Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why do you hate America's children?

Here's a disturbing trend.

Charter school advocates trivialize opposition to charters by attributing the root cause of the opposition to irrational emotion. They say it is due to fear, as in "Why do the teacher unions fear competition from charter schools?" They say it is due to baseless dislike: "They just don't like charter schools." Some attribute it to a weird kind of spite: "I get it. You just don't want poor children to have a decent opportunity for a good education."

It reminds me very strongly of the way that supporters of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq would dismiss opposition by saying that they simply hate the president or by asking them "Why do you hate America?" It allowed them to slide past the rational reasons to oppose President Bush's policies and the rational reasons to oppose the war in Iraq. It put the opposition on the defensive and relegated them to a weak and silly position. The equivalent today would be like asking people "Why do you fear a Black President?" or "Why do you fear a Mormon President?" It dismisses real and rational differences in policy as a facade for some baseless, irrational emotion.

Our culture still reflects, at least in our epistemology, the Greek ideal of logos. In this culture we know what we know because it can be measured and counted and because it follows a logical path of reasoning. In this epistemology, emotions are false and a distraction. Never mind how people actually make decisions - almost purely as an emotional reaction. In the formal discussion of them, emotions are dismissed as irrelevant.

It appears to me that charter school advocates are resorting to this tactic because they are not confident about their ability to make a convincing argument on the facts or with logic.

Do not allow this. Call this out every time you see it.


Unknown said...

The other version of this I see on the campaign trail (and at last night's debate - I'll start posting these events if you would like to hear 1240 debated), is "why don't you want families/disadvantaged families to have options that people in 41 other states have?" This, along with, "why do you want the status quo?"

One, of course, everyone wants options. In the US, you can go into the drugstore and there are 20 kinds of toothpaste. Are they all good? Probably not. Can the retailer stock every kind? No because he/she has so much shelf space and resources to supply a variety to customers.

Well, we have scarce education dollars (and getting smaller). Charters have not proven their worth in any great numbers, have not provided scads of innovation and certainly don't get closed in the numbers they should given the low-performance of many.

That's why we can't afford charters.

But we also can't afford to keep going the way we are. I am still waiting for someone, anyone to tell me that what is going on today in public education is fine and we don't need to change.

I have yet to hear from that person.

Washington State is NOT in a static state. As a long-time critic, I would not say that and believe it if I didn't think it so. Districts and unions have gotten the message. We don't just have some pockets of good things (because you can find good in both charters, public and private schools), we have some real change.

But we need to address two things for real change to continue.

One, in Washington State, we need to fully fund education. This charter issue is now an easy distraction for some legislators who can say, "look we did something" instead of addressing the problem in a way that would affect every single WA state K-12 student.

How about funding just at the national AVERAGE and see what happens? And, that funding needs to not only be systemic but also tactical. Districts need to get resources to struggling students and insist on it going to efforts that work.

Two, poverty.

When people ask why American students don't do well on international tests, I have an answer. Number one, we have NEVER done well on those tests. We were 11th out of 12 in 1963 and yet look at how our country grew to be the most powerful in the world.

Number two, we have one of the most heterogeneous populations in the world. It is much easier to educate a fairly stable, homogeneous population.

Number three, 25% of American children live in poverty.

Let that sink in.

We point to teachers as the problem, we underfund schools and yet we look away and will not acknowledge this issue.

Poverty does not stop at the schoolhouse door and has a huge effect on what happens in the classroom.

Charters won't change that. The ones that do have success with at-risk/poor children? They are the ones who largely have - guess what - an influx of private dollars. That would be groups like KIPP which kept getting brought up last night and the Yes said even said they would bring more private dollars in. Can you count on that happening? Nope. Guarantee it happening? Nope. Guarantee it is sustainable and scalable? Nope.

We want all kids to be in good schools but creating another system of have and have not schools is not the way.

Jamie said...

Yes Melissa, please post the 1240 debate events. Would love to hear about them. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My sister, who lives in another state, has tried public school, a charter school and this year is trying out a private school for her daughter. She found the charter school to have just as many problems as the public school. I agree that charters will not fix anything. I'm nervous that if WA gets charters that many parents will move their kids to charters taking their $ and volunteering with them leaving public schools worse off.


Unknown said...

The Iraq analogy is very apt. The rhetorical strategy of pro-charter people and of ed reformers in general comes right out of the neoconservative playbook that brought us that fiasco. In the same way that the Bush administration created an exaggerated or false sense of threat or disaster in Iraq (hotbed of terrorists, mushroom clouds, WMD everywhere), they are now creating an exaggerated sense of disaster in our public schools.

Did (does) Iraq have serious problems? Do our public schools? Of course they do, but in the same way that the U.S.'s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq was morally wrong and doomed to disaster, so is this invasion of our schools by ideologues who have has much understanding about what the reality of kids growing up in poverty is as the neoconservative engineers of the the Iraq War had about the realities on the ground in Iraq.

When we are persuaded there is an emergency, we are too easily conned into embracing whatever the most expedient, off-the-rack solution might be. And we are too willing to throw anything at the wall to see if it sticks. We justify such stupidity by saying anything is more acceptable than the status quo, right?

As Melliss points out, we have complex problems that will not be solved quickly or easily no matter what we do in our schools, so it's important that we don't make things even worse by blowing up schools (see link above) that are doing a decent job and replacing them with the equivalent of mud on the wall that's not likely to stick.

We can't do much to control what they decide in Washington D.C., but we can have an impact on what we do in Washington State, and that's why this charter fight is so important. But while I think it's safe to say that most of us don't want our kids going to low-cost testing factories, do we really have as clear a picture as we need to have about what we want our schools to be?

Washington State has the resources to create a model for the rest of the nation--but do we have the political will and imagination to do it?

We need to have a deep, honest, realistic discussion about what we want our schools to be for our kids and what it will take in resources for them to accomplish it, and then we have to be willing to persuade other Washingtonians to pay up and support the hard work that will make that vision a reality.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I think the issue is even more disturbing than your perspective. There are certain individuals within the Seattle self-declared education reform community who believe they have moral superiority on their side. The proponents of the "status quo" are, therefore, morally bankrupt and are simply to be dismissed as impediments to this morally superior course they are upon.

This aspect of the education conversation is very upsetting to me.

--- reformed

Jan said...

reformed -- that too bears a great similarity to national politics under Bush, a period during which a significant group of Republicans simply decided that only Republicans have the "right" to be the party in power. When they "lose" an election, it thus becomes morally imperative to do whatever is necessary (even at great detriment to the economy and the public good) to do whatever is necessary to regain power. McConnell came right out and said it in the Senate, but it is all over right wing literature. It is more than a sense that their ideas are better. It is that the other party is illegitimate and must be removed from power because it has no moral right to govern. This is why some of the Republicans in the House last year were actually looking forward to "bringing the government down" over the debt ceiling debate. They were looking forward to it -- because it was, in their opinion, illegitimate. It is also the genesis of much that is going on with voter suppression laws (obviously, if you are morally the only possible correct choice, and yet you lose an election -- the election itself must be illegitimate, right?)

Unknown said...

Reformed, they used that "moral" imperative argument last night. It's the "civil rights issue" of our time.

Of course it is morally wrong for any child to attend a failing school. It is also morally wrong to have a constitution that requires "ample" funding of education and Legislature that doesn't/can't do it.

But no one gets to take up all the space on the "moral" blanket and pretend they are the only ones who care. I know some of the other side and I am disappointed that they would cast anyone in that light.

It's wrong and it's unfair.

hschinske said...

"The equivalent today would be like asking people "Why do you fear a Black President?" or "Why do you fear a Mormon President?" It dismisses real and rational differences in policy as a facade for some baseless, irrational emotion."

Except that in those cases (given, y'know, the history of the U.S. and all that), the person is quite likely to feel baseless, irrational emotions against the black guy for being black, or the Mormon guy for being Mormon. Very few people hate children for being children.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the discussion has finally reached this point. Everything about the Reform crowd is drenched in political strategy, right down to demonizing and marginalizing the opposition by deliberately mischaracterizing it.

I consider much of the Reform crowd to be con-artists at best, and frauds at worst, being that, with few exceptions, they should (and probably do) know better than what they preach. But their willingness to step over the bodies of career teachers who are too busy teaching kids to mount their own defenses is what truly sickens me. This is a one-sided fight most of the time, with Billy Techbucks and his cronies paying the freight for the canon balls, while we fight back as best we can with sticks and stones.

Teaching in today's environment requires chops most Reformers can only dream of. And they know it. And that's why they fight so dirty. WSDWG

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the discussion has finally reached this point. Everything about the Reform crowd is drenched in political strategy, right down to demonizing and marginalizing the opposition by deliberately mischaracterizing it.

That's exactly what I thought as I read Charlie's words. The right has taken over the left's correct accusations against the right - that they respond emotionally and from a sense of fear - and have strategically projected them back on us. It is only a tactic and someone (Frank Luntz?) framed it for them. In general, Dems or libs (whatever) tend to be authentic. That's how I see it. So the right and reformers use customized messaging to frame the conversation - talking points in other words.

At a workshop today with many, many other teachers, all I could think of was how many people work as hard, off the clock, continuing education and with such energy and passion as most teachers so.

First we blamed teachers; now we are adding principals to the toxic mix. That's fair I guess but will it yield results? I think most educators are honestly doing the best they can.

Finally, it occurred to me that if these capitalists did what Geoffry Canada has done and put their energy and money where their mouths are, they could all start schools targeting impoverished kids and really make a difference. Instead, they prefer the spotlight and politicking. Superiority? Give me one humble Canada for all the Gates/Hanauers out there.

Also, I don't really think schools can solve all of society's problems. I'm sorry to say it, but I don't. I don't think there is enough institutional public money out there to do what we need to do today.

I hope I'm wrong.


An Educator said...

Slightly off topic, but...

Lynne Varner is up with another piece of tripe about why we should all adopt the morally superior position of accepting Charter Schools.


After reading it I feel like I need a long shower...

Anonymous said...

WSDWG and n..., let's be clear. Most of the Seattle education reformers (especially the staff of the ed reform organizations like LEV, Stand, and PFL) are Democrats and quite liberal in their politics. And I think they authentically care about children. There just happens to be a fundamental difference in strategies about how to best educate ALL children and particularly how to better educate disadvantaged children. What I believe Charlie is doing in the original post is to make people aware of the ed reformers' political strategies. Just because they employ political marketing firms to craft their messages doesn't make them "inauthentic" per se. They just want to win.

This reminds me of this scene from the West Wing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCSMyFWTjRc. If charter school opponents want to win, they best be prepared to employ political strategies that resonate with voters. Don't cower in the corner and plead with your opponents to stop being unfair and inauthentic. Be right. But be right screaming it from the highest hilltop.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps I said it badly, but the reformers are using strategies and tactics to make their case that are similar to those the right uses. These people may truly believe what they write but the talking points are there as is a deficiency of evidence to support their beliefs.


Charlie Mas said...

Do the people who form the staff of Education Reform Organizations genuinely care about children?

I suspect they do. But I don't believe that is it that care which puts them behind the Education Reform efforts to villify teachers, de-professionalize teaching, or promote charter schools. The impetus for that work comes from another place.

Anonymous said...

reformed at 8:24 -

there is a lot you say about the "liberal" deformers which is correct - I'm sure they're at the front of the pack with kleenex and glistening eyes listening to "I have a Dream" and writing fat checks for PP etc etc.

When you're talking about the honchos of the deformers and when it comes time to not stop a john roberts appointment, to make excuses for stupid-pak attaching anti-choice garbage to insurance company welfare from the heritage foundation, to cut the rodney toms and joe liebermans off at their political knees, too many of this deformer class might as well be on the other side.

in my 4 plus decades of political life, I have NEVER seen the Democratic party get effective on messaging when it comes to holding banksters accountable, or beating the lies of Harry and Louise, or beating swiftboats for truth or beating willie horton. I've never seen them crush the opposition doing the bain on good companies or the aig-merril lynch-goldman on people's pension funds going poof into LBO CDO MBS land -

but when it comes to bashing the working stiffs at schools stuffed with kids who have challenges the kids didn't sign up for - the kids who are on the wrong side of the womb zip code lottery - when it comes to bashing adults at the schools of struggling kids, the effective lies and deceptive lies and slick lies just don't stop.

isn't it kind of kool how the tea party nuts enforce discipline on policy which is horrible for the bottom 90%, and the more reasonable more open more nuanced more educated ... ha ha ha ... democratic crowd allows betrayal after betrayal after betrayal on family wage security, security in health care access, security of retirement, security of unemployment and retraining, civil rights security -- and educational access security?

people can choose to stop supporting those who betray them - people can ignore well paid back stabbers - they can make excuses for it because it is a well compensated team to be on -

for me


Anonymous said...

I love analogies. They instruct us on the skillful use of rhetoric. So charters are like the US invasion of Iraq. Assuming that premise, the steamrolling of Gates et al. Is the Bush administration and it's backers. So fa r so good. And the results are unstable Iraq and a very long war in Afghanistan. And many, many dead and injured Americans, Iraqis and Afghans. Others as well.
But the neocons will point out that the Arab spring is exactly what they predicted would happen. So we're they right to lie and get the US public to support the invasion?
Will charters bring about positive results down the road?
You can vilify Cheney but he may have been right after all. The same goes for The charter crowd.
Open Mind

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I don't understand your post. Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc. have been used as examples of what can happen when people become informed and have the ability tor communicate over a wide area which was a result of technology and the internet. At least, that's what I've read has been the biggest influence.

Iraq? I sure haven't read anything the our misbegotten intrusion of Iraq influenced Arab Spring. Unless, of course, some rightwing blog or perhaps Newsbusters is making that connection.


Anonymous said...

Oh boy. History lesson time. We propped up Saddam, Mubarek, ghadaffi and generally signaled to the Arab world that authoritarian regimes were ok if they were ours. The Iraq invasion showed the people there that times had changed and we, the US, would support democracies, providing they weren't too Islamist. Don't you remember the neocon theories?
Our prior repression of popular movements only facilitated radical Islam and our Bush era actions in Iraq have forced even the Saudis to reform.
And now charters can have the same effect of pushing groups like unions and districts to ramp up in order to compete. Will it happen? I don't know, but I find the name calling a bit tiresome and the idea that pro charter groups are somehow trying to intentionally hurt teachers or students a poor strategy to stop them.
In my opinion it's the unequal resources available to students that is so unfair. Whether its rich districts or rich schools within a district, the money is the problem.



Anonymous said...

Open: I know it's typically American to think we influence everybody else's good actions but in this case, I think you've put on the rosy-coloreds and they are impeding your understanding of the fine print.

You might find this analysis from the Brookings Institute informative.

Understanding the Arab Awakening
Kenneth M. Pollack

"Like all great social upheavals, the Arab Spring was long in the making, and born of many intertwined causes.

...While other countries in the world evolved from agrarian economies to industrial economies to informa- tion economies, the Arab world lagged far behind. In particular, the educational system of the Arab world remained stuck in a pre-modern era.

... No one could have predicted that the match struck by Mohammed Bouazizi to set himself afire in Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, would ignite the entire Arab world, but the kindling had been laid and was there for all to see years before.

...As Shadi Hamid describes in chapter 12, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his top advisers were also caught off-guard by the passion of the protesters and, as Mike Doran discusses in chapter 5, by their sophisticated use of new social media to mobilize and capture the sympathy of the wider international audience.

You'll find a lot more "there" there and it is way more sophisticated than anybody's belief that it resulted from the Bush push for oil.

Now you might make some sort of analogy to education from the Arab Spring but I don't think it will include George Bush. The closest he's come to education policy was to bring us the unfunded No Child Left Behind and some extra cash for his brother's testing service.


Jan said...

OpenMind: not sure how far this analogy can stretch either, and still be of any use, but when I look at Iraq, mostly what I see is the huge cost (both in dollars and lives spent) and the unleashing of the Iranian menace that was held in check for so many years by Iraq. Do you really think Saddam would have sat idly by and allowed the Iranians to arm themselves with nuclear weapons?

I see nothing in either Iraq or Afghanistan that leads me to believe that the Arab Spring movement has any genesis in our involvement in either of those countries. But MUCH in the currently looming issues with Iran. AND, those who understood middle eastern politics, the long history between the Shi'ites and Sunnis, and between the Persians and Arabs (even at the macro-level, before getting down to splinter groups) said early, and often, that toppling the Sunni/Baath government in Baghdad was going to be a huge gift to the warmongers in Tehran.

I realize that there are many more issues at stake -- given that Saddam's regime was a dictatorship (and not a benevolent one) and that Iraq IS a majority Shi'ite nation, but just as the shibboleth of "charter choice" has (1) unleashed all sorts of unintended, and negative consequences (which its proponents refuse either to recognize or take responsibility for) and (2) failed to achieve its primary objectives (improving education), so too goes (or went) the story of US involvement in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

I don't claim to originate the hypothetical connection, it is bandied about by the likes of Condoleeza Rice, Cheney and many others. I do think the argument about Saddam keeping Iran in check is frightening after how he fought the last war with them. But getting back to how it relates to chater schools, the fact is that many on this blog feel the current system serves children and society poorly. It is an old solution to educating people. To say that we don't need radical changes in the way we teach and learn is foolish, I believe. Charters are not going to solve all or even most problems with our education system, however, the status quo, plus a few bucks, isn't either. It's the 21 st century and we teach our kids like we did when Abe Lincoln was alive. Something must be done soon to get our home, Earth, repaired and habitable for future generations. From what I have seen of public or private schools it won't happen without drastic changes. Fighting chaters us a rear guard action to maintain a badly broken education system. I would like to see truly new ideas. At least charters give the opportunity for new educational models to be explored. That will never happen within the current framework.

Anonymous said...

Open, you're suggesting change for the sake of change. Change for the sake of children is something I could agree to. When you can prove that charters are better for children, post your proof. I might agree.

Iran is not an educational issue. I wish America would finally leave Iran alone. It's always been about oil and it always will be as long as we are dependent upon fossil fuels.


Jan said...

Open, here is what I think:
"Charters are not going to solve all or even most problems with our education system, however, the status quo, plus a few bucks, isn't either."

This is the old "status quo" argument. No one is pushing the status quo. Everyone, every single person I have ever talked to, believes that we need changes in the ways we educate kids. But frankly -- charters as a whole aren't changing the "ways" in any significant way, either. AND the one thing we can't do at this point is blindly throw money away hoping that maybe we'll hit some target somewhere. Because charters WILL add expense. They have proven themselves, to date, to NOT move the needle, statistically, on test scores (for whatever THAT is worth). They are discriminatory (with respect to ELL kids, SPED kids, kids with less than stellar home support systems, etc.). If I suddenly wake up some morning and discover I am unemployed and my job skills are antiquated, it is not particularly helpful to rush out and spend money blindly on something, anything, on the grounds that it at least isn't what I was doing yesterday. I am unemployed, for pete's sake. I had better think through what will work, and spend my few dollars wisely.

"It's the 21 st century and we teach our kids like we did when Abe Lincoln was alive. Something must be done soon to get our home, Earth, repaired and habitable for future generations."

Well, not quite -- we aren't using slate and chalk. But I agree. More innovation and creativity would be nice. But is that what charters provide? Not KIPP. Not Success Academies. Nothing in this legislation in any way favors truly creative new methods of teaching (flipping classes, new approaches using the latest brain science research on memory and knowledge retention, etc.). In fact, by cramming 5 and 6 year olds in seats for even MORE hours of MORE days -- we are actively working AGAINST most of the recent research that I have read about. Many charter schools go BACKWARDS towards Lincoln -- not forwards. And since all the choices are made by date applications are received (and then by lottery if more than one are received simultaneously), the charter bill does not permit a charter authorizer to prefer the latest, most cutting edge experimental learning techniques over Mrs. Crabbe's "Back to the Basics Charter Learning Academy."

Jan said...


"From what I have seen of public or private schools it won't happen without drastic changes."

Frankly, private schools could already do this -- if they wanted. They seem mostly pretty happy with high admissions standards, good teachers, and extremely small classes -- and their kids are doing ok. They are footing the bill, so if they wanted "different," they could certainly get it. You are correct that it seems difficult to get "big change" in public schools -- but we saw with the small schools movement that schools were willing to do LOTS of things to attract those grants. The issue with charters is not about "change." It is about the funneling of public money to big corporate entities, for their profit.

"Fighting chaters us a rear guard action to maintain a badly broken education system."

One -- while it needs improvement, it is not as broken as the charter proponents want us to believe. And in any case, charters are about "choice," and "higher standardized test scores" -- largely using the same old methods, but for more hours, and with greater selectivity as to the kids they teach.

"I would like to see truly new ideas. At least charters give the opportunity for new educational models to be explored."

They don't. They give no more opportunity than our current schools. And in fact, because they have to be taken in the order they apply (or by lottery for simultaneous submissions), they actually tie the hands of charter authorizers, and forbid them from giving any preference to new teaching methods.

In my opinion, the schools that sound the most like what you want are charters as originally envisioned by Shanker -- but they never evolved into that model. If this bill had any hope, ANY hope, of doing what you dream of, I would vote for it too. But it does not.

Jan said...
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