Under the ruse of accountability, we as a society have begun routinely substituting blaming for problem solving. Ironically, accountability then becomes our avoidance of responsibility for facing the problems, seeking real solutions, and doing our part to effect those solutions. Of course, real steps toward solving complex and serious problems are almost always partial, and they require cooperation and coordination (the sharing of responsibility). Silver bullets are rare.
In our presently disastrous realm of public education under the oppressive weight of No Child Left Behind, the first step in misleading the public was to use scare tactics to smear our public education system as a colossal failure, then keep talking about that failure as though it were indisputable fact. Anecdotal evidence of this alleged failure was easy to produce, of course, because public education is a vast and complex undertaking with countless success stories and countless tales of disappointment and even betrayal of parents’ hopes and children’s trust.
The next step was comparison based upon the quantified but extremely limited (even when not blatantly falsified) measures of standardized testing. The tests supposedly “proved” American students had fallen behind their foreign rivals. This was the Chicken Little phase in the attack.
Then came the crucial step: blaming. Who was at fault? The scapegoat of choice was the teacher, who else? It was an easy sell because nearly everyone recalls some “bad” teacher, often more than one. Was the bad teacher truly bad? What was the student’s part in the disappointing results? Those questions were irrelevant, because the blamers had tapped into the most powerful source of animosity known to the human race: shame. Who does not have memories of being shamed in childhood, and who does not have some of those memories attached to school?
Blaming teachers, however, had its pitfalls that had to be avoided. After all, one doesn’t want to antagonize that many people, their spouses, their parents, and their children. So, teachers were portrayed as naive do-gooders led astray by two sinister forces: their professors and “the union.” I once had a supervisor who blamed society’s problem squarely on professors whose fault, he said, was that they were “too smart.” It is not difficult to raise resentment in America by blaming professors. Our long history of anti-intellectualism and contempt for “brainy” people makes us easily persuaded to join in blaming them. As for blaming unions, look at the immediate responses of conservatives to the present recession, especially when it came to the automakers.
What passes for accountability has become a great way of avoiding responsibility. Who is responsible for a child’s education? Who needs to take responsibility for reversing global warming and the disastrous effects of pollution? Who needs to make fiscally responsible changes in our consumption and wasteful habits as a nation and a world? Who needs to take responsibility for the erosion of our rights and freedoms in the wake of our opportunistically exploited fear after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001? We are the answer. As Pogo put it famously years ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”