Pink Slime Education

A couple of years ago I wrote about the increased use of an ammoniated bovine slurry called “processed beef” in schools’ cafeterias. That posting compared these inroads to the invasion of the same schools by junk education, a “product” as inimical to true education as “processed beef” is to taste and well being.

The latest news about “processed beef” is that the stuff is now known to its opponents as “pink slime,” a nickname given it by an Agriculture Department employee. That is inaccurate: it looks like Ortho® snail and slug bait that has been bleached pink, and both “products” are formed and crumbly, not loose and viscous. Its proponents (the slime’s, not the bait’s) also urge in its favor that it is not toxic, always a reassuring quality in things fed to children.

The other news is that the Agriculture Department will soon allow schools subscribing to its “food” programs to buy other kinds of meat to serve their students. The degree of reassurance this news actually provides will depend on what those other kinds turn out to be, but in the meantime the good news is cheering.

Now, if only someone in the Education Department would issue rules barring junk education from those same schools, we would have a large improvement to match the small. Unfortunately, the DoE is committed to a model of education that in many respects is precisely analogous to the production of pink slime for eating.

First, all the good stuff in education is being cut out, as the nutritious beef is cut from the scraps thrown into the slime-processing machines. All that is left is little gobbets of knowledge like bits of low-grade flesh and gristle. The scrappiness is insured by multiple-choice testing, which works against synthesis and integration of knowledge. (Of course students can guess about a synthesis or interpretation when it is presented as one of four possibilities on a test, but in that case they still haven’t actually nourished their minds with a genuine synthesis.)

Second, the removal of fat from pink slime in the centrifuges where it is processed is equivalent in flavor-reduction to removing from education the tasty variety of classroom experiences in a rich curriculum, retaining only the lean leavings of “measurable behavioral objectives” that the testing can “capture.” That these leavings are not positively poisonous will be cold comfort to the kids who will have to endure a diet of them for twelve years.

Third, teachers are being turned by restrictive curricula and narrow results demanded into burger-flippers of the mind. Since many of them used to be good chefs, and popular ones, they are demoralized and disgusted by having to preside over pink slime, scorching griddles, and tanks of hot bubbling fat. Diane Ravitch reports that the year of experience with the highest population of teachers used to be the fifteenth year of teaching. Now it is the first. No wonder.

But one respect in which the slurry and delivery of fast foods does not resemble the Ed Biz these days is that when people on a steady diet of junk food suffer a deterioration of health, the waitresses are not arrested for causing grievous bodily harm. Unlike them, teachers are held responsible for whatever ill effects their education—or anything else!—may produce on their “customers’” learning.

So far is the Department of Education from admitting these massive shortcomings of NCLB and RAT that it is now trying to bring the benefits of junk education to colleges and universities. One hopes that action can be taken against the junkification of education as it has been against the slurry piped into school cafeterias, but regardless of hope, it is needed: the students fed this diet for twelve years will come away as walking damaged goods.

 

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