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House Of Cards: Netflix Show Revisits 2000's ESEA Authorization

If, like me and a few others, you spent all or part of the weekend watching episodes of Netflix's new dramatic series, House of Cards, you emergef from your cave this chilly Monday morning tired and edgy.  Perhaps you went back and tried again once the week started. According to Atlantic.com, a Netflix marathon often leads to a Netflix hangover.

image from prospect.org

Why a hangover?  Well, like many shows these days -- Dexter, House, Breaking Bad, etc. -- the central characters here (Kevin Spacey as a Southern Congressman, Kate Mara as an ambitious journalist) aren't particularly admirable or moral human beings.   

What makes the show watchable -- in addition to the never-ending concerns about whether the characters will do more awful things (they will!) or get caught (mostly not!) -- is that it's got negotiations over an education bill as a backdrop.

Yes, like Season 4 of The Wire and Won't Back Down and a raft of recent shows, education reform is the high-stakes backdrop for this Washington DC thriller.

But is it realistic, or any good?  To tell you a little more about this -- which I must (otherwise I watched four and a half episodes in vain) -- involves revealing a fair number of plot points (ie, spoilers).  So read below without any expectation of my keeping secrets.  

The basics are there -- charter schools vs. district ones, vouchers, liberals and unions vs. moderates and reformers, testing.  The staffers look and act ridiculously young.  The political operators and the policy wonks are often speaking past each other.  The union folks are smart and concerned about the things they should be smart and concerned about.

But it never feels like any of the main characters really knows or cares about education, per se.  So far as I got into the series, they could have been working on a health care bill, or a transportation overhaul, or a budget.  Perhaps there's a payoff further down the line, something that makes for a stronger connection to education policymaking in particular?  

Even more problematic and off putting, there are tons of unrealistic and anachronistic elements to the education issues being discussed:

The new President picks education reform as an easy issue over other issues like immigration.  ("Everyone can get behind education.") Right.

Some of the language they use and the issues they're discussing  -- "performance standards," testing frequency -- also sounds very 199os to me.

One of the supporting characters is a hapless liberal wonk, a Paul Wellstone who's brought in, wants to ban vouchers and talk subsidies, then used and discarded.  If there are folks like that around any more -- Bernie Sanders -- there aren't many.  

Maybe the writers are catapaulting us back to 2000, when President Bush came to office and -- very much like in HOC -- put a Congressional leader who was more interested in making a deal in charge of the process.  

Kevin Spacey is a Democratic John Boehner!

I'm not the only one who's noted the anachronisms (which aren't limited to the education debate).  "The content of the show often feels curiously old-fashioned, especially in the context of its innovative format," notes Wired in Netflix's House of Cards Offers an Uneven But Promising Look.

What did I miss, or get wrong?  Has have you seen any other (better) writeups of the education angles of the series?  I was sort of hoping someone else would do this. 
Image via Netflix.

 

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"One of the supporting characters is a hapless liberal wonk, a Paul Wellstone who's brought in, wants to ban vouchers and talk subsidies, then used and discarded. If there are folks like that around any more -- Bernie Sanders -- there aren't many."

Actually, Alexander, "there ARE folks like that around any more": We're called PARENTS!

Perhaps it disturbs you that a lot of us are starting to pay attention and put the pieces together?

Look, the sands are running out for so-called "education reform". Do a Google search for "education privatization" or just "privatization" over the past 6 months and compare its frequency with what shows up for the same period in earlier years.

Take a good look at the statewide rejection of the Privatization Agenda in two very conservative states---Idaho and Indiana---and the fact that the---soon to be ruled unconstitutional---"$6.00 Per Signature Just For Ballot Access" charter/trigger/takeover initiative in Washington State ended up in a statistical tie, despite being outspent 17 to 1.

That's right: Seventeen To One. But, that's still a significantly understated gap between the two sides, since this particular "Bored Billionaire's Toy" also used virtually every staff member of several "education groups" including Stand For Children, League of Education Voters, and other astroturfers.

Look, you charter chatterers have had over 20 years to show America something; and you've failed. You have some cherry picked "data" here and some more over there...etc. Please. It's all nonsense.

At least come clean and admit: It's all about a Private Takeover of Public Schools. The rest is all filler. Right?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.