“Bon jour. Zis is ze American Enterprise Institute. How may I be of service?”
Her voice was young and unmistakably French. She pronounced the second ‘a’ in American softly, and the ‘i’ as a long ‘e.’ And ‘Service’ came out ‘sair-vees.’ Listening to her, every part of my body sprang to attention, if you get my drift.
I wish to speak to Rick Hess, I said. I don’t know him well enough to have his direct number, which is why I had called the general number of the right-leaning DC think tank. He had recently co-authored a sort of mea culpa for his enthusiastic support of supposed school reforms in Washington, DC. I say ‘sort of’ because of how Rick buried his own role well down in the 7th paragraph. “Lots of self-styled “reformers” had good reason to observe DCPS through rose-tinted glasses. A wealth of advocates, funders, consultants, researchers, and friends had a rooting interest in DCPS’s success — and had every incentive to focus on the good news. This includes the senior author of this piece, who counted many DCPS leaders as friends of long standing — and who wrote admiringly about some of their efforts.” (emphasis added)
“I am sorry, but Monsieur Hess has left for a national speaking tour,” she said, almost sadly.
I knew he had a tour scheduled, because he ended his ‘apology’ article by suggesting that he is the guy who can set things right: “It’s time for the reformers, funders, and pundits to ask ourselves how we’ve contributed to a culture that’s heavy on cheerleading and light on skepticism — and how to find a better balance going forward.”
I told the young woman that I had the press release in my hand and had hoped to talk with him before he left. I asked her whether he was going to apologize for being wrong about the so-called ‘school reforms’ in Washington, DC?
“Mais non. Monsieur Hess is going to be explaining why everyone of importance got it wrong about Washington. And zen he will explain how to get it right.”
Hearing that upset me. I told her that a lot of us, including USA Today, Guy Brandenburg, Diane Ravitch, Mary Levy, the Washington City Paper, local politician Mark Simon, and me, got it right about DC. I told her that we have been saying for years that Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson were perpetrating a fraud.
“Zen, monsieur,” she said with a provocative giggle, “You must not be of importance, because Monsieur Rick explained it to me very clearly.”
Tell me about the tour, I said. I see from the press release that The Four Seasons is the tour’s official hotel, NetJet the official airline, and Uber the official means of transportation. Will Rick be visiting schools?
“Oh, I don’t zink so,” she said. “Monsieur Rick, he does not like to be with noisy children. He prefers to talk to old people in auditoriums.”
Will anyone else be appearing with Rick, I wanted to know? After all, lots of important people were wrong about DC: Arne Duncan, Checker Finn, Richard Whitmire, Campbell Brown, Katherine Bradley, Tom Toch, Andy Rotherham, Mike Petrilli, Whitney Tilson, Kati Haycock, the Washington Post, some major foundations, and others.
“Mais non. Monsieur Rick likes the stage to himself.”
In my mind’s eye I visualized Rick in the role of the late Reverend Billy Graham, urging Arne and the others to come forward to receive absolution. With some difficulty I put that image aside and asked the young woman whether she had helped schedule his appearances.
“Oui, oui. In ze office We call it Monsieur Rick’s ‘Three Rs Tour.’”
Three? One R must be for ‘Rehabilitation,’ because his cheerleading did some serious damage to his reputation. If Rick is actually admitting that he was wrong, the second R could stand for ‘Redemption.’ What does the third R stand for, I asked?
“It’s–how do you say it–near ze end of my tongue.”
I pictured the tip of her tongue. Rejuvenation?
“No, zat is not it. I don’t know your word, but it has something (which she pronounced as zum zing) to do with Euros, dollars.”
“Ah oui, zat means making money, no?”
I suddenly understood the sentence in small print at the bottom of the press release: ‘No portion of the proceeds of this speaking tour will be donated to local public schools, because Mr. Hess believes they should be locally controlled and funded.’
Au revoir, monsieur.”
And she was gone…..
For a copy of the press release, dated 4/1/18, and complete information about Mr. Hess’s tour, including times, places, and reservations for premium seating and general admission, visit: https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174