Playing Both Sides

Considering the politics of America in general and education reform in particular, it is no wonder progress as a nation is stalled. Ordinary Americans — the real engines of advancement — are being played for fools.

rhetoric-is-the-art-of-ruling-the-minds-of-men-art-quoteBuzzwords have been used to persuade us into following one reform path or another and to repel us from uniting for our common good.

Here is a non-education “reform” example — “climate change.” Buzzzzzzzz!

Have you heard the buzz?

Have you heard the buzz?

I’m from Michigan and witnessed first-hand how industry polluted our rivers. Having played frequently in the Kalamazoo River downstream from factories, I’m sure my body must be filled with all kinds of pollutants. We talked about the problems in those kinds of human terms. The problems eventually required federal funds (our tax dollars) to cleanup after the moneymaking polluters.

It was a pollution problem and We the People were making headway in calling the polluters into account …. until it became a “climate change” problem and we all got sucked into a political battle rather than the moral battle of right versus wrong that pollution was and is. And divided we fell prey to the politics of “climate change” because we let the powers that be change the conversation.

In the American education war, three of the big trigger-words have become “equality” (for the right), and “turnaround” and “improvement” (for progressives). Yeah, really. Buzzzzzzz! And off you go!

Please think about this: Do we believe that there are some schools in this country needing improvement and for the sake of the children in them, we should focus support on improving those schools? Are there not schools in your state that have consistently had a bad reputation as far as academic achievement or safety issues? What about schools that parents (even teachers) have repeatedly avoided putting their own kids in? Don’t we somehow need to turn those schools around to make them more acceptable, even desirable?

When the Obama administration decided on four “turnaround models,do you think ALL the alternatives they could have chosen from have been made known to the public? I know they haven’t, and those alternatives won’t get a fair hearing on the stage of public opinion because they talk about “improvement” and “turnaround” processes. The public’s well has been soured (or polluted).

Please consider this: if I am one of the “good guys” (truly have children’s best interest at heart), will you reject what I say if I use a word that repels you? Or can you choose to stand and fight against your inner feelings recognizing that what you feel has become a conditioned response?

Until we stand strong for better public schools for all, we will go down divided by silly details like our choice of words. Allowing both sides to be played against each other is allowing children to be left behind.

The Quest for Clarity

How do we have conversations and bring about clarity of ideas when we don’t speak the same language? I’m talking about the language of education reform. It is too full of codes and triggers. The general public, the people whose education system we are talking about, can’t possibly be clear about what is really happening to their system. And how can they possibly crack the “code”?

I know that I personally can’t help with deciphering everything but I can help with one item of reform that we should all try real hard to understand – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. I will say right up front, Harold “Doc” Howe II, the commissioner of education in charge of enacting the law said, “I doubt that anyone could have dreamed up a series of education programs more difficult to administer . . . but ESEA was not designed with that in mind.”

It was designed to provide equal access to quality educational opportunities. It was going to “level the playing field,” as we like to say. And it was going to accomplish this by addressing the needs of children from low-income families. I believe this would be along the lines of the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When we improve the educational opportunity for the under-privileged, we improve opportunity for others in the process.

But the “process” can’t be explained in a blog or a three minute testimony.

So, please don’t get thrown by a person’s choice of words. “Turnaround” doesn’t ALWAYS mean the Race to the Top ways, “indicators” or even “assessments” don’t ALWAYS mean standardized tests, and even “always” rarely really means “always.” You get my drift. And also keep in mind that if you are talking to a teacher, they have been hyper-sensitized; they have been in the trenches of the education reform wars for far too long.

Right now, the right education battle is the one for clarity. We win that battle; all children could have a shot at being a winner.

When someone pulls your trigger or you find yourself wondering “what is this person talking about?” – my advice is to slow down. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Isn’t that the very thing we would expect from good students?