Aphronesis, CA—In an emergency Sunday-morning meeting, Superintendent Regina Streng announced to 500 principals that they would henceforth be told what to think about subjects ranging from politics to pedagogy to pineapples.
“Many of you are under the mistaken impression,” said Streng, “that, as school leaders, you should be exercising independent judgment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your job is to exercise the judgments we provide for you.” A murmur swelled up in the hall; she waited until it subsided.
“We need unanimity and teamwork,” she continued, “in order to move forward with reform. Remember that you are setting an example for classroom teachers, who shouldn’t be thinking on their own any more than you.”
“Isn’t teaching an intellectual profession by nature, and doesn’t intellect involve independent judgment?” asked a principal in the crowd.
Streng laughed. “In a few select cases, that might be true,” she said, “but let’s face it. We’ve invested significant resources in stripping the profession of its intellectual substance, and our efforts have largely paid off. Do you think a composer or physicist would want to spend all day teaching kids how to make ‘mind maps’ or how to choose the right multiple-choice strategy? Of course not. That’s the way it should be. Research has shown that effective teachers are not intellectuals, especially when the emphasis is on non-intellectual tasks.”
“But what about the students?” asked another. “Aren’t they supposed to be learning critical thinking? How are we supposed to teach it, if we don’t practice it ourselves?”
Streng nodded sympathetically. “I hear what you are saying,” she replied. “Many have raised that concern, and it’s a real concern, but it’s based on a misconception. You see, the kind of critical thinking we want kids to have is the 21st century kind–the kind that meets employers’ demands. That is, there should be no ‘thinking outside the box’ unless the instructions call for it explicitly. They will often call for it—don’t get me wrong—but they will specify just what kind of critical thinking it should be, how it should be structured, and what it should contain.”
The noise grew to such a level that the moderator, Susan Sandstrom, stepped up to the microphone. “Just a reminder that we called this meeting in order to accomplish essential tasks,” she said. “Superintendent Streng has given up her valuable personal time for this occasion. Now we must move on to the how-to part of the session.”
A website appeared on a large screen behind the superintendent. “We have created a database of correct opinion,” announced Streng, “which is one hundred percent current and searchable. If you are ever in doubt about what to think about a political candidate, for example, you need only enter his or her name in the search box—let’s see, I’m typing in Fred Berenger—and here you have the result. ‘Dangerous obstructionist. Not to be trusted or supported. Not to be mentioned by principals or teachers.’ We have staff continually updating the database, so that it includes the most recent issues, even the weather.”
“Oh, what are we to say about the weather?” cried a jubilant voice.
“Let’s see, let’s see. Weather, May 19, 2013. ‘The current weather does not affect performance on upcoming state tests.’ There you have it. But that reminds me of another feature of this website. It doesn’t just tell you what to think and say. It tells you how to say it.” She clicked on a link to “power words and acknowledgment phrases.” “Now you never have to be at a loss for words or send out mixed messages,” she said. “You can even display the ‘power word of the day’ on monitors throughout your school.”
Sandstrom returned to the microphone. “Thank you so much, Regina, for bringing us together today. Principals, let’s all give Superintendent Streng a triple ‘woot’! You will receive free login instructions on your way out.”
A few faint ‘woots’ were heard in the crowd, but they weren’t triple. Superintendent Streng commented later that a follow-up training would be needed, as many principals were still stuck in independent thought.