A few days ago I broke one of my own cardinal rules of internet usage: never argue with people.
It was around 10pm. Being the lazy, overpaid, union bum of a public school teacher that I am, I decided to grade piles of homework after an evening of writing lessons.
To maintain my sanity, I decided to visit Youtube to play The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman in the background. After an hour or so of grading homework I scratched what has become a common itch for me: I read the comments section.
Whether it is a story on a popular news site or a Youtube video, I always make sure to read through as many comments as I can. The ignorance can be quite funny if not thoroughly scary. But I never comment myself. There is no discussion to be had with ignorami, especially ignorami protected by computer screens.
However, I expected the comments under The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman to be informed and/or enlightened. After all, it is a very well-done piece of independent journalism, the type of journalism thinking people seek out and watch.
Unfortunately this was not the case. All of the comments on the first page were either bashing teachers or bashing the movie or both. Maybe it was the fact that I know personally many of the people featured in the movie that was being bashed, but I felt a need to respond.
The following is a rough recreation from memory of what it was like for one public school teacher and edu-blogger to take on a gaggle of very stupid people. Enjoy:
Idiot 1: This movie runs the same old line of needing more money for public schools.
Assailed Teacher: That’s not what the movie says at all. Did you even bother to watch the movie before commenting?
Idiot 1: You’re a teacher so of course you would say that we need more money for schools. Why don’t we do what Europe does and allow students to choose their schools? It’s because the UNIONS are stopping it.
AT: Neither me nor the movie said anything about more money. You want a European system? Well, guess what they have in Europe? That’s right: teacher unions.
Idiot 1: How come so many American students are failing then? We are behind China! (Notice this has nothing to do with his original point.)
AT: Failing based on what? Test scores? Guess what else America has that most of the countries we’re “behind” don’t have: childhood poverty. When you compare middle class and wealthy American students to their foreign counterparts, they actually do quite well.
Idiot 1: The United States spends more money per student than any other country and that’s a fact! (Again, is he defending any point here? Has this person ever had a discussion before?)
I keep indulging him by addressing and dissecting the points he brings up, only to have him skip to other, unrelated points. Then he crosses into this territory:
Idiot 1: Why are so many teachers having sex with their students? It is rampant in the schools! (Yes, he used the word “rampant”.)
AT: Why are you asking me? Do you even know what the word rampant means?
Idiot 1: Everyday there is another story of a teacher being arrested. Most teachers are having sex with their students.
AT: Do you know the difference between anecdotal and empirical evidence? Do you know what the words “rampant” and “most” mean?
Idiot 1: *posts a news story about a teacher being arrested*
Idiot 1: *posts another story*
AT: Ok, so you obviously don’t know the difference between anecdotal and empirical evidence.
Idiot 1: *this comment has been flagged as spam*
Idiot 2: Waiting for Superman proved (yes, they said “proved”) teacher unions are destroying education and all this movie does is say “give unions more power”.
AT: You didn’t watch this movie and I highly doubt you even watched WFS.
Idiot 2: That’s right, I didn’t watch this movie (lol?) I’m one of the millions who watched WFS compared to the hundreds that watched this piece of crap.
AT: Yeah, because the true measure of something’s value is based on how many people consume it. That’s sound reasoning right there.
Idiot 2: Look, you’re a teacher so you’re blinded by your position in the system. You’re obviously not open to alternative viewpoints like WFS.
AT: Have you seen/read anything else about public school besides WFS? Have you seen any “alternative viewpoints”?
Idiot 2: I don’t need to. It’s all there in WFS. We need to get rid of teacher unions so parents have a choice of where to send their kids.
AT: Did you know that the highest-performing countries like Finland have strong teacher unions? Did you know that the states with no teacher unions have the worst schools in the country?
Idiot 2: Like I said, you’re not open to alternative views because you’re blinded by your position in the system.
AT: Check my comments here. Check my blog by the same name. Does it bother you at all that I have forgotten more about education policy than you can ever hope to know in your entire life?
Idiot 2: I saw your blog and you’re not as smart as you think. You know very little and you’re part of the system. People like me on the outside bring a fresh perspective and see things you can’t see.
AT: I guess that settles it then. I can’t be trusted because I’m too deep in the system. You therefore have the luxury of writing off everything I say without an iota of thought or refutation. There is no arguing with someone who believes ignorance is a virtue.
Idiot 2: That is typical of people on your side of the debate. You demand proof from the other side without providing any yourself.
AT: I actually never demanded any proof from you. I don’t care if you provide proof of anything or not. My comments to you and others here, as well as my website, shows that I am informed. I have taken the time and courtesy to provide you with facts as well as direct you to places you did not know about so you can learn more facts. Meanwhile, all of your beliefs and talking points come from one movie. Plus, what is my “side of the debate” anyway? What debate?
Idiot 2: Like I said, you know very little. Outsiders bring fresh perspectives to the system. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go to a job tomorrow where I actually have to perform, unlike you union teachers.
Idiot 3: Government monopoly on schools needs to be replaced by giving parents choices. Right now, parents have no choices. Make every school a charter school and have them compete. (Does this have anything to do with the movie?)
AT: Whether you have public schools or charter schools, there is no “choice”. All children must go to school. Replacing public schools with charters puts you right back in the same boat from which you claim you want to escape. Instead of forcing children into public schools you want to force them into charters. Where is the choice in that? You want to eliminate a civic institution that, for all of its faults, has to serve all students for the greater good. In its place you want a corporatized model that can do with children as it sees fit, even it means denying them any education or needed services at all, without any accountability to the greater good because they serve their own bottom line only.
Idiot 3: Nice try but you still did not convince me. Choice is better than having the White House control the system.
AT: Don’t flatter yourself. I am not out to “convince” the all high and mighty Idiot 3 who doesn’t even understand that the White House doesn’t “control” schools or even fund them or even set education policy, since those things are mostly done by state governments. You claim to want to get the White House out of schools and yet the “choice” model you want is being pushed by the very same White House who is using the limited influence it has over ed policy to force “choice” on everyone. You don’t want schools being controlled by the “White House”? Then you are against the “choice” for which you speak. Now do you see why I don’t care whether or not you’re convinced? You don’t even know what you’re talking about.
Yes, these are the types of people commenting under TITBWFS. These are the types of people commenting around the internet on education policy. Those of us mired in the education world are so busy talking to each other because we have a common frame of reference and background knowledge about public schools. Yet, it is easy for us to forget how incredibly stupid, ignorant and uninformed people are about education in this country. What is even sadder is that they wear their ignorance as a badge of honor and hold the knowledge and experience we have against us as if it is some sort of liability.
You can’t make this type of stuff up. Ignorance is considered knowledge and knowledge is considered ignorance.
Maybe they are right about the school system being crappy. They are certainly Exhibits A, B and C for how badly schools have failed to teach people how to think, research and reason.
God help us.