Tag Archives: Khan Academy Criticisms

THE SHILL GAME PART II: SALMAN KHAN AND JOHN DEWEY

shill

Valerie Strauss wrote a piece yesterday about our friend and inspiration, Salman Khan. I believe she was very fair to Khan. Her basic thesis comes down to:

Clearly Khan has become the vessel for many reformers’ hopes and dreams about how to educate the masses. How Khan sees himself and his academy… is a more complicated matter.

She cites some of Khan’s biggest supporters, including Bill Gates. There is a tendency among Khan’s supporters to call his Academy “revolutionary”. This type of rhetoric should sound familiar to teachers who are used to having this idea or that idea pushed as the silver bullet that will fix our education woes.

Yet, while Khan’s supporters are signing his praises, Khan himself seems much more modest. He claims that he is not doing anything revolutionary. While his supporters talk him up, Khan has a tendency to talk himself down, or at least to try to provide a more realistic assessment of what his Academy is about.

Even though Valerie Strauss doesn’t come right out and say it, she alludes to the idea that this is one big work (if I may borrow an insider’s term from wrestling) on the part of Khan. The very last sentence of her article says:

And he is a really excellent marketer.

So maybe he is playing the role of the humble, altruistic educator while his financial backers like Bill Gates talk up the flipped classroom as a “revolutionary” development in education. After all, if he displayed the same type of vim and vigor of many of his acolytes, he would turn many people off, especially educators.

There is a part of me that really wants to believe that Khan is the altruistic man he portrays himself to be. On the other hand, Khan is an extremely shrewd, extremely intelligent man. He certainly knows what Bill Gates is saying about him. He certainly knows that some school districts are using his flipped classroom idea as their primary mode of educating students. Yet, he has never directly spoken against these supposed misrepresentations and misappropriations of his idea. That in and of itself tells me that Khan’s persona is a work.

This reminds of the same type of problem John Dewey faced when he was considered the patron saint of modern American schooling. He created what seemed to be revolutionary ideas of “progressive” education. His experiments at the Chicago Lab School aimed at blurring the lines between education and life. In Dewey’s mind, education was synonymous with life. Like Khan, Dewey’s work was financed by some of the wealthiest interests in the nation. Like Khan, many people around the nation misappropriated his ideas. Like Khan, Dewey said nothing against those who were misappropriating his ideas, at least not until very late in the game. When he finally did, his denouncements were tepid. It did not matter at that point anyway since Pandora’s box was already open.

With the benefit of almost a century of hindsight, it is safe to say that Dewey did not really mind so much the misappropriation of his ideas. His ideas are still twisted around today by people who continue to misunderstand him. His acolytes seemed to believe that Dewey had called for a vacuous, fuzzy-headed and saccharine pedagogy. Educators in his day as well as ours interpreted his ideas to mean that content was nothing and process was everything. The misrepresentation of his ideas led to a progressive dumbing down of American schooling.

Dewey was not a stupid man, much like Khan is not a stupid man. They both knew/know full well what types of things people were/are doing while flying their banners. Part of it is probably due to vanity that most if not all of us have. Who would not like to see people inspired by ideas that we birthed? Who could say with any certainty that they would act any differently if they were in Dewey’s or Khan’s shoes?

I have read all of Dewey’s books as well as several books about Dewey. I have sat through hundreds of hours of Khan’s videos, read numerous articles about him and participated in all types of discussions with people about flipped classrooms. There is one major similarity that I see in both of their efforts.

Dewey was very abstract when outlining his educational program. Despite the fact that he had laid down certain parameters of what he believed proper pedagogy to be, these parameters could be interpreted in wildly different ways depending on who was looking at it. Khan also has his parameters. In many ways his parameters are much more concrete, mostly because he is not the philosopher that Dewey was. Yet, the fanfare that even he himself creates around his ideas is essentially telling people to take his videos, take his ideas and use them, use them, use them. His goal, as he has stated in no uncertain terms, is for people around the world to have access to education through his Khan Academy.

Both Dewey and Khan presented their ideas with a wink. The wink tells people: here are my ideas but feel free to bastardize them in any way you see fit. The only thing that matters is that the idea spreads. The wink is unspoken. It comes across through the implications of the words they use, as well as the words they do not use.

Both Dewey and Khan are marketers. Both Dewey and Khan are widely respected to the point of worship. Both Dewey and Khan are bankrolled by the wealthiest interests in the nation.

Both Dewey and Khan play the Shill Game.

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60 Minutes Worships Salman Khan And So Do You

"I'm just a humble guy."

“60 Minutes” ran a fluff piece last night about the Khan Academy. It is a perfect example of the type of uncritical coverage he gets from major media. The only criticisms were reiterated by Khan himself, which he merely dismissed out of hand.

Problem #1: The Flipped Classroom

Khan took offense to the idea that he wants to replace teachers with computer programs. Instead, he says he wants to see students learning content at home on the Khan Academy website, then have students come into school the next day to work on Khan’s problems. The teacher will be there to be a coach or a facilitator.

The biggest problem with this is that it is, in fact, a recipe to replace teachers. He is calling for taking the presentation of content out of the hands of teachers and into his own hands. He is also calling for taking the structuring of assessment activities out of teachers’ hands and into his own. This brings up major questions about knowledge: how children encounter knowledge and what knowledge shall be required.

In history, what if a teacher wants their students to approach an historical topic in a critical way? What if they want their students to examine the many viewpoints of people living during an historical era, as well as different viewpoints of historians about that era? In Khan’s “flipped classroom” model, students would encounter the content first through one of his videos. Only afterwards might there be opportunity for the classroom teacher to get students to study critically the topics already taught by the Khan Academy.

This is all wrong. Any teacher knows that the first impression a student gets about a topic is the one that sticks the most. It is one of the reasons why so many students enter high school thinking that Christopher Columbus discovered America. What if Khan’s videos approach history from a myopic viewpoint, presented from a very narrow perspective? (which seems to be the case, from the history videos I have seen.) The teacher now has to compensate for this and get their students to rethink the information on the video. It makes the teacher’s job that more difficult. I am sure the same thing applies to one degree or another for math, science, literature and every other subject.

The same thing applies to assessment exercises. Assessments solidify knowledge in students’ minds. His flipped classroom model calls for teachers to guide students through exercises of his design and project-based activities of his suggesting. The teacher becomes nothing more than an implementer, someone following a script. It really does not matter what the teacher wants, or knows from years of experience what is best for the development of critical thinking.

The flipped classroom may not call for the wholesale replacement of teachers, but it certainly does call for the wholesale deskilling of teachers. What is much worse, it puts Khan Academy itself as the first disseminator of scholastic knowledge.

Problem #2: The Cultural Divide  

Khan says he wants more human interaction, but looking at the children in that classroom with their heads in their computers gives the lie to that idea. They had their heads in their computers the night before they came to school and had their heads in computers once they came to class. If there is more human interaction in the classroom presented in this video than the classrooms I see on a daily basis, it certainly was not evident.

The people featured in this video seem to paint teaching in brick and mortar classrooms as nothing more than lecturing and reading from a textbook. I certainly do not use a textbook, nor do I lecture, so I take offense to the broad brush with which they paint all teachers. In the presentation of their content, teachers adjust to their classes. Even if the teacher is nothing more than a lecturer (which is very rare), that lecture is given by someone who knows their population, knows the needs of their students and knows how to adjust their words, actions and activities to the students that sit before them.

I teach English Language Learners every year, as well as students with learning disabilities. There is no way I can present material in the same way to these students as I do to mainstream students. Even within these categories, there are students with differing levels of motivation and skills. By the middle of the school year, I find that my teaching style, my demeanor, my notes, the material, the questions I ask differ from class to class. There is an unconscious adjustment that takes place in the style of an experienced teacher where they sense just how to tweak things in order to have the greatest possible impact.

Khan offers nothing of the sort. As I have stated before, he offers nothing but a pause button. All a student can do with a Khan video is watch the same content delivered in the same way over and over again. A very thoughtful analysis of Khan’s videos by Mr. Foteah concludes that Khan uses words that are way out of the league of many English Language Learners, not to mention of mainstream students. Khan, the Ivy League graduate, uses a certain manner of speaking that is alien to inner city youth and immigrant students. No amount of pausing and rewinding will overcome this. Khan cannot make the types of mid-lesson and mid-semester adjustments that a veteran teacher can make.

There is no doubt that Khan’s videos have helped many students. Videos have helped me understand certain topics better, usually Youtube lectures by college professors or policy wonks. But I am a motivated student, I have some background in the topics I want to learn about and I have a sense of the areas in which I need help. Khan’s videos do little for the unmotivated student, the one that teachers encounter on a daily basis. The bells and whistles that Khan adds to his lectures, like the drawing program and the gamey assessment activities, will do nothing for the student who has to walk through gang territory every day or who comes from a home where they are malnourished.

Problem #3: Khan’s Team and Supporters

Khan is not an educator, nor are the people on his team. Perhaps the most insulting thing about the 60 Minutes piece, as well as the people who tend to totally embrace Khan, is how dismissive they are of what teachers do on a daily basis. Sanjay Gupta, the person who did the 60 minutes story, is a medical doctor. He keeps contrasting Khan to a school room of lectures and textbooks, a school room that is largely non-existent after decades of education reform and flavors of the month. It is scary to think that people with so little awareness of what actually takes place in schools think they have found the next great educational paradigm shift. They do not even know the existing paradigm.

One of Khan’s supporters on the video even said that change does not usually come from the institutions that run public schools. Perhaps they have not been paying attention to what has been happening in New York, D.C. and Chicago over the past ten years. There has been nothing but change, usually brought about by people who are not educators themselves. This change has taken place with the cooperation of the unions, including our own beloved UFT here in NYC. To say that the system does not embrace change does not even pass the giggle test.

Khan is part and parcel of this wider movement we call education reform. They work from this Shock Doctrine-esque idea that schools are in a “crisis” or are “failing”, so they must undergo major changes. It was not at all clear that schools were in any crisis at all before the reformers took the reins of the school system. The things they have used to justify this “crisis”, namely test scores, have not improved since the reforms have been implemented. The “crisis” in education is a perception built by a constant barrage of news stories about school shootings, teacher misconduct and peeling paint on the walls. These things have not, nor have ever been, presented in proper proportion to the system as a whole. Even if schools are in a crisis, does this mean that schools themselves need a paradigm shift? What has always been overlooked, indeed never touched, is the impact of poverty, family dysfunction and street crime on the school system. These are structural problems with society, not failures of school systems. The more we blame schools for these issues, and the more we think “changing” schools will solve these issues, the more we remove ourselves from any structural solutions to poverty, inequality and broken communities. Education reform in general is one large mass distraction from the broken socioeconomic system under which we all live.

Bill Gates is Khan’s biggest supporter. He says his children use Khan’s videos, yet they do not attend flipped classrooms. Just like every other reformer, they send their own children to elite private schools with small class sizes, veteran teachers and traditional methods. Just like every other reformer, this type of education is somehow not appropriate for everyone else’s children. What Khan’s movement represents is the deskilling of the teaching profession, something the reformers have been aiming at for decades.

The last line of defense for the Khan supporter, as well as the supporter for of many other ed reforms, is that the Khan Academy is just “one more tool” in the teacher’s arsenal. This gets tiring after a while. Teach for America was just one tool to overcome a teacher shortage, now they are pushing out veteran teachers in an age when no shortage exists. Fuzzy Math was one more tool, yet it was foisted on school districts nationwide as the standard curriculum. Young adult literature was one more tool to get students interested in reading, now it is one of the fastest growing literary (I hate using that word) industries around. Now Khan is one more tool. It cannot represent one more tool as well as a paradigm shift in education.

There are so many tools around that teachers do not know which one to use next. Most of these tools are things educators have never asked for, never sought out and never had input into creating. Teachers have been asking for smaller class sizes for years, yet it has never come to pass. We have been calling for the amelioration of childhood poverty for years, yet it continues to get worse. We have called to retain our job protections so that we can speak up for our students, yet they continue to be eroded away. Why not give teachers the tools they have been asking for over the past decades, instead of foisting tools from an ivory tower that were never asked for?

It is because these things were never meant to be tools. They all seek to undermine teaching as a craft, to get as big a slice as the education pie as possible and to hand off the public institution of education off to private corporations.

If you are for the corporatizing of public education, then say so. It never happens like that. Just like Salman Khan, they will sit there with a big grin and act like they have a genuine concern for other peoples’ children. It is the grin of the con artist.

Khan Academy: If You Don’t Like It, You Don’t Get It

(ATTENTION SALMAN KHAN SYCOPHANTS: PLEASE READ MY LATEST POST ON THE KHAN ACADEMY “60 MINUTES WORSHIPS SALMAN KHAN AND SO DO YOU“. IT IS EVEN MORE WORTHY OF YOUR VITRIOL.”

This comment was left by someone in response to my post Putting It All On The Table About The Khan Academy. I was saving it because I think it’s a good discussion piece:

Peter Berger

You say “What innovation does Sal Khan offer in American education besides a pause button?” and, disturbingly, you say that as if it’s a small thing. This shows that you’re missing the point. A pause button is a huge leap in pedagogy. A pause button is world-changing.

First, a pause button is an enabler. It gives the student a degree of agency that they simply don’t have in a brick and mortar classroom. Yes, a student CAN interrupt a class and say “Excuse me, Mr. Smith, but I still don’t understand why x raised a negative exponent is the same as 1/x to some positive exponent.” He can do that once a class. Or twice a class. But at some point – and students learn this very quickly – their doing this interrupts the class, interrupts the lesson, and interferes with the other students. The teacher who, quite understandable, has to strike a balance, has to decide between this one student and the rest of the class.

I want a teacher who I can pause. Just for me. I want a teacher who I can rewind. Just for me. I want a teacher who I can ask to repeat a lesson SIXTY TIMES without feeling embarrassed or stupid. THAT is what Khan Academy is offering students. And THAT is all because of the pause button. The pause button is gigantic, humongous, and hugely important, and if you don’t see that it’s because you’re looking in the wrong direction.

The second thing is that the pause button is a user interface enhancement that makes the lesson itself more enjoyable. This leads directly to people wanting to take the lessons, instead of viewing them as annoying. Ask yourself how many times you would use your DVD player, after perhaps bring it once, if it had no pause button. The answer is self-evident: zero.

Lastly, you’re completely ignoring the exercise components of Khan Academy, so that you can focus on the videos. In my experience, young students find the following attributes of the exercise components extremely beguiling: immediate feedback as to whether they are right or wrong, non-judgmental feedback (as in, they don’t feel embarrassed to make mistakes, but rather are motivated to figure out how to do it better), and completely unbounded amounts of practice. KA is always willing to throw more problems at you, for as long as you want to do them.

Does all of this mean that we should throw away brick and mortar schools, or throw away teachers? Of course not. As someone interested in pedagogy, what I want is to improve all schools, and all teachers. You say it’s “difficult to find people willing to say one negative thing about Khan”. To the contrary, the internet is full of articles from defensive teachers who feel threatened by the publicity KA has received. Your criticisms are par for the course. Unfortunately, I think you will find that it is impossible to construct an accurate criticism of a topic until you understand it. You may understand pedagogy, but you clearly don’t understand what it is that KA has brought to the table. Instead of lashing out defensively, perhaps you ought to try harder to understand what it is that KA is doing right, rather than just assuming that it must be doing everything wrong.

Perhaps — just perhaps — you’d learn something. It’s never too late to learn.

I am not going to speak on the tone in which Mr. Berger writes. Instead, I’d rather let you draw your own conclusions about that.

The fact that people believe a pause button is an educational innovation says a lot about how they see teaching. Sure, you can pause and rewind a video however many times you want. What do you get? The same thing over and over, repeated in the same way.

I know that when students ask me to clarify something, I present the information in a different way than I did originally. That is part of thinking on your feet as a teacher. Every question and comment that a student shares is indirectly a commentary on the lesson. It shows me which information or skills are getting across and which are not, which then informs the manner in which I deliver the rest of the lesson.

There is a reflexive loop between teacher and student, each one guiding the other on what they require. There is no such thing in the Khan Academy. It is a process that requires two human beings.

I can understand students being afraid to ask questions. Teachers have to make students comfortable with asking questions. There are days when my lessons consist of nothing but students asking questions totally unsolicited by me. Through these questions, we are able to cover the content.

Guess what? A kid cannot ask the Khan Academy any questions.

And for students who really need the extra time, to the point where they need to ask a question sixty times in a row, maybe a video would be handy if the information was low-level. But if a student has to ask sixty different questions sixty different times, then they’re going to need individualized attention. I don’t know many teachers who wouldn’t be willing to provide this type of attention during an off-period or after school. I don’t know many schools that do not have tutoring programs for these types of students. In the most severe cases, I don’t know of any school besides charters that do not have special needs programs.

One thing is for certain: for students with these types of issues, the Khan Academy is pretty far down on the list of tools they might require.

I’ve never spoken on Khan Academy’s activities because I believe them to be so self-evidently flawed that I didn’t think I needed to waste the typing finger energy on them. First, they tell the student whether they are right or wrong. This might come as a surprise, but most answers students give in a real classroom are neither right nor wrong. If you as a teacher are giving assignments that elicit thought and provoke discussion, you are encouraging children to construct their own version of truth. On the other hand, if all you’re worried about is if children follow a predetermined script, then you are shutting the thought process down. This is one of the reasons why the Khan Academy has been criticized by its few detractors as promoting nothing more than simplistic, procedural factoids.

“If you know this, you can go on to this.” That is why there is such an obsession with getting kids to earn virtual badges. It reflects the obsession education reformers have with rote, the type of thing that lends itself nicely to bubble-in exams.

Learning is not about levels and factoids. It is a process that integrates factual and conceptual information and entails emotional and moral growth. Again, a good teacher knows how to integrate these things into a lesson. This type of learning is non-existent in Khan Academy world.

And when people claim that the Khan Academy does not aim to replace real teachers, they are ignoring the hype around Khan and falling in love with Salman’s assurances. The fact of the matter is Khan, as well as a slew of online learning programs, have already begun the process. Students who need credits are taking more and more online classes. Universities are offering more and more online degrees. Obama’s proposed plan to reform public universities called for slashing budgets for professors and offering more online courses.

Khan may not say he wants to replace teachers. The President, Bill Gates and those with power have clearly stated otherwise.

It is only in education where the opinions of professionals count for nothing. When someone comes with a billion dollar program to save schools, like the Khan Academy, and it rightly gets ravaged by teachers, the knee-jerk response is “you’re just afraid of losing your job.” This has become a justification to ignore the concerns of educators and go ahead with schemes conceived in the minds of businessmen, politicians and computer programmers.

Believe it or not, educators are motivated by more than self-interest. The Khan Academy deserves criticism because it is nothing new. It brings no new methods to the pedagogical table. Their videos consist of lectures, diagrams and activities that have the feel of games. While the people who push Khan’s videos usually come from outside of the education world, educators who have been teaching children for years recognize Khan for what it is: lectures on tape with a bunch of bells and whistles. None of those lectures or bells does anything any differently from a real teacher. In many cases, it does it worse than an average teacher.

So when educators ravage Khan, it comes from a place not just of self-interest, but the interests of our children. We don’t want our kids to be sat in front of a screen and told it is education. While Bill Gates and all the other reformers continue to send their children to elite private schools with old teachers and small classes, everyone else’s children gets Khan’s videos. Instead of an education that nourishes all parts of the mind and spirit, Khan offers low level knowledge.

And the final reason why educators might dislike Khan is that the people who push it show such disdain for educators and what they do. Khan himself does not have one educator on his team, preferring to use people from the computer programming world instead. The people who support Khan, like the post above shows, thinks teaching children is about drilling facts into heads. It is like they imagine Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller every time they think of teachers.

Just because someone is not impressed with the Khan Academy does not mean they do not understand it. The emperor simply has no clothes.

There Is No Compromising On Education

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.