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Update: Finding New Voices In The Online Debate

Large-applause26Over the holiday break I wrote a post about called Reform Opponents Are Winning Online (For Now) that generated an unexpected flurry of comments and responses about all sorts of things: whether I was right in noting the surprising imbalance, what to call those who dissent from reform efforts (infidels!?), and my lack of credibility (1 Percenter!).  

Nearly all of it came from those opposed to current reform efforts, which sort of proved my point.  They were confused by my praise, simultaneously pleased and disquieted at having their efforts acknowledged, angry at me for praising them using code words like "feisty."  They denounced the post, then bragged about it, or did both at the same time.  (One thing is clear: they hate being called reform critics or reform opponents, which I understand but to me seems an uphill battle without a better alternative that someone will actually use.)  

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun refuting the ignorant and goading the knuckleheaded, and shaking my head at the black and white reaction and predisposition to taking offense.  Thanks to those of you who weighed in as voices of reason or to point out that my criticism is wide-ranging and includes reformers as much as those who would blunt their efforts and propose something else. Whitney Tilson's email praise (see below) was a mixed blessing, as you can imagine. The rest of you were on vacation, or lack dedication to your work.  

As to the original topic, it seems clear that reformers are indeed weak online but determined to add themselves to the debate.  Some of those involved with Teaching For Excellence (@Pittsburgh4te, @Hillsborough4te, @Memphis4te, @LosAngeles4te) include an active Memphis teacher (here), a Pittsburgh teacher-blogger named Jennifer Wright (here), NewTLA co-founder Mike Stryer (now with FIN). Whether or not they can match the righteous anger and indignation of those who oppose any and everyone who presents even the most carefully nuanced open-ness to reform ideas remains to be seen. In the short term, they will have to endure being swarmed by the anti-reform folks who occupy the space now, figuring out whom to ignore and whom is worth a response.  

TILSON EMAIL INSIDE

TILSON EMAIL (not yet online as of Jan 3)

1) Alexander Russo with a story that I think is largely correct – and I hope will be a call to action for those reformers in the trenches who read this email.  You need to weigh in on this debate!  You can set up your own Twitter account or blog, start writing on some of the sites Russo links to in his article, or send me your stories and I’m happy to blast them out and post them on my blog.  With my schedule the way it is these days, I haven’t had much time to visit schools and go to events where I’m hearing these stories, so email them to me!

Tilson's blog is here.

Comments

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Not sure if you should make a distinction between regular classroom teachers as myself who have concerns against corporate based-reforms and those funded mightily by the Gates or Rockefeller foundations for the intent purpose of implementing corporate reforms in schools. I'd think a disclaimer at least would be in order.

Here's a good place to start:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/22/education/22gates.html?_r=1

http://www.rockpa.org/page.aspx?pid=532

Over the holiday weekend I blogged about a media critic's commentary that defines the way the mainstream press promotes the corporate education reform view and largely ignores or marginalizes critical voices from the real grassroots. The commentary may give you an idea of why so many of our jaws dropped (in amusement or outrage) when we were called "Goliath."

Excerpt and link to complete blog post below. (Oh, and of course I blogged over the holiday weekend -- that's part of the story, isn't it? And now I'm posting during my lunch hour.)

The press attitude toward corporate education “reform” has baffled me for more than a decade – since the national mainstream media was championing the education fad of that era, for-profit, New York-based Edison Schools ...
Why were they eagerly embracing something as dubious as allowing investors to buy Edison Schools shares on the NASDAQ and profit from public education funding? Why were they marginalizing, ignoring or scoffing at critics...? What was “60 Minutes,” usually admired for exposing the abuses of the powerful, doing producing a puff piece on Edison?

With Edison’s star long since fallen, I’ve never reconciled all that ... And with corporate education reform continuing to hammer public education – with a stunning lack of consistent, “scalable,” replicable success – that mass attitude in the press hasn’t changed all that much. Skeptical coverage shows up here and there, but the dominant story is still the tale told by the corporate reformers: Our public schools are failing. Bad teachers and their unions are the heart of the problem. “Innovations” such as private managers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, Teach for America novices, and regimented “no excuses” schools for poor kids (though never for the “reform” advocates’ kids) are the solutions. ...

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen's views help define what’s going on here. For whatever reasons, the tenets of corporate education reform are viewed as being in the “sphere of consensus”:

The sphere of consensus is the ‘motherhood and apple pie’ of politics, the things on which everyone is thought to agree. Propositions that are seen as uncontroversial to the point of boring, true to the point of self-evident, or so widely-held that they’re almost universal lie within this sphere. Here ... ‘journalists do not feel compelled either to present opposing views or to remain disinterested observers.’ (Which means that anyone whose basic views lie outside the sphere of consensus will experience the press not just as biased but savagely so.)

As part of the same viewpoint, critics of education reform fall within the “sphere of deviance,” Rosen writes:

In the sphere of deviance we find ‘political actors and views which journalists and the political mainstream of society reject as unworthy of being heard.’ As in the sphere of consensus, neutrality isn’t the watchword here; journalists maintain order by either keeping the deviant out of the news entirely or identifying it within the news frame as unacceptable, radical, or just plain impossible. The press ‘plays the role of exposing, condemning, or excluding from the public agenda’ the deviant view.

In a comment that rings painfully true, he says: “Anyone whose views lie within the sphere of deviance – as defined by journalists – will experience the press as an opponent in the struggle for recognition.”

http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2012/01/why-the-press-promotes-the-powerful-marginalizes-dissent/

We need better discussions of education politics. Presently, the intemperate, long-winded, and abrasive are dominant, largely through tactics meant to repel and crowd out their opponents. There are plenty of people who genuinely want to help students, particularly those who are disadvantaged, but who flee the blogosphere as too rude and unpleasant a milieu to want to inhabit for long, especially when there are the competing pleasantries of the holidays available.

We'll never get anywhere with all of the partisan polarization to be found here. I've lived overseas, and we will be left in the dust while the opinionated and ignorant continue the fracturous debate in the current manner, I fear.

What Bruce said.

Whitney is an idiot. In fact a self absorbed, no convictions idiot. Funny how Russo doesn't pick the more outrageous Tilson comments to share. Sadly like giving a stray dog food, quoting Whitney Tilson here will allow him to keep coming back into our lives.

On my latest post about Whitney, I showed YET again what an ignorant blowhard Whitney is with suggesting the education in this country is analogous with the United States military. With the ease of a child winning some sort of prize at Chuck E. Cheese I yet again debased and exposed Whitney's curious thinking pattern.

http://www.southbronxschool.com/2012/01/whitney-tilson-thinks-hes-in-army.html

@Robert, you were deeply offended only a few days ago at the term "corporate education reformers," and said you couldn't support anyone who spoke so strongly. But you are fine with @Bruce referring to critics of that brand of education reform as intemperate, long-winded, abrasive, rude, unpleasant and ignorant? Weren't you just calling for civility and saying you could never support anyone's position if they weren't polite? I'm getting more and more confused.

@Caroline I read Bruce's comments as applying equally to all those who fulminate online about education, not just critics of "corporate education reform."

No one side in any debate has a monopoly on intemperate, long-winded, abrasive or rude. But it doesn't help that all sides seem so determined to achieve one.

You read Bruce's comments disingenuously, then, Robert. He posted them here, and has not seen fit to do so in a repudiation of reformer's volumes of vitriolic attacks on us defenders of the status quo.

The voices raised against corporate reform are similar to Diane Ravitch's, Caroline's, Susan Ohanian's, mine, and dozens of others I know. It just isn't true that "the intemperate, long-winded, and abrasive are dominant."

This online collision isn't about vocabulary, though, or even-handedness, mutually respectful discourse, or all sides joining hands and singing Kumbaya. I use the strongest language I can find, but I'm not name-calling.

When I write "cheats, liars, and frauds" I mean it literally. I mean data has been falsified and misreported, misrepresentations have been made for personal gain by public servants and their private co-conspirators, and public money has been siphoned from from public education in violation of the laws of the land. I'm just one example, there are hundreds of others.

Here is the intemperate, abrasive, and long-winded comment I've posted, over and over:
"My girls came to me in tears, to turn in their chemistry texts and be signed out of the building against their will for "failure to make academic progress", with less than a tenth grade education. Then, they disappeared from our rosters, and from the state DOE data-base."

I reported it to the state DOE, the Boston Globe, the state's anti-corruption tipline. In every case, the "reformers" had gotten there first. So, for a thousand nights, instead of sleeping I did the work a reporter should have done, with just my computer and my search terms.

Now, Alexander wonders if his side might have the same effect by hiring a night-shift of sock-puppets. I think not, because the truth still matters.

Robert read my comment as I intended. I have read far too many comments by people who appear to be on the political right bashing teachers and unions. What is most offensive in such comments, perhaps, is the character assassination: not disagreements on policy or principles, but personal attacks in which the attacker claims to somehow divine the motives of people the attacker has in all likelihood never met. And more examples are in this thread: BronxTeacher's comments perfectly exemplify this style. I count five personal insults here, with only one reference to an idea BronxTeacher wants to counter (that comparing U.S. education with the U.S. military is a poor analogy). In logic I learned that such ad hominem attacks are automatically invalid.

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