Compromise is not always good.
Only in the United States do people debate evolution v. creation. A few very wealthy and religious people are able to gain access to mainstream media, claim that evolution is “only” a theory, and then float Biblical legend as an alternative viewpoint. To the uninformed, this puts creationism and evolution on an equal footing, as if they inhabit the same intellectual universe. There then opens up a “choice”, as if one really could or should choose one over the other.
All things are equal. All things are up for grabs in the marketplace of ideas. Creationists make it seem as if all one has to do is “choose” the explanation that best suits them.
Scientists have by and large attacked the “science” behind creation as junk for good reason. There is no actual science supporting creation. If scientists were to sit down at the same table with creationists in an effort to compromise, it would be a disaster. It would be a signal that creation is a legitimate scientific idea, the same as evolution. Not only would the idea of evolution take a hit, it would damage the scientific community irrevocably. It would denude the rigor of the scientific method and turn science into mere relativism, allowing pure emotional bias to overrule hard scientific fact.
So America’s scientists do not give creation the time of day and that is how it should be.
I assure you that there are people in this country watching the debate over evolution and creation who believe that a compromise between the two can be worked out. Now, I might be inclined to think that someone can believe fully in evolution and still hold on to a religious narrative of creation, like Pope John Paul II proclaiming that a good Catholic can believe in evolution if they consider it God’s work. But anyone who believes that there can be a give and take between the two sides to the point where evolution loses a little ground and creation loses a little ground would be a complete dunce. Their hearts might be in the right place but their brains would be firmly up their own arse.
A little murkier scenario is the state of politics today. The way the Republican Party has done business over the past 35 years is eerily similar to what creationists have tried to pull. Reagan became president and immediately advanced views that were radical in the context of his (relatively) liberal era. This set the pattern for what Republicans have continuously done since then. They tack hard to the right of whatever “center” happens to be at the moment, setting up an alternative narrative of American history, politics, economics and values. Unlike scientists, Democrats cannot wave off the Republican zeitgeist as the ramblings of self-interested and disingenuous hucksters.
So they compromise.
By compromising, the Democratic Party has whittled away the core values for which they once stood. During Reagan’s time, Democrats could still hang their hats on old-time liberals like Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill. But through the continuing Republican strategy of tacking ever-more to the right, Democrats have had to continuously compromise and continuously erode their own core values in the process. They have compromised so much that they inhabit the same political place now that Reagan inhabited during the 1980s. Democrats today do not have a Ted Kennedy to hang their hats on anymore.
This is because there is a meaty part of the American electorate known as “centrists”. They are perhaps the biggest morons in the entire country. They are born into a world framed by a certain dichotomous political narrative. In some vacuous crusade to be “open-minded”, they take a little from column A and a little from column B, assuming they are doing an enlightened thing. The Republican Party figured this out a long time ago. Through tacking ever-harder right, they continuously reframe the political narrative, sweeping the so-called centrists along with them. The Democrats then play catch-up. By continuously playing catch-up, they have left what used to be their core values in the dust.
Imagine if scientists were politicians who needed to chase down votes. They would need to keep making more and more concessions to creationism to the point where the tenants of science meant nothing anymore. Thank goodness scientists are professionals who are allowed to set the parameters of their own field. There is no need for them to compromise. Because of that, the rigor of their discipline stays largely intact.
And so it is in education reform.
For a very long time, but only gathering steam over the past 10 years, there have been a cadre of people who style themselves education “reformers”. Their program is variegated but boils down to a few core beliefs.
First, that the teacher is the greatest single factor in a child’s learning.
Second, that standardized exams are an accurate measure of that learning.
Third, because standardized exams accurately measure learning, they can be used to judge both students and teachers.
Fourth, getting rid of the teachers whose students show very little evidence of learning on standardized exams will make the education system stronger.
Fifth, in order to facilitate the firing of teachers, schools should subject teachers to the same hiring and firing at will policies found in the private sector.
Sixth, charter schools allow this type of hiring and firing at will. Where no charters yet exist, public school teachers should have their civil servant protections (i.e. “tenure”) revoked.
I am sure one can quibble with this list, but it will have to do for the sake of this discussion.
The education reformers have much in common with creationists and Republicans. They set up a dogma that they disingenuously pass off as being rooted in hard fact. The reformers cherry pick the “research” they say justifies their program. They will never mention that the research they usually cite is funded and/or conducted by themselves. Like many dogmas, it is radically extreme. Think about it, what civilization past or present has ever conducted education in this manner? It is a program that has never existed before, is not rooted in any educational tradition and so, by definition, is radical.
However, due to their bottomless supply of money and political clout, they can control mainstream media and set their views alongside those of the education system already in place. It is a dichotomy between the “old” stodgy system of dead wood teachers or the “new” system of vim and vigor. People then just automatically accept this as the parameters of the debate over education.
Many of these people are compromisers. They are educational centrists. Like political centrists, they work from some vacuous notion that compromise is good. They choose a little from column A and a little from column B. Just like political centrists, they are dunces and followers.
Unfortunately, educators are not given the same autonomy over their profession as scientists. Rather than the guardians of their own discipline, they are merely low-level workers who occupy the bottom rung of a civil service system. It would be great if educators themselves were as rigorously schooled, as highly paid and as well-respected as scientists. In that case, we would be able to swat away the reformers as the kooks, crackpots and privatizers they really are. There would be no need to compromise with them.
But educators have had to make compromises with the reformers. In so doing, we are being compelled more and more to turn our backs on what we know to be good education. Teachers have had to resemble the Democratic Party in that we have had to continuously bargain away our souls.
That is why I am not a compromiser. It would be nice if I sat here in every post, looked at a reformer idea, looked at education as it is and then presented you with a neat compromise between the two. I could cite Steven Brill or Michelle Rhee or Michael Bloomberg and say “well, they have some good ideas, maybe we should listen to them.” The vast majority of people would find me agreeable. I would be considered “nice” and “tolerant” and “broadminded” and I would get 50 comments on every post.
I could even say that the Khan Academy has some good stuff and that it very well may be the “future of education.” I might get all giddy in the idea that flesh and blood teachers can be a thing of the past. People would congratulate me on being so open-minded and cutting edge and I would float away on my own sense of self-importance.
I could do all those things because those things would be easy to do. It would require exactly zero thought on my part. All it would require is for me to regurgitate a bunch of trite clichés.
The fact of the matter is that I am not a compromiser.
The reformers do not have good ideas. Their ideas do not arise from a place of genuine concern for children. It is a load of self-interested nonsense. Look at how many people have made millions of dollars from reforming education. Look at how many politicians have garnered millions of votes from promising to shake up the education system. There is more money floating around education now than ever before and the lion’s share is going right into a few select pockets.
“Oh, you’re just saying this because you are a teacher and you do not want to lose your job.”
Sure, that might be a motivator. I bet if I put your feet to the fire by saying anyone who surfs the internet in their cubicle at work should be dismissed, you might get a little indignant as well. If I came waltzing into your place of employment and started telling you how you should do your job, you might want to punch me in the face. You might even want to kick me in the sensitive parts if all I had to offer you was a bunch of uninformed clichés I picked up from the television or newspaper.
And now we are starting to get at the point.
I refuse to compromise with the reformers because I know what education is. I have been a student, a teacher and many other things in the education world. Not only that, I have the added advantage of being from the same community that my students come from. I became a teacher because I wanted to serve my own community, like millions of teachers across this land. What makes you think on even your best day that you know what is best for my community, the community of my students, better than I do? Part of serving my community is defending it from interlopers who push ideas that are destroying my community.
So pardon me for being militant, uncompromising, intolerant or whatever you want to call me. Much like scientists do not have to make concessions to creationists, I do not have to make concessions to you. I do not even have to acknowledge your point of view as informed or enlightened.
You think teachers are the single greatest factor in a child’s learning? I say you have never walked through gang territory or seen people get shot and stabbed in the gutter.
You think standardized exams are an accurate measure of student learning? I say you have not ever given the same test to the same kids on different occasions and come out with different scores every time.
You think standardized exams can judge both students and teachers? I bet you never had a student come to you years later to thank you for teaching them about the world.
You think getting rid of teachers whose students fail standardized exams is a good idea? I say you have never seen the new teachers with whom you wish to replace them not know their elbows from their noses when they stand in front of a class, like every other first year teacher, including myself.
You think teachers should have no job protections at all? I say you have never seen a teacher who has had their career destroyed for sticking up to an administrator who was shortchanging their school or their students. I say you have never seen a great teacher totally destroyed by a jealous administrator.
You think charter schools and public schools who work on free market models work better? I say you have never looked at the turnover rate of charter school teachers. I say you have never seen what closing a school in order to make way for a charter does to the children in that school and does to the community as a whole. I say you have never seen teachers who feel as if they have to compete against each other refuse to share their best practices, refuse to help each other’s students, refuse to collaborate or support each other at all.
You think a computer can teach a child? I bet you have never seen a student who does not speak English, or has a severe learning disability, need something explained, modeled, defined and demonstrated to them in five different ways on five different days before they can even begin to process it. I bet you never had to think on your feet and adjust your style, your manner of speaking, even your very movements to the child that sits in front of you. I bet you never had a student whose stomach was growling with hunger or whose heart was swimming with anguish totally tune out any nonsense you had to say to them. I bet you never had to buy a kid a sandwich or put your hand on a kid’s shoulder to reassure them that someone actually cared. I bet you a computer does not see the education value in that.
But teachers do.
No, sorry, I will not compromise with the reformers.
And I will certainly not compromise with people who know nothing about my students, my school or my community who think just because they have read one article or seen one television report that they qualify as informed citizens.
Get some experience, get some perspective, read a book, open your eyes and stop giving yourself over to a dialogue whose parameters have been framed by rich people, computer programmers and media machines who care nothing about you or the children of this country.