A Fantasy Public Statement

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Last week I wrote about a grim reality: the murder of young students in New Orleans. This week I turn to what is probably a fantasy: the idea that our most influential educators would speak out against this stain on our culture and threat to our future.

That raises two questions:
1) Who are America’s most prominent and influential educators?
2) What could they possibly agree to say publicly that would go beyond generalities and grab the nation’s attention?

Because any list of influential educators would draw from across the political and ideological spectrum, wouldn’t that necessarily mean that the statement would end up being namby-pamby pablum, something about “supporting the right of all students to education” or some other equally bland declaration? The country is increasingly polarized, with our nation’s capital leading the way, and it takes real courage for people in power to speak out on anything controversial.

Want to start with the list, or should we try drafting a statement?

How about we do both at once? You may not recognize all of the names, but you will most likely know enough of them to grasp their political differences.

“As patriotic Americans and dedicated educators, we are speaking out with one voice today. We (Arne Duncan, Wendy Kopp, Diane Ravitch, Harold McGraw III, Alfie Kohn and Shirley Tilghman) are appalled by the senseless violence that too many of our youth are enduring.”

The time for speaking up has come.

“Furthermore, we (Randi Weingarten, Michelle Rhee, Monty Neill, David Levin, Mike Feinberg, Drew Faust, Joel Klein and Ted Kolderie) believe that sensible Americans — the vast majority — must now confront the special interest groups that have cowed the U. S. Congress into cowardice.”

“As a group, we (Dennis van Roekel, Howard Gardner, Lamar Alexander, Rod Paige, Jonathan Kozol, Father Theodore Hesburgh, Jeanne Allen, Richard Riley and Margaret Spellings) represent all points on the political spectrum. Although we disagree on some issues, to a person, we believe that….”

Go ahead, finish the sentence.

These men and women have fundamental differences. Some believe that government is an essential part of the solution, while others see government as a barrier. Some trust that the vast majority of teachers are committed to the education of all children; others question what they see as protectionism of ineffective teachers as a core problem.

What do you suppose that all of these good men and women agree upon? What sort of strong statement would they all sign their names to, in an effort to wake this nation up?

I’m certain they think it’s wrong that about 25 percent of our children may be growing up in poverty, living in substandard housing, receiving inadequate nutrition and health care and attending substandard schools.

But how many of them would support the “Buffett Rule” that would have fabulously wealthy citizens pay more in taxes? Or require hedge fund managers to pay 35 percent on their gains, not the current 15 percent because, after all, they are NOT risking their own money and are taking a guaranteed 20 percent off the top even if their investments of other people’s money go south?

I am sure that the decent men and women mentioned above are appalled by the violence that afflicts children today, but how many would speak in favor of closing the loopholes that allow people to buy guns, no questions asked, at gun fairs in some states? Or speak out against laws that allow people to carry weapons openly? Or against laws that allow people to buy assault weapons (whose only function is to kill)?

Of course, a ringing statement doesn’t have to be crafted out of whole cloth. The United Nations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the International Red Cross, UNICEF and other related groups have spent years on this issue (see ‘Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child’ in 1924).

Or this, from 1959: “The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.” (United Nations resolution)

In recent years, these international groups have paid special attention to children in war zones.

Hello! What are many of our inner cities, if not the equivalent of war zones?

Educators often present themselves as occupying the moral high ground, dedicating their lives to the nurturing of our children and youth. It’s easy to live up on the hill when things are chugging along, but that’s not the case now. So now, at least as I see it, it’s time for the university presidents, the school reformers and everyone else who claims to be devoted to children to put aside their political allegiances and make their voices heard.

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4 thoughts on “A Fantasy Public Statement

  1. We agree to disagree.

    In recent years, as education became identified, correctly, as the civil rights movement of the 21st century, school politics has gained an extra intensity. We have argued that the welfare of children should be placed above the politics of adults. In one sense, we can still agree with that ideal

    We the undersigned all believe, however, that our contradictory political positions are for the best of children. That has made it harder to make compromises. We have sought to replace old-fashioned compromise with collaboration. Sometimes that has shown signs of promise, but now it is clear that it is unreasonable to expect all types of adults to pull together as one team.

    We now see the old-fashioned art of compromise to be superior in terms of both practicality and morality. Yes, we should seek common ground, but that is not as important as relearning how to disagree agreeably. We should try to live by the principle of, “You are not the problem; I’m not the problem; The Problem is the Problem.” But, ultimately we to not need to agree on either the causes or the solutions to the problem. We just need to agree to keep our agreements.

    The beauty of compromise is that we can shake hands on an agreement while still believing that our opponent is dead wrong. We just need to honor that commitment. When, not if, we grow dissatisfied with the compromise, we move negotiate an honor the next compromise. (And as adults model the value of honoring our handshakes, we set an example to children regarding the spirit of nonviolence; if we melt our political weapons into plowshares, perhaps children will be less likely to pick up a gun …)

    We the undersigned are opponents, not enemies. We will play physical in the team sport that is politics. but we won’t take out our opponents’ knees. We retain the right to silently believe that our opponent(s) are morally bankrupt. But in keeping with the spirit of a constitutional democracy, where nobody should be too sure of the righteousness of their own positions, we will keep those beliefs in our own locker rooms. Even when we believe our opponent(s) are placing adult politics over children’s best interests, we keep those feelings to ourselves as we pledge fidelity to the spirit of compromise.

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  2. ” … we believe that” there’s nothing worse than gridlock on issues of importance. We resolve to engage in motivated discussion about the national, political, celebrity responsibilities necessary for the true LOCAL addressing of issues that indeed must AND CAN be solved. We policy makers, politicians, and celebrity spokespeople for education reform accept that we have a SUPPORT ROLE for sure in this effort but cannot mandate a solution EVEN IF WE CAME TO AGREEMENT ON WHAT THAT MANDATE WAS / IS.

    These local efforts must be beyond the search for compromise solutions – the development of BETTER ALTERNATIVES: alternatives that each and every party to the effort can agree are BETTER than the positions they championed at the initiation of the effort. As has been noted and experienced routinely, the difficulties with compromise are that the effort is concentrated on blending parts of existing positions and – even if accepted initially, such compromises do not sustain the effort needed when the difficulties that always crop up cause at least some parties to revert to their initial position.

    As Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” We the undersigned resolve to develop, SUPPORT, AND DEFEND THE ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCES TO ENABLE THE LOCAL EFFORTS TO HAVE SUCCESS.

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  3. I’m concerned that there has been so much compromise on the Left that there’s not a lot of room still available to make deals. For some brutal examples, the right wing scheme of “markets” has subverted the “public interest” of public schools. Charters may be fine in some circumstances, and actually provide a real option, but in most systems there are plenty of other public options, that build communities while they teach the children of those communities. An absolute abolition of Charters is out of the question, but challenging them, offering better public alternatives, ought to be promoted by both public and private agencies – for both economic and cultural reasons. Yet, where’s Obama?: on the right.

    For another, testing is fine, reasonable and at least superficially objective. It’s initial intent – to collect aggregates about schools to inform public policy – is unquestionably valuable. Yet it has become a tool of greed (for the likes of Pearson), a vehicle of repression (for the other textbook houses as well), and a machine of the most brutal undermining of “academic freedom” since the McCarthy era. Masking the weakness of tests with “common core standards” ignores the more substantial educational purpose of public education, which are precisely the “soft skills” LEARNING MATTERS once supported through a Kellogg Grant. Yet, where are both Obama and Merrill?: on the right, and in the hands of the badguys.

    Compromise is a great idea in theory, but when you’ve compromised core principles already, it’s time to revisit those principles.

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  4. Is ‘Merrill’ me? On the right? How are you defining ‘the right’? I hope it’s not ‘everyone who disagrees with me,’ but that’s my sneaking suspicion.

    We are still working on what we are calling the Verified Resume, which is designed to measure soft skills, although the generous Kellogg grant is long gone.

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