Bruno: A Partial Defense Of Parents Across America
About Alexander's post on Parents Across America, I find myself liking it more than agreeing with it.
On the one hand, while my experience with PAA is pretty limited, at least some of its members seem perfectly willing to question the legitimacy of their opponents based on the interests they appear (or are assumed) to represent.
The tendency of at least some PAA members to operate that way is annoying exactly because it's so fallacious. I take some pleasure, then, in watching Alexander turn that same hypercritical, guilt-by-affiliation lens back on them.
At the same time, while Alexander was criticizing PAA in roughly the same way they can criticize others, the fact is that PAA shouldn't be making those attacks in the first place and I don't think anything is gained by sinking to that level.
Alexander's argument boils down to the fact that "PAA is mostly not from the low-income minority communities or the dysfunctional schools that are the the focus of so much reform attention," so "it's not at all clear that have a legitimate claim to represent those communities and schools in any great numbers." I think diversity is certainly important for these sorts of organizations, but that these legitimacy-based arguments are off-base for at least two reasons.
First, the sad fact is that a disproportionate fraction of the financial, social, and political resources required for school reform are concentrated in the hands of white people of above-average wealth. This means that, realistically, these groups aiming for medium- or large-scale change are typically going to consist disproportionately of wealthier, whiter members. That's evidence of a lot wrong with our society, but I don't see that it's much of a reason to knock any particular group.
Second, as helpful as diversity can be for developing a strong agenda, at the end of the day it's the agenda that needs to be evaluated on the merits, not the affiliations of the individuals who came up with it. PAA has what I think of as a pretty good agenda overall, consisting of many items that either are good ideas or would be good ideas if adequate resources existed.
PAA definitely has its substantive weaknesses - their agenda should be more specific and affirmative, in my view, and they shouldn't traffic in so many substanceless ad hominem arguments - and those weaknesses may even be linked to an insufficiently diverse membership (if Alexander is correct about that). I don't see, however, how speculating about the representativeness of its members gets us much closer to understanding the group's overall value to the debate.
This is particularly true since it's not even obvious that the criticisms Alexander is levelling couldn't be directed just as forcibly toward lots of other groups, too. After all, how many activist political groups are genuinely representative and don't make unjustifiably self-righteous claims about their own mandates and legitimacy? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)