by Michael Hynes |
Is hypernormalisation even a word? I didn’t believe so until recently.
According to Wikipedia, (insert sarcasm), “The term … is taken from Alexei Yurchak’s 2006 book Everything was Forever, Until it was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, about the paradoxes of life in the Soviet Union, where the author explains, “Everyone knew the system was failing, but as no one could imagine any alternative to the status quo, politicians and citizens were resigned to maintaining a pretense of a functioning society.
“Over time, this delusion became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the ‘fakeness’ was accepted by everyone as real,” an effect that Yurchak dubbed hypernormalisation.
British filmmaker Adam Curtis took the concept beyond the Soviet reference, in his award-nominated documentary, HyperNormalisation, about how governments, financiers, and technological gurus have given up on the complex “real world” and built a “fake world,” run by corporations and kept stable by politicians.
Wow, sound familiar?
This is precisely what is taking place in the United States at the present moment, most notably in my world of public education.
The hypernormalisation of public education has been slowly creeping its way into our schools, becoming the official party line with the federal mandate of testing our children to death with No Child Left Behind in 2001.
This legislation required that all grades 3-8 students are tested every year in English Language Arts and mathematics. The later incarnations of No Child Left Behind have only upped the testing ante, by making high test scores such a priority that a school’s very existence depends on making the mark.
This means that what most of us consider “normal” is no longer normal.
School days filled with reading, writing, math, science, social studies, playing outside, working out problems with friends, art, music, taking an occasional trip, are no longer “normal.”
If we compared our public school experience of 25 years ago against the “new normal,” we witness children losing the ability to play in the classroom (where true learning takes place), the significant decline of recess and a loss of social and emotional experiences that all children benefit from.
This “new normal” is teach less and test more. And because of the high stakes attached to these tests, schools are forced to focus on academic outcomes at the expense of a child’s social and emotional growth.
Under this hypernormalized model, teachers now rank and sort children based on a proficiency model, instead of how much growth each individual child may show.
So don’t celebrate too soon New York parents, educators and policy makers. Just because the Board of Regents recently trimmed time off of the 3-8 English Language Arts and mathematics state tests from six days to four, the “new normal” hasn’t budged.
As long as the stakes attached to the tests remain as high as they are, then our schools will remain driven by only two outcomes: ELA and mathematics state test scores —instead of attaining what’s most important: enlightening the whole child to maximize their true talents and potential.
I recognize that the obstacles in achieving a new healthy normal are huge, as our politicians at the state and federal level, along with so-called reformers and business opportunists who have been reaping tremendous financial profits from this system, continue to praise and fund a high stakes test-driven school model.
But make no mistake: this “new normal” is taking an unacceptable toll on our children; focusing on the whole child, regardless of scores, is what desperately needs to become our new normal.
Michael Hynes is the Patchogue-Medford School District superintendent.