Obligation vs Opportunity

The way we educate children has been in need of retooling for some time. But why that is so and who should drive that retooling (and to what end) are vital questions. I am one-hundred percent behind reform that addresses that need, those questions and advances practice…it’s the “reformers” that I don’t automatically trust.

So I read voraciously. I communicate vigorously. I meet with legislators, representatives, and communicate with state education officials as well as leaders in my union-both state and national. I have also been a close observer of politics and politicians since I was a boy, and while I willingly admit to many faults- I do not hesitate to claim a skill with people and at reading them; a filter for the words of others and their motivations, and a keen nose for bullshit-regardless of which side of an issue they come down on. I wish I could devote all of my mental energy to my profession-but it is being undermined by bad policy, bad policy-makers, and those weighing in both openly and covertly while not really having earned a seat at the table.

Take, for example, Michelle Rhee. I feel bad that some have made her the queen of all that is evil in education reform, and that fans of Diane Ravitch might be particularly ugly in their criticisms. Interesting that Ravitch herself should draw fire for the irrational behavior of her less artful fans, but let’s put some perspective on it: When some NASCAR fans trash a honky-tonk and stain their own shirts with their chaw-spittle, no one blames Jeff Gordon.

Did that come off as out of line? A little bit of a broad brush and unfortunate description of a large group? Do you think it feels the same way to those who have dedicated themselves to an underpaid and often under-appreciated profession when they have to tolerate Rhee, Campbell Brown, Steve Perry, Eva Moskowitz…and so on?

The stories of rubber rooms and protected perverts in public schools get to be a bit much. Using the most horrendous examples of human nature to attack the profession that the horrendous human chose is the tactic of weasels and cowards afraid of honest debate, and while I regret ignorance from either side of an issue, I tend to seek some sort of intellectual explanation for it.

So I consider: is it really ignorance, or is it an emotional reaction motivated by the ideology that drives the particular person (e.g., the belief that the teaching profession is in need of reform because it is awash with overpaid perverts)? On the other hand, does it have little to do with any core belief and more to do with a desire to scavenge recognition, respect (real or artificial) and opportunity through any means available- including committal to outrageous positions and statements (claiming that the teaching profession is in need of reform because it is awash with overpaid perverts)? Is it more of that former sense of an obligation (whether for the good or otherwise), or more of that latter positioning and an opportunity?

If obligation: you are talking about a dedication, often a life-long one, to doing what you believe is something right-something that needs to be done. If opportunity, there is more weight placed on a chance you see for yourself. The tasks you perform could be very similar, the setting could even be the same, but the opportunity-motivated could be here today/gone tomorrow because another opportunity might motivate them.

Call Diane’s (or her fans’) criticism of Rhee uncalled for or unfair (or the impetus of rabid Rhee-hatred), but you have to consider the results of confusion that was caused by the opportunistic appearance of the meteoric rise of Rhee: from self-described failed elementary teacher of a few years to D.C. Chancellor; then an edu-expert; then riding a sweep-em-up broom on the cover of Time Magazine. In what world does crazy crap like that happen???

Well…It doesn’t happen absent gobs of money, connections, and a team of skilled web weavers that could turn the Zuckerman farm into a freakin’ theme park. Clearly Rhee was somehow the beneficiary of unbelievable opportunities.

Ravitch, on the other hand, is at a time in her life where she should be allowed more relaxation time than she is apparently willing to take. Having seen the first stages of education policy she helped to craft and then watched turn bad (from assessments to guide instruction to assessments to use against public education) she has felt an obligation to speak out about the missteps she observes and the missteppers she sees.

Opportunity vs obligation.

Of course, I know I am biased, but willing to be swayed when a position doesn’t reek of carefully crafted PR and talking points. I know we need to better prepare students, but one of the things we need to prepare them with is BS detectors.

So I happily say “thank you” to anyone making good things happen for struggling populations, from cradle-to-grave. I also say “take caution” to those trying to use faulty logic, inadequate statistical analysis, straw-man arguments or just outright intellectually and emotionally weak positions to undermine the great work done by others. Regardless of whether you hold purse strings, or hold office, there will be challenges.


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