Tonight, I got into a long, heated discussion with a family member who also happens to be a Congressional staffer for a Democratic legislator. Shockingly, the conversation was about education. She is a big fan of Michelle Rhee. I — as I’ve written before — am not.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of the argument, but instead, what is troubling me is how effective people like Michelle Rhee are at commandeering the argument. Somehow, even in the debate over who would be Secretary of Education, Joel Klein (who recommended Michelle Rhee for her position in DC) was the "reform" candidate and Linda Darling-Hammond represented the status-quo, despite a lifetime of working to reform schools. Diane Ratvich, over at Bridging Differences, asks the question, "Who Are the Real Reformers?" and she writes:
Nothing is wrong with that. And that’s the thing… one comment that set me off tonight was when my family member said, "What I like about Michelle Rhee is that she’s making sure that everyone in DC is focused on kids, not teachers." And yes, that is very much the rhetoric that Rhee uses. And sadly, that is as dangerous a false dichotomy as I can imagine.
That’s the issue… and that’s what made me so upset tonight. We cannot assume that we can divorce student needs from teacher needs. They must be maintained in a delicate balance that assumes rights and responsibilities from both parties. We must be willing, as a nation, as districts, as schools and in our classrooms, to talk to each other, to identify the things we need to make learning happen in our classes. Teachers must feel valued and and safe as must students. We must understand that we cannot browbeat our teachers into teaching any more than we can browbeat our students into learning. But we must also understand the solemn responsibility we have to each other, teachers and students, administrators and parents, to co-create the systems and structures necessary to create the schools we need. It’s so easy to demonize each other. It’s so easy to say that it’s all the fault of bad teachers or lazy students. But it’s so hard to find solutions that are sustainable, real and meaningful.
That’s why the conversation hurt so much tonight. Because smart people should know that that the way to school reform isn’t just by breaking the people in the system down, but also because I know that what I really heard underneath that was frustration that the system has gotten so broken in the first place.
What we have to recognize is just how much back-up we have to do so that we can even begin the real conversation. It starts with respecting the rights and honoring the responsibilities we all share — teachers, students, parents and administrators — in creating schools that work.