I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Fine, Reformy Whines of @ConorPWilliams & @campbell_brown

As Paul Krugman recently opined: when you can't win an argument on the merits, whine about "tone":
I’m far from convinced by everything that gets done today in the name of education reform. But Rhee’s and Brown’s examples are indicative of a troubling pattern for reform opponents: anti-reformers are prone to shooting any reform messenger. Anti-reform has an ad hominem problem. In part this is because the anti-reform crowd is obsessed with who has standing to participate in education debates. Non-teachers don't count (unless they're Diane Ravitch). Parents’ voices are only permitted so long as they avoid direct challenges to failing schools.
Today's vin de la maison is served by Conor P. Williams, a guy who sells charter school miracles that are, in reality, little better than cheap card tricks.

You would think, reading this passage, that our public education debate has been dominated by teachers. You would think, following Williams's construction, that us almighty teachers were bullying out media access for other stakeholders, including folks like Brown, who don't even send their own children to public schools.

Conor, here's a challenge: name just one teacher, current or retired, who commands even a fraction of the media coverage of Michelle Rhee or Campbell Brown.

Trust me -- you can't. In the mainstream media, Randi Weingarten remains one of the few pundit-approved voices advocating for public education and public school teachers, and even her time is limited (I think Randi does a good job when she's given the chance). Diane Ravitch is a distant second.

Williams whines that occasionally people send him intemperate tweets. But maybe folks would be less inclined to hurt Williams's delicate feelings if the current national conversation about education and teacher tenure actually included a few teachers. Maybe if The Daily Beast and Talking Points Memo offered slots to folks like the ones on my blogroll as often as they offered them to Conor P. Williams, teachers wouldn't feel like they needed to raise their voices on social media just to be noticed.

When Rhee wrote her book, she got a publicity tour any author would dream of (it didn't help her sales much). Where was a similar tour for teacher-authors like Mercedes Schneider, or José Luis Vilson, or Gary Rubinstein? Or, for that matter, Diane Ravitch?

Brown has no expertise in education policy, and her arguments are often a particularly crispy form of word salad -- yet she gets prime spots on The Colbert Report and Morning Joe. Who's offering those same slots to teacher-bloggers like Marie Corfield, or Arthur Goldstein, or, Anthony Cody, or -- heaven forbid -- me?

Whining that "non-teachers don't count" is beyond ridiculous. The critics of the "reform" movement include many non-teachers: Leonie Haimson, Darcie Cimarusti, and Jennifer Berkshire are just a few of the most prominent. Researchers such as Bruce Baker, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Ed Fuller, and Kevin Welner (among many others) have delivered cogent and powerful critiques of the "reform" agenda.

The writers and researchers and advocates who question the "reform" agenda are a widely varying lot, and many aren't teachers. Only someone who willingly chose to ignore the arguments against Rhee's and Brown's positions would ever claim that "non-teachers don't count."

So let's be clear: this is all a feint. Williams chooses not to engage the argument against "reform," because he knows he doesn't have an empirical or theoretical leg to stand on. Instead, he retreats to whines about "tone" as a substitute for actually engaging the critics of "reform":
Just as Rhee faced ugly rhetoric about her race and gender, Brown’s positions have already been dismissed on account of her looks. And Rhee had an anonymous, union-funded attack site of her own—Rheefirst.com.
Yes, Conor, Diane Ravitch once said something that, if you twist it and distort it and take it completely out of context and stand on your head while you read it, might be construed as vaguely sexist. And, yes, there was once a teacher no one has ever heard of who said something racist and deplorable at a protest.

But let's be clear: if you really had a solid case against tenure, you'd brush aside these incidents and focus on the real debate. You'd attempt to pick apart the arguments of Baker or Jesse Rothstein or Ravitch or even me, rather than wasting your time searching for the latest excuse to feel like your side had been slighted.

Conor, here's my latest piece picking apart David Boies's anti-tenure argument. You want a real debate? Tell me where I'm wrong.

I dare you.

Does this look like a sexist to you?