Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 16 2012

#48: All you need is hate(1)

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.

4 Responses

  1. Serge Vartanov

    It’s kind of humbling to have started a blog yesterday and already be quoted by someone else. It’s the kind of positive reinforcement I need to continue blogging as a habit. Thanks!

    This may be a simplification of your post, but you seem to discuss consensus-building, compromise, and civility (which was what I considered the topic of my post) as if they were all the same thing – I don’t know if I see it that way.

    I personally don’t believe in compromise for the sake of compromise – as someone who considers himself to have progressive political views, I’ve flinched every time I’ve seen the democrats compromise with republicans in a way that has undermined the legislation the democrats were trying to pass. Case in point: tax cuts in the stimulus package that made it seem larger than it really was and the lack of a public option in health care reform. Both of these are places where it would have been better not to have compromised the legislation.

    What I bemoan isn’t the lack of compromise and consensus-building in education policy, but rather the tone that the conversation has taken. Two things in particular stand out:

    1) The sheer lack of nuance in what people are in favor of and what people are critical of. It seems like the two sides of the debate are pursuing more and more extreme versions of their beliefs and believe that only their side can be right. The fact that there even are “sides” in a “debate” is kind of ridiculous.

    To see the same people either support or criticize TFA, KIPP, Green Dot, Khan Academy, Relay School, Common Core, the Gates Foundation, etc signals a complete lack of nuance. None of these things are similar to each other. Even KIPP and Green Dot, both of which are CMOs, aren’t that similar to each other – one is national and non-union and the other is local and unionized. It’s ok to think that some of these ideas have merit and others are without merit without bucketing them all together as categorically good or bad simply based on what side of the “debate” they fall on.

    2) The caustic tone that the conversation has taken. This is going to get its own blog post in a few days, but what are terms like “education deform” and “corporate reform” supposed to accomplish? What’s is personally attacking people and questioning their underlying intent supposed to accomplish? In just this post you’ve done quite a bit of this, which is a little surprising. Looking through your post history, I found this inspirational quote from your 2nd post:

    “So, in short, the people working in this organization [TFA] are super organized and professional and are tirelessly working to make my city’s educational landscape better.”

    Those super organized and professional people working to make your city’s educational landscape better (I wonder if you still feel this way about the people working at your local TFA office) are very similar to the people who work at the Gates Foundation. You may not like Bill Gates, and I don’t want to get into why, but his foundation is made up of people who, like you, have dedicated their lives to working for a cause they believe in – whether it’s closing the achievement gap, alleviating world hunger, ending malaria, curing HIV/AIDS, etc.

    When you say “Dilettantes(5) in positions of great power and influence deserve to be castigated and reprimanded for wreaking havoc on communities” I assume that you’re imagining Bill Gates sitting behind a desk issuing decrees like a facist, but the reality is that the Gates Foundation is an organization of people passionate about doing something good for this world, and it’s the collective view of those people that guides the organization. This is true of everyone who participates in this conversation. The least we can do is be civil with each other and assume the best about each other’s intentions – that doesn’t mean we have to compromise.

    • meghank

      It is properly called “corporate reform” because that it is what it is: Reform backed and funded by corporations (Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, etc,) and corporate leaders (Gates, Broad, Walton family) that is in the interests of corporations. If you cite using this term as an example of caustic tone, you will lose all credibility with the other side of the debate, since it is the proper term.

      The Gates foundation actually made medications more expensive by working with the pharmaceutical company to raise the price. Bill Gates said in an interview that they did this to increase the pharmaceutical company’s incentive to improve the medication (it’s just a side-effect that it increased GlaxoSmithKline’s profits).


      I no longer believe the Gates foundation is working for the good of the world, in any part of the world, and instead I now question their intentions at every step. To question their intentions is not an example of ad hominem attack, it is an example of using basic logic.

  2. meghank

    “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.”

    Thank you!

  3. Bill Gates has repeatedly used his public pulpit to denounce teacher pensions. He’s also a proponent of increased class size, despite all available research (and ancedotal evidence) favoring smaller classes. As a teacher, this is an attack on my financial future – I don’t get Social Security so my pension is my retirement – and on my job satisfaction/success (I do not believe I could teach 32 Kindergartners to read anywhere as well as I can teach 22). That seems quite uncivil to me, honestly. Yet AFT teachers who criticized Bill Gates speaking before our convention were the ones characterized as rude.

    Deciding who is civil and who isn’t is political, and it favors the powerful. Although I value politeness, I am suspicious of pleas for civility.

    Beyond the bipartisan wonder that is NCLB, bipartisanship itself is a shifting concept. For instance, the Republican Party has objectively moved farther to the right while the Democrats have not moved to the left; the bipartisan center is now to the right of where it had been.

    And beyond all that, I think it’s poor argumentation not to discuss the philosophy of education reform. Its adherents generally support a free market ideology for education that is at the least very different from previous conceptions of public education. This influences their policy aims. I’m willing to assume their best intentions; I’m not willing to accept that the free market will lead to equitable public schools.

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