Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America

Nov 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 20-2: Native Green, Media Reviews

Information Age Publishing (2008)

Review by Michael Thompson


Reading this book shattered my paradigm for understanding public education. Glass, a professor and an early pioneer of meta-analysis in research methodology, traces how 20th century developments in agricultural technology, medicine, and consumer credit (the three symbols of the title) have shaped modern education policy in the U.S. far more than reasoned decision-making.

He goes a step further to examine the political and social forces behind the current debates of the 21st century: high-stakes testing, English-only movements, vouchers, charter schools, tuition tax credits, etc. He debunks the persistent effort by conservative reformers to proclaim various national crises in education as a covert attempt to push a more restrictive ideological and economic agenda. Although properly analyzed domestic and international test scores simply don’t support the claims, these “manufactured” notions that public schools were “failing” did indeed lead directly to NCLB.

Glass also notes that the severity of the accountability measures for NCLB seems to vary from state to state in direct relation to the percentage of Hispanic or Non-White population growth. Chapter 6, “America is Growing Browner, Older, and Deeper in Debt,” explores trends in U.S. demographics and suggests that the coming debate over public education is simple: Will an aging white populace with mounting personal debt (currently in excess of $800 billion) be willing to fund good schools for growing populations of brown-skinned children? Thus, he explains the social conservatives’ two-part agenda – to cut the costs of public education, while simultaneously seeking to “quasi-privatize” the education of the middle-class at public expense.

Everyone should read this book. It is heavily footnoted and supported by charts, graphs, and a great appendix.

Michael Thompson (Mvskoke Creek) is the English chair at Bloomfield High School in New Mexico and a speaker on contemporary Native literature.

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