Ideas: Stalemated School Debate (You're *Not* Winning)
There's no shortage of polarizing figures in education today -- Michelle Rhee, Diane Ravitch, etc. And perhaps it will always be this way (fun!). Education is a polarizing issue, after all, and neither side is willing to tolerate much independence from its champions (seelout!).
But still I'm curious about those who are at least attempting to hold the middle ground. NYU's Pedro Noguero took on at least some of this role, at least until he resigned from the charter authorizing committee last month. The Harlem Children's Zone's Geoff Canada could have been in this middle space, given his media presence and his commitment to social services, but seemed to have been co-opted by the charter school hedge fund crowd. Linda Darling-Hammond has maintained ties with the Obama adminstration and with traditional educators.
But really there's no one I can think of who's acceptable to both sides. And the absence of a unifying figure -- and some sort of a joint rallying cry -- is a problem that most of those currently engaged in battle don't seem to appreciate. This is in large part because both sides of the fight seem to think that they're winning.
The motivation behind this thinking isn't any unrealistic hope for peace and understanding or even the unease that I'm told the education wars generate in the pits of some peoples' stomachs but rarely experience myself (fight!). Rather, it's a pragmatic impulse. Watching reform and anti-reform folks fight each other has become boring. It's devolved into stalemated trench warfare. I don't think either side of the current education debate has enough "oomph" to generate a clear victory at this point. The ideas and the personalities just aren't there, far as I can see, nor the organizational capacity. Congratulations, everyone. Well done.
So what? Who cares? Well, if reformers and anti-reformers continue to fight it out tooth and nail at every corner bodega encounter, then the current education system is likely to stay as it is, which would seem sort of sad. It won't become the highly efficiency technocracy that reformers would like it to become, or the teacher-centered progressive utopia that many educators seem to imagine. Instead, the public and policymakers will get turned off and walk away, taking their attention and dollars with them. Both sides will declare victory, but we would know better. The house will have won again (yay).
What if reformers and reform opponents joined forces and used their combined might against entrenched stakeholders and inertia instead of beating each other with sticks and knives? On what topics -- universal preschool, for example, or beefing up teacher preparation -- do education combatants share enough common interest to join forces in a meangful way? What kind of a dent in the current system could teachers unions, reformers, and foundations make if they came up with something big and bold and put all their attention and resources into it?
We'll probably never know. Both sides think they're winning. It would take some sort of dramatic standoff or public outcry to convince reformers and their opponents that it was in their best interests to give up the current fight -- or perhaps some new, as-yet-unknown figure to shame education into a direction that could generate actual change.