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Media: Tin-Eared Reactions To NYT "Private School" Column

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#Reformy types were all kinds of apoplectic about Mike Winerip's column in the New York Times yesterday, which has the gall to note that several of the country's most prominent reformers went to private school. By the angry/miffed responses -- EdSectorAndywonk, and others -- it's a delicate issue.  It shouldn't matter, really. Of course it shouldn't.  But -- let's be honest -- it does. People care where you're from, where you live, and where you send your kids to school (especially if you're prone to wagging your finger in other peoples' faces).  They also care what you make, they care that you're (mostly) white and male.  Now I have my own complaints about Winerip's column, which mixes NCLB accountability hawks with Obama-era charter/value-added types together, leaves out "it" reformer Jonah Edelman (Sidwell Friends!), and hilariously calls Michelle Rhee's organization "Sunshine First" (since corrected).  But the fact that reformers don't like having the private school issue raised and respond to it so angrily suggests (a) some sensitivity, (b)a bit of a tin ear on issues of class, and (c) a corrosive sense of entitlement when it comes to media coverage and commentary. Even the most occasional criticism or skepticism is cause for an attack. It's an alienating, and amateurish response given how credulous and complimentary the media (including the New York Times) have generally been towards reform efforts.

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Loving it. Thank you, Michael Winerip, and Alexander.

Mr. Winerip's is an interesting variation on the ad hominem attack. Rather than criticizing the reformers' positions, or doing anything more than giving one-sentence summaries of them, or directly attacking the people supporting those positions, the article just slyly names the private schools they attended--and leaves it up to us to determine the relevance of those info pieces. Innuendo, subtle. Okay, maybe a large percentage of the nation's elite, on both sides of the aisle, feel guilty about having received positions of advantage through unfair, unequal resources, and want to assuage their consciences? Or maybe they're just shocked at the state of the nation's public schools, and realize we must do better? All kinds of guesses are possible, but how is the advocate's high school relevant to the assessment of the advocate's position? Answer: it isn't. (I went to Canoga Park High School in Canoga Park, CA.)

"Or maybe they're just shocked at the state of the nation's public schools, and realize we must do better?"

Or maybe they're speaking from a position of severe lack of understanding, due to lack of contact and familiarity with the institution they intend to reform and the people they're imposing their reforms on. I think that's Michael Winerip's point, and it's quite a valid one.

It has been interesting to follow Gov. Jerry Brown's learning curve on public education, as a Californian. Brown is from my city, San Francisco, and attended the most elite Catholic high school, St. Ignatius. When he was mayor of Oakland, he started two charter schools there, assuming that it would be easy to do a better job that those stupid old professional educators who struggled so badly -- Brown figured a school could be run just like St. Ignatius.

Then reality bit. Brown has been incredibly hands-on and devoted to those schools -- as Oakland mayor, later as California attorney general, now as governor. He has fundraised relentlessly for them (they have more money than God); attended their parent meetings; personally managed the hiring of administrators. The schools would never, never have survived without all that attention and effort and money. Now he says he has been humbled; he now understands the complexities and demands of trying to educate children from all communities.

NOW Brown gets it -- but before, as the product of an elite private school education, he hadn't a clue. And that's the point.

(Tamalpais High, Mill Valley, CA)

I agree that you can't let this kind of thing get under your skin. What made me discount the piece was the selectivity that Winerip engaged in. If you want to go for it, go for it and be real. If you're a journalist, then don't leave OUT everyone who doesn't fit the bill (Klein, Walcott, Kopp, King, etc. etc.). You can have your opinion, but don't present it as "news".

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