Mike the Mad Biologist

The New York Times’ Jonathan Mahler waxes philosophical over the divide in education policy, using the recent dismissal of NYC Chancellor of Schools Cathleen Black, to offer up Compulsive Centrist Disorder-inspired banalities about education:

As is often the case with morally charged policy issues — remember welfare reform? — false dichotomies seem to have replaced fruitful conversation. If you support the teachers’ union, you don’t care about the students. If you are critical of the teachers’ union, you don’t care about the teachers. If you are in favor of charter schools, you are opposed to public schools. If you believe in increased testing, you are on board with the corruption of our liberal society’s most cherished educational values. If you are against increased testing, you are against accountability. It goes on. Neither side seems capable of listening to the other.

It goes on in that vein, well, for the entire piece. If only we had an educational King Solomon to decree what the ‘sensible’ centrist synthesis is (we are all Hegelians now?). Or maybe a beer summit would do the trick. This bullshit synthesis is fundamentally flawed, since one side is either willfully ignorant or flat-out lying: most of the educational ‘reformers’ ignore the NAEP ‘gold standard’ data that show a massive improvement in educational performance, especially among minorities. They also repeat, without thinking, the mantra that the U.S. is falling behind, even as the very data they use to substantiate their claim show that most U.S. schools, other than those riddled with poverty, are either best in the world or very competitive.

So when those who just happen to be in favor of charter schools (even though the data supporting them are spotty at best), who just happen to decry teachers unions (because they know what’s best for teachers*), and who just happen to support bullshit evaluation methods typically begin the discussion with a litany of non-existent, imaginary failures, one might want to reevaluate their other claims in light of the aforementioned bullshit.

Paul Krugman made a similar point regarding Republican congressman Paul Ryan’s crack-addled ‘courageous’ budget proposals:

People like me don’t say that the Ryan plan is too radical; we say that it’s a fraud. The spending cuts are largely fake, either because they’re just magic asterisks or because they wouldn’t survive politically; the revenue estimates are fake, because they combine huge tax cuts with vague assurances that extra revenue will be found by closing loopholes. There’s no there there — except for big tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor.

To consider educational ‘reformers’ as one side of an honest debate (Got Michelle Rhee?) is to be party to intellectual fraud. You are granting them a legitimacy they have not earned, just as writing a story describing an intellectual ‘debate’ between biologists and creationists grants creationists unwarranted legitimacy.

We don’t need some kind of synthesis, we need to do what is right by our children.

*Hell hath no fury like a progressive scorned (by the subjects of his or her previous concern).