Before my summer is officially over tomorrow morning for my campus retreat, I’d like to join the fray and respond to some posts and comments in the TFU airspace.
The topic is, broadly, how to best achieve reform. A couple of TFU bloggers have gone to the mat for consensus-building. To borrow a turn of phrase from politics, this is the “reaching across the aisle” that David Brooks pines for on the regular. The idea is to get “the two sides”(2) in the same room to hash things out, come to a compromise, and implement some best-of-both-worlds reform plan. Choice quotes:
But unfortunately nobody is engaging in these debates. The reformers are either working on crafting such programs or think that all disruption is generally good, and the “anti-reformers” think that almost any change is a hostile takeover of our schools.
– “yoteach”, August 10, 2012
Education DOES need more productive debates that are more civil and structured around finding solutions rather than tearing down ideas, and I hope to contribute to that debate, in part by shining a light on the toxic tone the debate has taken on.
– Sergei Vartanov, August 15, 2012
In the comments of the “yoteach” post is a dissenting opinion:
[W]hen I look at American public discourse more broadly, I’m not convinced that bipartisanship and compromise are necessarily what makes for good policy. And I have to note that calls for debate tend to go with pleas for civility – and the side in power is always the one defining what it means to be civil.
“E. Rat”, August 14, 2012
If the last dozen years or so is any indication, I can’t say that what we are lacking is bipartisan cooperation. No Child Left Behind was as reached-across an aisle is gonna get(3). The GOP didn’t sweep into Congress in 2010 with a “Repeal Race to the Top!” platform. Both political parties as well as their deep-pocketed benefactors agree on certain aspects of education in America, namely that schools in poor communities need to implement more of their awesome ideas(4)!
If I felt like this consensus was operating in good faith to preserve public education as an essential part of a democratic society, I’d welcome these fools with open arms. But I don’t trust the Waltons and Gates and Broads any further than I could throw the lot of them. I believe we are operating at cross purposes. So, forgive me if I don’t treat them with the respectful deference a civil discourse demands. I’m just going to go on thinking they are horrible and telling everyone I think they’re horrible and they should totally get out of the educational philanthropy game and they have added nothing of value to “the debate”.
They’re not going to do this, no matter how big a turd I am on the internet nor how nice I might be to them. But terrible ideas deserve to be torn down. Dilettantes(5) in positions of great power and influence deserve to be castigated and reprimanded for wreaking havoc on communities and not being held to account. Bipartisanship has set off a series of policies that have made schools less democratic, the teaching profession less professional, and public schools increasingly vulnerable to the forces of privatization.
I am a member of an organization that is a majorly visible part of this consensus. I’m hoping I can work within it to be a small force for progressive change. I doubt my efficacy in this endeavor every day. I doubt it very much knowing that the organization is in cahoots with the very forces I believe are undermining what I consider to be valuable about schools and teachers.
I don’t know what civility is supposed to look like. Apparently this Diane Ravitch post was beyond the pale(6). If that’s an exemplar of ad hominem-laced reform-bashing, throw me in with the haters. If we cannot address this regime of school reform as the madness it truly is in direct language then we have no debate, civil or no.
(1) For title inspiration, see this.
(2) False binary, of course. There are plenty of folks who think the status quo is working fine (see: affluent public school districts…doin’ all right!) There are critics of the “reform movement” on the populist left and populist right. Honestly, the two strains of populism might benefit from some enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend style cooperation. If I felt like the populist right had any interest in preserving the institution of public education, I’d say this is a good idea. But they don’t, and it isn’t.
(3) Raise your hand if you are a major piece of legislation championed by the late Democratic stalwart Ted Kennedy and known conservative, occasionally pretzel-gagged George W. Bush? Not so fast, everything except No Child Left Behind.
(5) As if you don’t already know who I’m talkin’ ’bout.
(6) Which is ludicrous because (a) everything in that post she mentions is valid and (b) she didn’t use any really cool swears to insult her enemies. I mean, if you’re gonna be uncivil, go for the gold.