Media: Finger-Wagging From A Cape Cod Vacation Home
Over all, I find Joanne Barkan’s latest Dissent piece (Hired Guns) to be an overly familiar, frustratingly misleading read -- much less original and interesting than the previous stories she's put out.
Her main premise, that school reformers have gone political, is nothing new at this point. The same is true for most of her main points: Jonah Edelman at Aspen, again? Michelle Rhee being aggressive, again? The unproven nature of RTTT reforms, again? The lack of accountability for nonprofit foundations, again? The fall 2011 Denver school board election, again? Reformers are many of them white and well-educated and arrogant, again? These are all things you’ve read here and elsewhere (ad neauseam) going back months if not years.
Most troubling of all is that in her new piece Barkan (pictured) presents a misleading, misguided, and perhaps even hypocritical vision of how education and democracy are supposed to work. I don't think it's fair to reformers (not that they need me to defend them) or particularly helpful to those who are critical of reform efforts.
It's not just that Barkan's recycling stuff we've already read elsewhere, however. The real problems are deeper: She's popularizing a description of teachers unions -- "elected leaders accountable to dues-paying members" -- that many rank and file teachers and parents would see as profoundly naive. She's perpetuating the distaste for advocacy that has long held educators all of all stripes back from making the system work better for them and for kids. (That's why Ford and Soros are funding advocacy efforts, not just Gates and Broad, and why the NAACP and AARP are 501c(4)s.) She lumps a broad swath of reformers together as if they agree on everything and are lock-step about how to proceed. (She also describes reform critics as a single, undifferentiated group that includes “public school students, their families, their teachers, and believers in the link between democracy and public education.")
Most of all, Barkan can't seem to see (or acknowledge) the limitations of reformers' efforts even when they are embedded in her own story. One of three reform candidates in Denver lost, despite all the spending. (The reform candidate in LA also lost.) Two of four reform candidates in New Jersey lost, despite lots of outside help. Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein lost, too.
Last but not least, Barkan makes a point of noting the race, gender, income, and alma mater of several reformers she criticizes but leaves out where she went to college or how she makes a living, or where she sent her kids if she has any. At a quick glance, she seems to be doing quite well. When she came and spoke at a Columbia University event last year, she seemed to be dressed quite fashionably. In the screencap above from her 2011 MSNBC appearance, you can see how nicely her silver and gray hair is done. She maintains homes in both Manhattan and on Cape Cod. And yet, according to Barkan, it's only the reformers who might be out of touch.