skills that are measured quantitatively and are already valued by the policy apparatus.
8. Quantitative indicators are presumed to be most predictive of the financial/vocational success that is the first or only priority of education and thus quantitative indicators are to take first priority in policy discussion.
9. Education is both a system for creating broad societal equality and for separating individuals into rigid tiers of relative performance. The tensions between these functions are to remain unexamined.
10. Our educational policy succeeds when it improves the academic performance of all students, and when individual students rise above and leave their peers behind. The tensions between these goals are to remain unexamined.
11. Education is the cure for poverty at the societal level no matter what the empirical evidence tells us about the relationship between the two.
12. Education is the cure for income inequality at the societal level no matter what the empirical evidence tells us about the relationship between the two.
13. Education is the cure for slow economic growth at the societal level no matter what the empirical evidence tells us about the relationship between the two.
14. Relative performance on international comparisons of educational outcomes dictates relative economic performance between countries no matter what the empirical evidence tells us about the relationship between the two.
15. Economic and social inequalities between students may exist, but they are never to be seen as equally dispositive of student outcomes as school or teacher quality. Dwelling on economic and social inequalities between students represents an attempt to evade accountability and demonstrates a lack of commitment to educational progress.
16. Education is always to be considered the cure for those economic and social inequalities. Addressing economic and social inequalities is never to be considered a necessary step in addressing inequalities in educational outcomes.
17. The primary or sole determiner of overall education quality in a given society is that society’s will. A society that genuinely commits to achieving particular educational outcomes will do so. A society that has not achieved particular educational outcomes has not really committed to doing so. Therefore the task of improving education lies primarily or solely in marshaling the political will to do so, and the enemies of educational progress are those who question, critique, or otherwise oppose the agenda of those who accept the Official Dogma as truth.