“No Criticism is Too Vicious and Too Fact-Free”

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.

7 thoughts on ““No Criticism is Too Vicious and Too Fact-Free”

  1. You might want to examine your own form of “vicious and fact free criticism”. You and the “reform community” characterize any criticism as apologizing for the status quo. Many of us have problems with your proposed reform ideas, not because we don’t want education to improve, but because in our opinion the measures you are suggessting haven’t and won’t really improve performance. If you examine what the highest performing districts, states, and other high flying jurisdictions in the world have done to improve education, you’ll find it differs substantially from your agendas. These high performers have invested in school site team building around instruction, career ladders for teachers, investment in professional development, leadership training, and better materials. It’s not that what the “reform community” is proposing is wrong, but more that the measures are too weak to transform schools. And the shrill tone of righteousness that you are on the side of the angels and people who disagree are shills for the status quo precludes the productive dialogue needed to reach consensus on how best to improve education.

  2. And any critic of a bad edreform idea is a defender of the status quo. Repeating that phrase or variations of it (four times in this one short post, for example) won’t make it true. Talk about fact free. Oh, the irony…

  3. I agree,the time is now for politics t take a back seat and for real solutions to come about and take over, no matter what side you are on. While we sit around and complain, there are grassroots movements such as the Student Bill of Rights and Occupy Education happening all over the world. There is much to be said about the fact that education has to be taken back by the hands of the students, and not the educators. Instead of slinging mud, David, try proposing some real solutions like Bill proposed. Perhaps then the original post will not be proved right by your “short” statement. I am disturbed as I read more and more educational blogs that non on is asking where the parents are in all this? We can hear the voice of the left and the right, and of the students, but what about mom and pop? Where are they, and what do they want from their students. Mediocrity, or change? If change is what you want, why aren’t you doing anything about it? No, everyone cannot start up a grassroots in the r spare time in between watching Seinfeld and working for FOXnews, but do you at least know where your social activist daughter is? I doubt it. In between all this talk about merit pay and test scores and the arts, we are still missing the real issue. Change is imminent. Left and right need to stop fighting and decide what to do about it. Are we going to change for the better, or for the worse? Can we raise taxes to fund bonuses or books? Can employers give a day off to parents who actually want to participate in their child’s life? Can we deal with the fact that a myriad of issues face educators and without us all working together, no one will be happy in the long run? Can we wake up, and stop hiding behind shoulda coulda’s? Call me a tree hugging hippie if you want, but hate is not the answer. Fighting will not solve the issue. The trend in education is already toward alternative choices. Stop bickering and make better choices. If not for the sake of the children, then for the future of this country. Progress is progress is progress, any way you slice it.

  4. Cristal, if you’d click on my name, you can see that I spend much of time and effort working on solutions, and not “slinging mud” as you put it. I work on proposals to transform teaching and schools, and I’m still teaching part-time as well. If mudslinging is all you saw in my comment, then I suppose you also saw more substance in the original post than I did. All I see is reformers so anxious to make changes that they’re willing to ignore volumes of research, the debris of failed reform efforts, and the voices of major professional organizations and practitioners in the field telling them they’re on the wrong track. Unless you can find me some examples of educators actually defending the status quo, I don’t think it’s mudslinging to point out that NO ONE IS DEFENDING THE STATUS QUO. It’s a cheap and oft-repeated sound byte intended to cut off debate about what works – and what doesn’t. Think of education as an unsafe building in desperate need of repair. Teachers and others in education are running around the building doing our best to keep it from falling down, and managing with fewer staff and fewer resources. Meanwhile, reformers are blaming us for not doing more to overcome myriad problems beyond our control and beyond our influence, coming in with ideas that will further destabilize the building. We’re not defending the status quo: we’re claiming that we better understand the children, the teaching and learning, and the conditions that shape our work and our experiences, and we don’t want so-called reforms that won’t help.

  5. Well said! Real discussion is the only true precedent to reform. Anything else is just a smokescreen for politics or something to advance a career, bias, etc.

  6. In e-mails several years ago to the chancellor at the time, Joel I. Klein, obtained by the columnist Juan Gonzalez of The Daily News, Ms. Moskowitz made clear her views. “We need,” she wrote, “to quickly and decisively distinguish the good guys from the bad.” http://bit.ly/Lbrvhx

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