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Reform: Is "Intellectual Elitism" Getting In The Way?

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Picture 58 One of several conversations going on right now about the current political malaise involves the issue of elitism -- Democratic elitism, in particular (Democrats Have an 'Intellectual Elitism' Problem Atlantic Wire).  Though not focused on education politics in particular, it's a relevant question to consider in light of recent setbacks and controversies (the departures of Rhee & Klein, the appointment of Cathie Black, the Waiting For Superman debacle).  There's no doubt that education activists, especially the reformy kind, need to engage with teachers, parents, and other non-elites better than they have over the past couple of years. Right now it seems like they're being destroyed by bloggers like Valerie Strauss and critics like Diane Ravitch, who's become the Sarah Palin / Glenn Beck / Julian Assange of the left.


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Alex, I am sure if you are trying to up readership, but your opinion pieces having been spotting and lack in any wisdom at all. Seriously Diane is comparable with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. I am not even sure what you are trying to prove. This is lazy. I am a daily reader and have found your insight great in the past, but the last two weeks have been to quote a certain politician...that you are reminding me off...."Chicken shit!"

Not sure what is going on, but this is neither interesting or even honestly worth reading.


David Loitz

How is Ravitch like Palin/Beck?

You are comparing Valerie Strauss and Diane Ravitch to Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck?? You've lost credibility with that statement alone. Strauss and Ravitch have done more to further an intelligent debate on education policy than most anyone else. Rather than succumb to the laziness of left vs right, why not champion a logical, thoughtful discussion on what is RIGHT for our public education system.

I think this will be the last time I read this blog--this was truly, truly insipid. SO much for credibility.

Let's not pretend that current ed re-form is intellectual in any way. It is elitism but not intellectual.

Aside from the likening of Ravitch to Beck/Palin or Assange -- which is from so far out in outer space that utter bafflement is the only rational response -- the notion that she appeals to the left is not part of the reality-based community either. The "education reform" factions just don't fall along left/right lines.

A really strange notion. At least in Diane's instance, here is someone steeped in the issue, with the rigor of practice and scholarship, considered by many to be a top education historian, and you liken her to Sarah Palin and Glen Beck.

It's really the other way around, the likes of Bill Gates, Tom Vander Ark, Mike Bloomberg, Eli Broad, are the Sarah Palins and Glen Becks. These are the folks who promote an anti-intellectual, obtuse vision of education reform, lacking in rigor, history, connection to practice, and nuance.

I think Mr. Russo's point is around communication style. It's a caution to wonkish reformers who don't tell their stories well.

Set aside the politics part. Glenn Beck has a fairly similar message to, say, George Will. Not perfect correlation, but high correlation. Republicans prefer Beck (who appeals to tribalism/conspiracy) to Will (who appeals to reason). Will = Joel Klein in this example.

Glenn Beck: George Soros is trying to take over America. Answer Sheet: "The ugly takeover of our public institutions by private wealth."

Reformers have trouble whenever they use too much data and not enough story-telling. Bill Clinton got that. Obama doesn't.

Obama: 40 million people lack health care, and here are complex policy solutions. Palin: DEATH PANELS!

Who won that discussion? Obama won battle and lost war.

Reformers: Achievement Gap is one standard deviation and 10x in college graduation rates. Ravitch: Bill Gates is trying to hijack American education. Who wins that discussion?

thanks for the comments -- even those that disagree with the point i was trying to make.

this blog challenges both sides, and you're unlikely to find yourself agreeing with it all the time.

i didn't say what i meant to say very well, but commenter michael captures the gist of it -- the notion that those pushing for change may not be doing a great job of telling their stories, and are being walloped by those who have better, simpler stories to tell.

i'm not, obviously, comparing the politics of beck and palin to those of strauss and ravitch, but rather their ability to generate concern and raise questions, the galvanizing function that reformers are finding so irritating right now.



I actually understood your comparisons, unlike some of your other readers who commented. Ravitch has my attention with her spotlight on several key issues in education which bring about creative idesa for real possibilities to make reform that means something in education. Just like Beck and Palin, she makes you think about things and question the status quo. I am not familiar with Strauss, but will be looking her up soon as the question of how to make education work is a huge concern of mine. Thanks!

Well If Michelle is right. WoW.... I hope you are not proposing that Palin and Beck help us question the status quo. Unless the status quo is rational thought and sound judgment. Lets not pretend like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin wants us to, that they have any actual idea about what to do or actually have a idea of what real American want. Unless the country is purely made up of White Americans. The Tea Party is not the party of real people, nor is it even a majority of White People. We need to stop pretending they are. It is a fun story for the media, but even the Text books in Texas will not give them more then a footnote in history. Not saying Diane Rativich or Struss will get mention either... if we want to tell the stories of real people.... to Alex Russo we will not turn either.

Your writing has got lazy the last two weeks, and it has nothing to do with disagreeing with you, and everything to do with you not backing up anything you say....If we want to compare anyone to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin it would be you. Headline writing does not make you a blogger, nor does lazy insights.

Yes you might up readership, but you will lose minds.

a disappointed fan!

Michael's claims that the reformy types are (or even include) wonks who don't tell their stories well also doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The reforminess was born in the right-wing so-called "think tanks," whose stock-in-trade is telling their stories well -- really well -- truth be damned.

For starters, the term "think tank" implies "impartial scholarly research," when really these organizations are advocacy shops. (Of course there are some liberal "think tanks" too, but they are certainly dwarfed by the influence, wealth and reach of the right-wing ones, and are modeled after the right-wing ones in the hope of achieving a little of what the Hoover/Cato/Heritage/Mackinac/Pacific Research operations have.)

And sorry, Alexander, because I know this is your turf, but let's take one example of telling stories. I constantly see references to Green Dot charter schools as successful and unionized. Not uncommonly, those references are actually from people who are supporters of public education and challengers of the reformy storyline -- their point being that unionized charter schools can succeed.

But actually, Green Dot charter schools consistently post seriously crappy test scores, if we're using that as a gauge of success (as the Reformy Ones do with public schools). And while the Green Dotters are unionized in name, their teachers have limited if any job security, which makes the term "unionized" meaningless.

So here we have this totally false story about this particular charter school chain being spread and believed far and wide. This is just one example of the propaganda about charters and other reform "miracles" that is spread effectively and accepted widely, often as received wisdom.

As another example -- several of the stories in Waiting for Superman have big honkin' asterisks on them, but the one from my area, shining Summit Charter School vs. demonized Woodside High School, is totally false. I blogged to debunk it on the Answer Sheet, but that gets no traction. A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on and all that.

Another example is also linked to Green Dot, the so-called Parent Trigger law/movement. I won't go on and on; just remember not to believe whatever you read about it, because it's based on a steaming pile of BS too. Anyway, my greater point is that pretty much whatever the reformy movement puts out sticks like glue to the media and the public consciousness. The only reason people like Ravitch and Strauss are able to make any headway against them is that the reformy hype is based on dishonesty to such an extreme degree. (Just check Green Dot schools' actual test scores.)

What a perfect description of Ravitch -- except of course that she used to be more of a serious scholar.

The political rhetoric of the opposing party is at an all time high, as President Obama's approval ratings are slipping faster than ever. Going into the holiday season in 2009 the Obama's approval rating is below 50%. Now, many from the political right are questioning all Czars that Obama has appointed to his staff of intellectuals. Others are claiming the administration is a Cabinet of Clunkers, obviously a takeoff from the Obama "stimulus package" Cash for Clunkers Program.

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