Last week, the good folks over at Politico Education Pro wrote an interesting piece on the discourse in the current public education debates. Written under the header, Name-calling turns nasty in education world, the article by Stephanie Simon rehashed some of the name calling we’ve seen in the name of education and education reform recently.
There is no question that the rhetoric has gotten extremely ugly. Simon highlights just a few examples, and even those examples don’t truly illustrate the level of vitriol out there, particularly when there are specific legislative fights or policy changes in process.
The issue, though, is not whether there is harsh rhetoric flying around the education corral these days. We all know there is. The issue is whether we accept the reality and acknowledge when things get out of hand.
As the former CEO of an education reform group, I’ll be the first to say there were things I said in the heat of the moment that I now wish I hadn’t. The passion of the fight does that to one. And while I am enormously proud of what we accomplished, and knew that the rhetoric I used was necessary in the moment, in reflection I wish I had chosen different words or framed things a little differently. Doing so would have made the implementation of those reforms easier, pitching a larger tent, and would have reduced some of the extreme tension at the time.
But not everyone seems to see the issue through the same lens. In response to the article, I engaged in a Twitter debate with one who has dogged me for years now. His take of the article was completely different than mine. He read the piece as an indictment of reformers and the reform movement for saying things that were completely inappropriate and offensive to educators.
When I pointed out that both sides were to blame, and both were guilty of the practice, his response was almost laughable. Again, it was the reformers fault. Those doing the work of angels were just speaking facts and truths.
So I asked if he even read the article. The parts about Diane Ravitch and her hateful words toward Parent Revolution (just one example the author could have used about Ravitch). Or the truly hateful speech that came out of the mouth of Florida teacher Ceresta Smith that was directed specifically at Michelle Rhee.
His response? They had to say those things. It was the only way to respond to the reformers because they wouldn’t accept the facts and the realities.
And this is the great disconnect in the current education communications landscape. There is no dialogue. There is no discussion. Instead, we are engaged in mutually assured destruction. In an effort to control the headlines, get the blog posts, and gain the Klout scores, we say outrageous things in an effort to gain attention. We try to position ourselves as the “smartest person in the room,” the only person with the facts and figures and data to win the argument. We refuse to listen, and just think at the next retort or the next attack.
At the end of the day, those engaged on both sides of the education reform struggle, the “corporate reformers” and the “defenders of the status quo” agree on far more than they disagree. So instead of the name calling and the mutually assured destruction, is there any hope for collaboration and some real, meaningful progress?