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THOMPSON: Amen to Russo's Post on Matt Miller

BernardshawAll three of Russo's posts on Matt Miller were right on target, especially about Matt Miller's ideas that are "fun," "impossible," and "ridiculous." As long as the pointy headed pundits are tilting at windmills, they are sacrificing their leverage for imposing their idiosyncratic technocratic ideas on the real world. You probably know both Miller and Matt Yglesias (I don't) but I don't see how Ygelsias, who you cite, is much more realistic. Yes, the issue for Miller seems to be less about the money than the messiness of school boards and local control. That disorderliness prevents the wonks from imposing their mandates that would transform America. They are like the old Fabian Socialists who wanted to fix up the working classes so they wouldn't be so dirty. Yes, the deeper problem is American culture that prizes localism. But that's reality.
But American culture is not all bad (and I'm not convinced our entire educational system is so bad either or that laxness in our suburban schools is selling us down the river). Schooling is inextricably intertwined with American culture. Schools can underachieve, relatively speaking, or overachieve in comparison with society but not by that much. I see that as realism, not "low expectations." I doubt our schools are that much better or worse than in the past. Our big problem was the way we didn't respond to the 1973 Energy Crisis, rapid deindustrialization of America, and the collapse of the family which was hastened by the loss of old-fashioned jobs. We're just asking education to carry a much heavier freight, and their locomotive, data, is not nearly up to the task.
The wonks and pundits have some good ideas along with their weird ones. But they will never be a strong positive force until they can do some honest introspection. Which would benefit students more, the implementation of their conventional wisdom in education or getting a "cap and trade" deal that starts to rebuild jobs and hope, or fixing the health care system?
Miller and friends can ridicule people who want to ask those questions, but education is a people business and hope is a much more powerful force than frequent assessment and/or fear. End unintended teen pregnancy, for instance, and within a generation test scores will rise beyond anything their alignment proposals could accomplish. Oh yeah, I'm not allowed to say that. But why not? All I'm saying is that kids, like all Americans, will take advantage of new opportunities, and that technocrats can only improve things at the margins. I see that as hopeful.
Whether they like it or not, democracy and education are inseparable. That's an old idea worth preserving from the tyranny of worshiping the new.

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