Bruno: Don't Be Misled By Toxic Online Education Exchanges
It was nearly a month ago that John Thompson linked to John Merrow's piece about hyperpolarization in education reform debates, but I only just got around to reading it. It's just as well, because Merrow's points about "rants and negativity" were nicely illustrated by the recent Chicago teachers' strike.
Over the course of the CTU work stoppage I was struck by the nastiness of the online discourse. Supporters of the strike casually claimed that Rahm Emanuel & Co. were dishonest "privatizers", and CTU's critics routinely claimed to have demonstrated that Chicago's striking teachers - and Karen Lewis in particular - did not care about the district's children. And, of course, while each side was horrified and offended by the groundless personal attacks made against them, neither side seemed to appreciate the irony of their hypocrisy. Sadly, it was only a somewhat exaggerated version of the sort of polarized discourse Merrow criticized pre-strike.
And yet what strikes me every time I step away from the computer is that the discourse around education in my offline life is not nearly so polarized. I read the phrase "war on teachers" online nearly every day, but have never heard it in person from a teacher. My coworkers use standardized test results some times and complain about their limitations other times, but they rarely use terms like "mania" or "meaningless" that you commonly see online. I don't think I've ever heard a teacher either deny that poverty "matters" or use poverty as an "excuse."
In other words, while much of the education conversation in this country is overly polarized, it is not uniformly polarized and focusing on the most-polarized contexts -e.g., social media or the districts with the most adversarial labor/management relationships - can give a misleading impression of the temperature of the debate nationwide. The case for optimism may therefore be slightly stronger than John Merrow allows. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)