Returning to the topic of how we frame the issues in ed reform debates, Erik says in his post that:
"Most people – even people I really disagree with – who are involved in the education reform debate really do want what they think is best."
In these conversations about ed reform, we do end up talking quite a bit about intentions. Intentions matter to me. For example, when one of my children hurts the other, how I handle it changes depending on whether it was a purposeful act or not.
Even so, with education reform, I constantly have to remind myself intentions are uncertain (though, frankly, I sometimes forget). For one, unless intentions are clearly bad, such as in the case of profiteering or corrupt practices, we can't discern intent. Furthermore what you may think is good for public education, and assume comes from good intentions, for example a free market approach that would involve privatization, I may think is harmful for public education and presume comes from bad intentions. There, we have a conflict of values or philosophy, but not of intentions. However, even assuming someone's intentions are good, if the policies they endorse are leading to bad outcomes, I will protest them.
That all being said, we do know what education reformers and organizations do: what their missions are, which reforms they push, and which policies they endorse. It's those items we should focus our energies on. We also know roughly what a democracy is supposed to be. As I explained in this past post, it doesn't really matter to me if Bill Gates is trying to help humanity, as some of my friends have argued to me, his influence and policy purchasing power is undemocratic and corrupting. And the United States is supposed to be a democracy, not a plutocracy or oligarchy.
I try to assume people have good intentions because it keeps me from thinking humanity is evil and from getting really, really depressed. If I find out someone has bad intentions, I will do what I can to publicize that. However, if people are pushing education policies that violate basic tenets of democracy, that evidence shows do not work, or that hinder quality teaching and meaningful and rich education, I don't care if they're the Second Coming, I'm going to openly disagree with and protest their ideas, intentions be damned.
As Mike Rose so thoughtfully says in this essay from Dissent magazine:
"The reformers are a varied lot, representing a wide range of ideology and motive – including free-marketeers who would like to see public education shrunk or dismantled. But overall, reformers are addressing issues of real importance. . . . But it is with the remedies, the methods of reform, that problems arise, for it is the methods, and the assumptions behind them, that directly affect what happens in the classroom."Exactly. It's not wanting to solve the problem that matters, it's the solution provided.