Wokeism Comes to Oregon High School Students

Last session, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 744 and, on July 14th, Governor Kate Brown signed it into law.  But curiously, the governor’s office never mentioned the matter.  As The Oregonian makes clear,

Brown’s decision [to sign the bill] was not public until recently, because her office did not hold a signing ceremony or issue a press release and the fact that the governor signed the bill was not entered into the legislative database until July 29, a departure from the normal practice of updating the public database the same day a bill is signed.

Why the departure from standard procedure?  Why not let the public know what its elected officials have done?

Perhaps it’s because voters might be enraged by it.  After all, what the new law does is, for the next five years, relieve all state high school students from any need to demonstrate proficiency in math, reading or writing.

Here’s the law’s pertinent language:

Notwithstanding any rules adopted by the State Board of Education, a student may not be required to show proficiency in Essential Learning Skills as a condition of receiving a high school diploma during the 2021-2022, 2022-2023 or 2023-2024 school year.

Plus, The Oregonian adds,

[S]ince Oregon education officials have long insisted they would not impose new graduation requirements on students who have already begun high school, new requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027 at the very earliest.

That means the suspension of testing for graduation will be in effect for over five years, at least.

Now, I must point out that the suspension of testing in “essential learning skills” doesn’t mean that students won’t be required to know how to read, write and do basic math.  They just won’t take an end-of-senior-year test to prove it.  Presumably their teachers will test them along the way and demand some level of competency.  (But, more on that later.)  Plus, only 23 states require passage of a final test like the one Oregon just abandoned.

That sort of testing became common mostly because of the 2001 No Child Left Behind law.  That law was considered necessary because, it was rightly felt, American primary and secondary schools weren’t doing a good enough job of educating kids in the basics.  So Congress decided to require children to demonstrate competency via standards-based testing.   Plus, it was thought that testing would provide a measure of how well (or ill) schools were doing at educating kids.

Therefore, the abandonment of testing means the abandonment of those ideas that moved Congress 20 years ago.  But, at least in Oregon’s case, the state has other motivations as well.  During the next three years, the Oregon State Department of Education will conduct a review of diploma requirements, particularly to, as the law says,

reduce disparities and to ensure that every student will be on track to earn one of the high school diplomas

In other words, Oregon wants to eradicate racial/ethnic disparities in rates of high school graduation by reducing the educational standards to do so.  Knowledge and ability have taken a backseat to the piece of paper with “Diploma” stenciled on it.

Now, the notion that individual teachers will be the backstop that ensures that kids learn the basics via in-class testing looks dubious at best.  After all, primary and secondary schools have been engaged in “social promotion” for decades.  The unsurprising result being that kids move from one grade to the next without knowing enough to do the next year’s work.  That was the major reason for the No Child Left Behind Act in the first place.

Perhaps more importantly, in this atmosphere in which every institution of any sort is considered racist root and branch, what are the chances that an Oregon teacher will fail a student of color or of non-European ethnicity for any reason?  The very point of the law – to “reduce disparities” – surely won’t be lost on teachers.

The inevitable result will be that some kids will graduate from high school with nothing like an actual high school education, and no one will know.  To colleges, universities and potential employers, an Oregon high school diploma will be meaningless, for both smart and not-so-smart kids alike.

This is wokeness at its very worst.   The woke hold that any disparities in educational outcomes are due to racism by the school system and have nothing to do with individual ability or initiative.  Given that, the only thing to do is abandon uniform measures of performance to cover up individual differences.  In that way, individuals don’t have to alter their behavior, but institutions do.  The latter must change to fit the behavior of individuals and if that behavior is anti-social, personally destructive or even criminal, then so be it. 

Needless to say, none of that will improve anything.  Everyone will get a diploma, much like an “I participated” trophy.  But no one will be smarter or better educated, no one will have learned better study habits or the necessity to work hard to achieve desired results.  In fact, they’ll have learned the opposite – that, if you don’t put forth much effort, the institution will adjust to your dysfunctional behavior.  You personally can never be wrong.

In turn, that entire concept is based on the notion that there will never be a reckoning, that at no point in a person’s life will he/she actually have to deliver the goods, in school, at work or elsewhere.  Indeed, it’s a concept that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” work, and that anyone who says otherwise a racist. 

For the next five years at least, many Oregon kids will enter college not knowing how to study, how to compete academically and will find themselves adrift.  Such is one possible reckoning.   But perhaps those colleges will realize, as many already do, that their dropout and failure rates are racially disparate, and do exactly what Oregon has done – remove standardized measures of mastery.  Perhaps those colleges too will hand out diplomas like candy on Halloween, i.e., to anyone who asks for one.

But at some point, an employer, a professional organization or someone else will do the unthinkable – demand competency.  Perhaps medical schools will realize that patients’ lives are at stake, perhaps law schools will grasp that the difference between a competent and an incompetent lawyer may be life and death, freedom or incarceration.  Maybe schools of engineering will cling to the outdated notion that a bridge that doesn’t collapse isn’t racist, but simply a better bridge than one that does.

Or maybe not.  If wokeness has its way, the bridge can collapse, the patient can die as long as there are zero racial disparities in school graduation rates, membership in professional organizations, employment, etc. 

Such is the direction of our dangerously unmoored culture.

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