(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Checker Finn wrote a read-worthy lament for the state of ed reform for Hoover. Read the whole thing but this paragraph in particular caught my attention:
Exacerbating the disagreements on those questions is the self-righteousness that seems to have swamped this field in recent years. Education has never been a mirth-filled realm, but when I first got into it a lot of participants could still smile, occasionally giggle, even tell the odd joke—and the chuckles were, often as not, bipartisan. Today, however, practically nobody seems to have a sense of humor, at least not about anything bearing on ed reform. Is it because of our unfunny national politics? Because social media and 24/7 news mean that even a short chortle can be turned by one’s foes into evidence that one is making light of something? I’m not sure about the cause, but I can attest that it’s hard to make common cause with people who can never share a spoof or jest.
Practically nobody?!? It is alas a lonely task, but we continue to hold this last, best outpost of making light of things in ed reform-especially the deeply misguided and doomed to fail yet uhhh-gain sorts of things. We have been spoofing and jesting here at JPGB non-stop since 2008 and ed reform continues to provide plenty of material.
Checker makes an important point-social justice warriors make for poor dinner guests. It reminds me of this Charlie Rose debate about the 1960s when Barbara Ehrenreich droned on sternly while PJ O’Rourke’s related that his fondest 1960s memories involved LSD and picking up hippie women at protests.
Lighten up, Francis-we may as well keep a good sense of humor during what constitutes a protracted process of figuring things out.
I didn’t find a mea culpa in Finn’s Hoover article. That would be the beginning of wisdom from someone who has helped to cause much of the damage to the public schools in the past decade.
“I don’t know whether it’s fixable, or how much effort either side is prepared to expend trying to reconstruct a centrist ed reform movement. (I worry that each side would rather blame the other for today’s fissiparous tendencies.)”
This is an old problem – when one side has clearly been in the wrong and the other not, or one has been much more so than the other, how do you make peace? The needs of justice and peace are at odds in a way that is not the case when both sides are about equally to blame. You can tell the truth or promote reconciliation, but doing both at the same time is virtually impossible.
I recall George Will attacking the Vatican bureaucracy in the 1980s for being evenhanded between Palestinian terrorists and their Jewish victims. William F. Buckley defended the Vatican by arguing that (I quote from memory) “you cannot make peace if you always insist one side is in the wrong.” I remember thinking, when I read the column years later in a book, “but what if one side really is always in the wrong, as is the case here?”
South Africa probably did better than most with its TRC. But even that wasn’t fully satisfactory for anyone.
In ed reform I think a time of truth telling is needed now. Reconciliation cannot occur if we don’t trust each other or believe we have any shared vision and purpose. That calls for truth telling, not (as we constantly see from places like Fordham) desperate attempts to pretend that we all really agree on everything when we manifestly do not. All that does is undermine the possibility of trust by signaling that truth telling is not a value.
For a post about humorless debates in ed reform, it sure did get somber quickly in the comments section!
Having said that, if one takes the work of Hanushek and Loveless at face value, then it seems to me that much of the falling out was over something that has proven to be relatively meaningless. Yes there was a huge overreach, and it is slowly but surely ending in technocratic tears in petty little dictator beers. A(nother) cautionary tale of how not to do education reform.
I however see no evidence to support the idea that “damage” has been done to schools. Arizona adopted and then led the nation in NAEP gains for two cycles. The Loveless analysis leads me to believe that adoption had little to nothing to do with these gains, but adoption certainly didn’t stop them.
Not much damage has been done to schools; enormous damage has been done to the movement.
As for who is to blame:
I forgot about that post. That clip is priceless “Remember- you wanted this…”