A whirlwind month visiting friends and colleagues around the country—from Maine to Denver. However, as usual I end up seeing more people who agree with me than disagree with me on the fundamentals of school reform. I had a chance in D.C. to talk to a friend of a friend who support Michelle Rhee’s reforms. I was dying to get into it, but as a guest I felt constrained and we dropped it quickly. What a shame. Was I right or wrong?
If we are to engage citizens with issues relating to educating the next generation of citizens, we have to get over our reluctance to talk about controversial issues. Maybe that is one reason we are, as Al Ramirez notes in last week Ed Week commentary, so eager to hand over our education policy to the federal government. Maybe it is not just the money they are bribing states with, but also a chance to get off the hook by appearing helpless? I think that appeals at times to teachers also. "Why blame me? I followed the recipe and if it did not produce the results you wanted, I'm not at fault."
Teachers are (alongside mothers) very prone to guilt for all the mistakes they made in the course of 6 hours, day after day. Hundreds of decisions each hour that may or may not have subtle or not so subtle ill-effects. I hated it when I made one of those "I should know better" mistakes on Friday at the end of the day. I had all weekend to stew about them, hoping I could undo it n Monday.
Maybe if the penalty was "just money," I could feel less upset about it? Fred Meier once said that he preferred playing card games for money, otherwise it seemed like he was playing for his honor.
Does cheating on the results make one feel less guilty? Probably not, but it makes one's honor a more private matter. Besides, I have discovered that people forget they fudged the data, and begin to boast about it as though it were real. Reporters, for example, boasted that the high school I was directing at the time, CPESS, had a 90% graduation rate before we graduated a single class. Did I correct them? It was so foolish that I let it pass…. Would I have tolerated such foolishness if the media had made public false bad results?
I have been following Tony Judt's memoirs in The Nation avidly. His skepticism about democracy's potential is refreshing. How can we argue about this more broadly than in the pages of The Nation? How about in school? How about a continuous curriculum that raises questions about democracy, that accepted Judt's bald statement that "democracy has always been a problem." One problem is that everyone now claims to be for it: Chinese, Burmese, South Africans, George Bush, Tea Party'ers as well as Obama and I. It is a "dangerously empty term" Judt argues. We "either re-educate" the public in some form of "public conversation or we will move toward what the ancient Greeks understood very well, which is that the closest system to democracy is popular authoritarianism." Dare we risk such a conversation in our schools?