Earlier this week, CBS Radio star and White House expert Mark Knoller (@markknoller for you Twitter followers) noted that former President Bill Clinton, while at a political event, said “‘no criticism is too vicious and too fact-free’ for opponents to use against Pres Obama.”
It was one of the few times, particularly lately, when Eduflack really paused to reflect on something I had seen on Twitter. Regardless of whether it applies to the Obama-Romney showdown this fall, one thing is true. President Clinton’s statement definitely applies when one looks at education reform.
Yes, there is no criticism too vicious or too fact-free for opponents to use against education reform. Or perhaps, to be a little more generous and to paraphrase a line from Seinfeld, when it comes to defending the status quo, it isn’t a lie if you believe it to be true.
Don’t believe it? Take a look at the opinions and vitriol that follow education reform across the nation. In state after state, those who defend the status quo issue the same lines and look like carbon copies of other status quoers.
If one is for greater accountability, then one is pro-bubble sheets and only teaching to the test.
If one supports public school choice, then one is stealing dollars from our community schools.
If one demands increased parental involvement and parental rights, then one is anti-teacher.
If one calls for teacher evaluations, then one is anti-collective bargaining.
If one provides philanthropic support to improve public schools, then one must be a profiteer looking to make personal fortunes off public education.
If one highlights the achievement gap and the disparities in both quality and outcome for Black and Latino students, then one must be a race-baiter.
If one asks for public school improvement, then one must be trying to privatize the schools and enact a voucher system.
If one believes we can do better and wears the tag of education reformer proudly, then one must be an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Republican looking to take over the system.
Sadly, there are no attacks that are too vicious or too devoid of fact for the defenders of the status quo. In our modern era of campaign politics, it is all about trying to tear down the opponents. It isn’t about policies. It isn’t about facts. And it certainly isn’t about the students. It is about protecting what one has, no matter how ineffective the system may be.
And what of the reformers? They simply have to stand and take the attacks and the vitriol, no matter how ridiculous. Try to confront it, and you merely encourage those status quo defenders. Try to set the record straight, and any egregious statement you don’t address is automatically accepted as gospel.
In politics, we keep talking about the need for an end to negative politics and a new era of debate and collaboration. The same can be said of education reform. This should no longer be an argument of who is anti-teacher, who is anti-accountability, and who defines what as a true public school. Instead, we should be focusing on both identifying the problem and offering real solutions.
Defending the way we have always done things because that is how we have always done things is not a solution. Now is the time for ideas, for promising practice, and for real solutions. Now is the time for a debate robust in facts, not a time for fact-free attacks.