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Bruno: People Who Disagree With You Aren't Crazy

128761500667747657Generally speaking I think it's a small step forward for the education reform debate any time somebody acknowledges that teachers are not, in fact, monolithic in their views. Still, I was not encouraged by this piece from pseudonymous blogger "Horace Mann" at Nancy Flanagan's site wondering if teachers who support "reform" in any way may be "compliant" because they are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. On the one hand, "Horace" wants to argue that "[t]eachers and parents need to comprehend that they know better about what works for children than legislators...and private corporations". On the other hand, he's troubled that many, many parents and teachers seem not to agree with him on various reformy topics.

Unfortunately, rather than try to explain this lack of consensus by engaging with the substance of the issues, Horace proceeds to dismiss the opinions of millions of his professional peers by making a series of  dubious, speculative arguments about why teachers who disagree must all be psychologically impaired in some way. Not only is Horace's article unlikely to be persuasive to anybody who doesn't already agree with him, lots of teachers could justifiably feel insulted by it.

For example, I've got numerous math teacher colleagues who are genuinely excited about the Common Core math standards. While I'm not a math teacher myself, I've heard them explain the reasons behind their excitement in ways that seem pretty well thought-out. To Horace Mann, however, it cannot be the case that my colleagues have carefully considered professional judgments. Rather, they are "rolling over" because they are insufficiently "self-assured" in the face of authority (or suffer from some other psychological inadequacy), and their views should thus be summarily dismissed.

As somebody who is skeptical of a lot of the reform movement, I'd feel better if I thought other reform critics were taking seriously the reality of diversity of opinion among teachers and parents. Writing off those who disagree with us as crazy, stupid, or dishonest is a recipe for political failure. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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"Horace Mann's" point of view is complex and opens the door to many debates and discussions. As I read your piece and his, I am reminded of the fact that no issue is "either/or" and all issues are relative to one's experiences, vantage point, education and so many other factors.

If we look at the giant issue of public education, there is no one right answer, and there are many, many positive paths towards success. Teachers are not rushing to protect the educational systems of the past because teachers know those systems were not perfect, and teachers are not rushing to support innovation, because all innovation is not perfect. Teachers represent a large, varied group of individuals in a diverse number of situations.

I believe that all teachers will agree on the idea of "creating conditions for excellence" in every school in America. I believe all teachers will agree that "conditions for excellence" include well trained teachers, fair salaries, equitable treatment towards all children no matter their race, religion, culture, economic or physical status, adequate, safe facilities and playgrounds, access to optimal tools including technology and public financial, legal and moral support.

Debates surrounding reform are essential. Honest facts and figures will support what is best for children. Optimal education requires substantial funding and public support, and it is an investment that will move our country forward in ways that we can't even imagine.

As in every area of social change past and present, it will take the strong, committed voices and actions of those with vision to stand up and make a difference. Pointing fingers, angry outbursts, and criticism will draw attention, but a strong vision and plan for an education system that will teach children with dignity, care and strength will be the action that will move all teachers to stand up with support and voice. Who will bring that vision forward? Who will stand as the Ghandi, Mandela, King, Einstein, Roosevelt . . ., for optimal education for all the world's children?

I was taught to never make those sort of statements about teammates and/or co-workers, and to try to not even think them. But my views were formed back when unions and other progressive institutions had a socializing effect. Just as students need to be taught to be students, workers need to be taught to be co-workers, professionals need to be taught some professional restraint, and people must be taught to be citizens of a community, and one of the things that we need to do is bite our tongues.

BUT, look at the big picture. Rather than blame teachers for a lack of solidarity, blame the "reformers" who have tried to divide and conquer us - often with the goal of destroying our most cherished values. I'd have been more comfortable with your post if it featured Eva Moskowitz (as quoted in today's NYT), for instance, who wrote to Joel Klein, “We need,” she wrote, “to quickly and decisively distinguish the good guys from the bad.”

John - I've got no quarrel with the idea that ad hominem attacks are too common all around.

That said, I don't think I anywhere "blamed teachers for a lack of solidarity". My point is that you can't just explain away any existing lack of solidarity by hand-wavy claims about psychological impairment, and that we're tactically better of acknowledging the diversity of opinion that's almost inevitable among such a large group of individuals as teachers.

Indeed, the whole concept that we should "blame" lack of solidarity on *anybody* - reformers or their critics - implicitly denigrates the professional judgment of teachers, who I think should be treated as having reasonably-considered opinions in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Frankly, it seems to me that dismissing teachers' opinions on the grounds that they've been "divided and conquered" by reformers isn't really much less insulting to them than Horace Mann's claim that they're suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

What's missing in the corporate education reforms which focus so much on gathering, and wasting valuable time on discussing, data, is the voice of the real experts who know how children learn best, and the child development experts who know that children need much more play based learning to develop optimally and healthily. In short, what's lacking and what is totally unconscionable, is the compassion for kids!

Teachers are taken in by the propaganda, are afraid to dissent for fear of losing their position, or do not see the BIG picture!

How can they think some of these horrible programs such as the scripted Reading First and PBIS are good unless they are taken in by propaganda?

See this clip: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqQ7icUA-sY&feature=related

Conny -

As I said, I think respect for the professional judgment of teachers requires that their expressed opinions be engaged with on substance, rather than dismissed as gullibility to "propaganda", "fear", or other sorts of psychological impairment.

So, for example, while I'm not very familiar with the ins-and-outs of Reading First, I actually am familiar with PBIS, and think one reason teachers might think PBIS is good is that it has some significant research support, e.g.:



My point is similar to Conny's. Teachers are under seige. We have a tough enough job, and yet we are also subjected the best sorch and burn proganda that money can buy. After being attacked so much in vicious campaigns funded by corporate powers, so will turn on the colleagues. That's norma and predictable.

But let's be clear. Teachers are working people, not sants. For political reasons, we've been subject to scapegoating and hopelessly ridiculous scripted instruction.

I think you criticsm would be better directed toward Moskcowitz, Klein, rhee, the Broadies, Scott Walker and others who have polluted discourse.

John -

While it's not impossible that some teachers are just crumbling out of fear, what's the evidence that that's particularly wide-spread? I've seen a lot of casually-broad *claims*, but precisely nothing in the way of evidence that many teachers who say they like, say, the CCSS are lying and/or deranged.

I also don't see the logic by which it's not OK to criticize illogical attacks by reform critics on the grounds that, well, other people are doing some worse stuff. I think my criticism of Horace Mann's illogical attack is best directed at Horace Mann and other people making it! "Free passes for people I'm sympathetic to" is no way to run a debate.

You're kidding right? If teachers don't know they are under siege and that public education is in danger from corporate takeover, then they are too stupid to teach. Is that reductive enough for you?

Classic defense, that one. It’s actually a pretty bad one, at that. When your argument is reduced to “WELL WELL WELL UM YOU’RE STUPID AND WRONG”, you’re more likely to be the incorrect one.

Here's just one paragraph from today's blogs (in this case Diane Ravitch citing a Gotham Schoo, account)
"Teachers are crying constantly. Constant breakdowns. So many teachers in my school are on anti-anxiety medication or on anti-depressants. The powers that be have succeeded in breaking the spirit of all the teachers in my school and I am sure in the other 23 schools in NYC."

Sure, there must be teachers who support SIG and value-added. There must be some schools that do Turnarounds and Transformations in a constructive manner.

But, you must know about ways that these reforms, like so many other reforms, are implemented in a way calculated to break teachers' spirit, and drive them out of the profession. When teachers see so much abuse heaped upon themselves and their colleagues, some are inevitably going to criticize colleagues who go along with those "reforms." Why focus on a mere comment in a blog when there is so much extreme and well-funded and highly-orchestrateed teacher-bashing going on?

John -

Because the comment on the blog is an unsupported ad hominem attack and therefore shouldn't have been made. Your anecdotes via Ravitch - which, incidentally, don't align well with my personal experience - don't support Horace Mann's dubious and insulting comments any better than he did in the first place.

I agree, btw, that there are worse things happening than Horace Mann's blog post. That's no reason for a free pass for Horace Mann, though. Why bother with these equally-dubious, convoluted defenses of him?

Because I want to be able to use the word "crazy" when criticizing Texas' criminalization of discipline in commenting on Alexander's post of today.

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