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Is There a Difference Between Standardization and Language Intensive Education?

By  D J Lancaster

March 10, 1998

(Special note: The following is the text of an article posted on the ADPRIMA site discussion section shortly after it began operations in September 1997.  I thought the piece by D J Lancaster was thoughtful, well written and important. About three years ago, I got an email from her husband saying the DJ had passed away, but that he wanted me to know that she thought highly of my site and the work it contained. I never knew D J in an way except from a few posts on the ADPRIMA discussion section. However, I am including this post and several others by her in the section of Thought Provoking Commentary in memory of an early visitor who had something important to say and did so in a compelling way).

 Bob Kizlik, ADPRIMA Webmaster, November 25, 2006

Note: It is now March 2014, and what Ms. Lancaster had to say back in 1998 resonates as soundly now as it did then.


Alvin Tofler regarded knowledge as the most democratic source of power, “Which”, he said “makes it a continuous threat to the powerful, even as they use it to enhance their own power. It also explains whey every power holder from the patriarch of a family to the president of a company or the Prime Minister of a nation - wants to control the quantity, quality and distribution of knowledge within his or her domain.” Standards based education provides a limited assembly of facts instilled through drill and repetition. Standards, better defined as the engineering of consent, shapes a student’s mental image of the world. As a consequence, he or she obtains the language patterns and attitudes that will sustain that image. If the image is slanted in anyway to favor or endorse the inherent creeds of one group over another, there is a decided advantage in the distribution and maintenance of power for that group.

The code of standards employed by the government since 1918 or there about, proved useful to industrialization and played largely into the hands of smokestack elitists. The standards were designed to prepare an industrial workforce able to adapt to routine assembly line activity. Text books were engineered to be repetitive and non-controversial. The standards code sought to shape behavior and identity around a nationalistic/industrial hub. Methods and standards were scientifically developed to coincide with a new emerging economic agenda promoted by government and industry. Such a focus enabled government and industry through the 50’s to manage its youth into group identification, values and behaviors quite effectively. But then, as the uncensored free marketing of information filtered into homes via the press, publishing, TV., and radio exposing family members to a broader more meaningful range of experience; the independent processing of information started gaining momentum.

The question of informational relevancy grew from Berkley to the Ghettos. Far from the narrow endocrinal powers of State came a network of information so vast in scope and application; the autonomous growth of individuals would be unstoppable. Once individuals move beyond a simplistic, one-dimensional perception and have tasted a thing called perceptual freedom, they are able to define for themselves what information will sustain and cause their prosperity in a global future. James observed some time ago “that there is very little difference between men, but what little difference there is, is great.” Whether education’s policy shapers want to admit it or not, knowledge selected for the purposes of ‘understanding’ will, in many cases, inadvertently enhance and sustain that difference. For example, as women began to expose themselves to more information about women, they were positioned to update for themselves their value and position in society. Hand-me-down definitions from male dominated western ideologies were inappropriate to an every changing world where women shared more and more of the economic burden. Women were no longer bound to congregate around pre-existing organizations which fed into male dominated structures and economies. Now they were armed with information and numbers enough to organize in behalf of their own self interest; inaugurating a ‘new age’ for womankind. Today there are approximately 500 woman’s studies departments in the country, three decades ago there were less than five (5). Persons were learning that with the right kind of information and the skill to use it, they could be instrumental in shaping their own future world. We are now confronted by a generation educated in unprecedented scope and powered by a radically different all pervasive informational presence which has forever changed the very nature of learning itself. The vast majority of individuals have been exposed to more information through the sophisticated integration of vast exposure to experience than the perennial building block approach to learning could have ever achieved.

We are therefore faced with a new reality, a reality in which the function of education can no longer be to control knowledge, but rather engineer a means of directing, channeling, and making usable to the individual a mass of knowledge he/or she is unable to escape. For this we need a language intensive educational experience. If we are to produce informational equality we must ascertain the difference between standardization and knowledge relevancy. A set of facts that is power yielding to one group of people, may be power draining to another. The kind of knowledge that yields power especially to underclass populations is to know what kind of knowledge works against them. As Tofler puts it, “Virtually every ‘fact’ used in business, political life, and everyday human relations is derived from other ‘facts’ or assumptions that have been shaped, deliberately or not, by the pre-existing power structure. Every ‘fact’ thus has a power-history and what might be called a power future - an impact, large or small, on the future distribution of power.” The fact that whole classes and groups of people view themselves as distinct from main stream economies suggests that the information they are receiving from their standards based education is not fortifying enough to accomplish the economic integration they so desperately seek.

 Standards based education worked well for first and second generation students. For the most part those entering the new schools came from poorly informed families some of which spoke little or no English. The bulk of industrial work available was de-skilled or dumbed down, and broken into the simplest operations. But by the 50’s a dramatic change occurred. The shift from an industrial economic base toward the information based economy dawned. For the first time, service and white collar workers out numbered blue collar workers in the United States. This should have been a signal to alter the learning base and it’s system of delivery. Instead education’s policy shapers, whose powers of observation fell short of the times, clung unwittingly to their own early indoctrination and continued to promote assembly line education (Read Newton’s Mental Model).

Those who suffered most from standards based education after the 50’s were the economically isolated rural and urban poor who’s ability to access new information was impeded by a lack of financial reserves and a rather week language base. Middle class white collar and upper middle class families who had already entered the informational age assumed a great advantage. Their children were exposed on a daily basis to white collar dialogues which speculated on the advances that would occur in the work places and around the world. families with financial reserves could provide a steady flow of new information by accessing the latest books and publications. Initiating students into the language should be the primary focus of education. Unless the power of language is experienced intrinsically, the individual cannot self express. His or her ability to create solutions or even give expression to problems is contingent on his/her language power. Prior to 1918, virtually all American institutions for learning had a custom of teaching the art of oratory and eloquence.

This emphasis served several functions, but, most importantly, it developed in the individual, a sensitivity for hearing and grasping the inference or meaning of words through the examination of inflection, emphasis and definition. We could call this an audio form of literacy possibly a pre-curser to reading literacy, and no doubt a fundamental ingredient in the development of cognitive thinking skills. As the new Pedagogy installed in 1918 expanded and replaced the old system reading literacy declined. The close quarters of assembly line participation necessitated a congenial atmosphere where men and women would of necessity center thought around non controversial concerns, such as holidays, sports, charitable and political organizations.

Certainly in no way could industry (whose labor force structure was in the form of a pyramid having few at the top and many at the base) allow for forensic style discussion in the work place. Concern for social values and ‘good citizenship’ created a language pattern barren of academic controversy, and while such a fixation may have served to cause our industrial expansion, it will not serve us in a competitive global market, where again we need to be language resourceful.


In a country where millions remain economically isolated, living in communities where crime and poverty are common themes, the idea of changelessness is not only futile; but immoral. Tofler argues, “Inequality is not in itself inherently immoral, what is immoral is a system that freezes the maldistribution of those resources that give power.” Clearly, as we move to the twenty first century, we must underscore knowledge, especially knowledge about knowledge, as among those maldistributed resources. Our questions becomes one of wonder: why do our schools lumber along in a state of changelessness, while all around them, the informational gap between the economically successful and the economically disillusioned broadens in exponential leaps? We are pressed to concede that standards based education as was, and is yet executed by our schools satisfied the purpose for which it was intended by the end of the 50’s. We are not as a rule, students of surplus impact; and yet, the introduction of new surpluses is the very means by which our culture has, for good or ill, remained in a constant state of change.

The surpluses introduced on the wings of industrial development, changed our twentieth century understanding of culture in America. The very meaning of community, of time and space, of present and future altered and expanded in ways no one could possibly have anticipated. The broad based multidimensional impact of surplus on culture is extensive. The creation of leisure, both productive and non productive, is perhaps the most intangible cultural impact. Productive leisure infers the development of language and attitudes necessary to the harnessing and direction of time and money into productive investments and humanitarian services. The accumulative succession of wealth enjoyed by some families generation to generation, brings with it the language, knowledge, and experience to continue in the mode of perpetual wealth creation and civic expansion. But for those not previously initiated into the order of excess and leisure, and therefore not adept in their applications and uses; leisure and excess hold unpredictable consequence: some good, some not so good. Nonproductive leisure infers the non-development of language and attitudes necessary to the harnessing and direction of time and money into productive investments and humanitarian services.

For the purposes of simplicity this paper will reflect on only two ways that leisure is created. The first is leisure created by State surplus that comes in the form of welfare and entitlements. The second is a leisure created and enforced by labor laws and industrial need. In the context of this writing, knowledge, information and exposure to experience are not necessarily assumed to provide a positive orientation. Mailer’s writing sample is an example: “Consider”, Mailer wrote, “the actual case of two young men beating to death a sweetshop owner. Did it not have its beneficial aspect? “One murders not only a weak fifty-year-old man but an institution as well, one violates private property, one enters into a new relationship with the police and introduces a dangerous element into ones life; Since rage when turned inwards, was dangerous to creativity, was not violence, when used, externalized and vented, itself creative?”

The above serves to reflect the possible behavioral impact that a language intense knowledge carrier can exert. It also infers the vulnerability of persons who have time and no excess wealth as in the case of welfare recipients, and marginal wage earners. There will be those who would argue that leisure granted through welfare provision should if anything make it more possible for one to advance upwards in knowledge and skill. Why wouldn’t someone take full advantage of the time? The elements which make and give definition to goals and achievement are forethought of mind, ambition of spirit, and initiative in reality. Each of these is given structure through language. As schools veered away from language as a primary mission, and became more relational to industry, and therefore non-controversial in focus, appreciation for the verbal arts diminished. Forensic or argumentative inquiry once used to evoke a higher use for language; now dissolved under the either of textbooks exhibiting a one sided picture of events. Ethics, aesthetic values, multidimensional cause and effect relationships, etc.; were not valued in the context of an industrial focus.

The deletion of argumentative inquiry relative to the questions of ethics, aesthetic values, and multidimensional cause and effect relationships, invalidated whole portions of our collective human experience. In the absence of this language experience, enormous portions of the vocabulary base and the subsequent patterns of speech were abated. Replacing the deeper exchanges available in dialogue and debate came a ‘standards program’ disposed to fixating on events, places, and dates (1492,1621,1776, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, etc.).

Regurgitating dates and associating them with names and events became the basis of reward and the meaning of ‘good citizenship’. A hundred math problems of similar complexity, completed without error, earned the student a mark of outstanding attainment. By naming the four food groups, and listing an example of each one; the student received an immediate acknowledgement of success. The deeper intrigues: what role ethics, aesthetic values, knowledge or the lack thereof played in shaping the historic outcomes we would come to define as events; were given little if any weight. Without a strong language base and the ability to use it, environmental and political circumstance are seen as the determiners of destiny. “Creative freedom”, writes Finley Carpenter, “is a correlate of thought, and the more people tend to flee from thinking, to seek substitutes for it...the more vulnerable they are to external pressures; in short, the more they fit the deterministic mold.” Individuals, who have not been successfully initiated in language use, have no means by which to translate themselves into active participants in the design of their own destiny. They are both reliant and vulnerable to the language stimulus coming to them from environmental and political sources. In the absence of language, imitation becomes the primary law of survival.

What is valued in the environment, is that which is imitated. Power is considered of high value in most circles, whether it is attained through legitimate or illegitimate means. Those who attain a position of conspicuous power, through whatever means, (guns, gangs, drugs, political campaigning, virtue, or other vice), will likely be the ones emulated in the behaviors and speech of the imitator. Leisure created from State surplus, which is not enhanced by a dynamic educational experience, can lead to volatile, explosive and erosive circumstance.. The impact of new monies on the wage earner effected the individual psyche in an unprecedented manner. Families and individuals who found not only an excess of time but also, had income excess, entered into new ground. Defining the purpose and meaning of life from these stations of excess drove a generation to experiment in altered states of consciousness induced through meditation, drugs or religious conversion. Alternate life styles allowing for the experiencing of intimate relationships without commitment became a sacred, if not moral right; illegitimate births and divorce rates increased.

This new found sense of confidence and security, gained from what appeared to be the permanence of an industrial livelihood, provided individuals a forum for risk taking not available to earlier generations. The risk taking had it’s short falls. Single mothers, drug addiction, etc. placed a new burden on State surplus. To maintain that surplus, taxes increased from a modest 4% in 1954 to 24.4% in 1986, placing more stress on the traditional family. Additional taxes cut family buying power forcing more women into the labor market. The care and education of children fell increasingly in the hands of schools and day care facilities. On the plus side of the surplus spectrum, investment in technological research yielded a revolution of it’s own. That tiny chip created from ‘worthless sand’, would extend the human brain as the machines of yesterday extended human muscle. Robotics, satellite communication, and computers altered the way we viewed the world and workplaces of tomorrow. New industries and new systems of wealth creation, hit the shores of every industrialized country at the same time. While the world changed around them, schools remained fundamentally the same.

 What did change in the school, was what came through the door. Day by day, children disenfranchised from the traditional family, entered schools unprepared, sometimes unfed, and language deficient. The disciplined sat side-by-side with the undisciplined; the well fed by the hungry; the verbally proficient by the verbally weak; and the abused by the loved. The only common bond between them, was a homogenous strand of diluted and fragmented information. The school now assumed a two fold purpose: 1) to serve as a tutorial half-way house for socially and economically misinformed students and parents, and 2) to remain as the accredited liaison between students and their academic scholarship.

The disparity between rich and poor can no longer be gauged in terms of assets and dollars. Indeed a far more meaningful disparity exists in the distribution of knowledge. Standards based education can only promote that which it was designed to promote. It cannot serve to bridge the ever widening informational gap between those whose ability to access the new information is experiential years ahead of those who lack the resources and connectedness to do the same Creativity and a personal sense of mastery to accommodate the unprecedented opportunities and demands of the immediate decade ahead, are paramount to our well being as a people, a nation, a global community. Our schools must now embrace a training of character, being, or essence as it were, to prepare the children of the world of tomorrow for a future of non-predescribed positions. The schools must produce energetic, creative, well rounded experiences who are able to bridge gender, race, and creed and still maintain an inherent code of values which will allow them the ability to act deliberately and compassionately on a plethora of new curves and bends in the road. Our standards based education accommodated a scenario where the general populace could flourish by learning a simple set of commands and perform them with diligence and accuracy. “A's" for correct answers garnering promotion to other levels. The schools to equate and meet reality (or the macrocosm) as it were must shake-off the old format to create a microcosm which will enliven the cognitive centers of creativity and dialogue for it’s constituents to be truly prepared for the job markets of the 21st century.

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