Saturday, March 15, 2014

On strange bedfellows in ed reform skepticism

Lately there has been some debate over whether progressives align themselves with the Tea Party to defeat the Common Core. I would argue that progressives should be skeptical of aligning ourselves with Tea Party at all because it is an affront to anti-racism and it may lead us to win the battle but lose the war for public education.

Within the progressive white education reform movement, there seems to be a troubling double standard, among some members. Why is it an unacceptable violation take Gates money, find common ground with Gates, or consider any potential merits of the Common Core, while working with the Tea Party (many members of which don't think public education should exist) on one issue is acceptable because it's "pragmatic"?

 Nancy Flanagan brought it up a couple of months ago and concluded:
Agreeing with the folks who see the Common Core as tearing children from the arms of their parents is a dangerous business. Let's have a rational conversation about the uses and misuses of content standards.
I agree: Public education advocacy work should be about policies and not about aligning ourselves with individuals or groups--in this case policies about standards and discussions about their use. If individuals or groups endorse the same policies I do, so be it. If your elected official happens to be a Tea Partier, you should still call them to express your views. Just because members of the Tea Party are in power doesn't mean we should abdicate our rights and powers as citizens, or that we should give up hope that people can change their opinions. I will never surrender my rightful role in the political process or give up give up efforts, if I think they might be fruitful, to change someone's point of view.

Jose Vilson addressed the issue on his blog and at the NPE:
There’s a big difference between having a difference of opinion, as so many do with our union representatives, for example, and a difference of vision. The difference is in how we view others in the same tent. Do we see each other as equal, capable of leading this movement, or as subordinate, a step towards a goal that eventually excludes? Inclusion along race, gender, and class lines matters. Examining the ways in which we hinder ourselves is so crucial to this work.

Some have responded to this by saying that saving public education is the bigger picture. But whose bigger picture? Don't they understand that for people of color, the bigger picture includes one where they are not considered as less than others because of the color of their skin? Asking people in the public education advocacy community to compartmentalize racism and "balance it" with other concerns is not reasonable. None of us should be doing that, none of us should lose sight of the components of the bigger picture. Part of white privilege is having the luxury to compartmentalize issues, i.e., saying this is about race and this isn't, or even though this is about race, I can see past that to the bigger picture. And in that case we're also, as white people, controlling the conversation, i.e., "This is/isn't about race because I say it is." or "Race doesn't matter here as much as preserving public education because that's the issue that is most important to me." Of course it wouldn't matter as much to a white person because it doesn't have to. No one is going to shoot one of us for walking down the street or stopping in a gas station while being white. Furthermore, what if the Tea Party's bigger picture includes the end of public education?

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates on supporting Ron Paul and Rand Paul is instructive here. The War on Drugs and War on Terror/ NSA over-reach are awful policies that Ron and Rand Paul are against. But both have also promoted all kinds of racist bile. (And also think public education should not exist). I agree that the War on Drugs needs to end but I can not see getting it to end by propping up men such as Ron or Rand Paul even if temporarily. If you read some of TNC's thoughts about his peers' embracing of the Pauls you can get an idea of the position that any alliance with the Tea Party regarding Common Core puts a person of color from our public education community in:
To those who dimly perceived something wrong, something that could not be put on a placard, or could not move the party machine, men such as this become something more than political operators, they become symbols. Substantive charges against them, no matter the reasons, are dismissed. The movement they represent means more. But as sure as the followers of Farrakhan deserved more than UFOs, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, those of us who oppose the drug-war, who oppose the Patriot Act deserve better than Ron Paul. 
It is not enough to simply proffer Paul as a protest candidate.One must fully imagine the import of a Paul presidency. How, precisely, would Paul end the drug war? What, exactly, would he do about the Middle East? How, specifically,would the world look for women under a Ron Paul presidency?  
And then the dispatches must be honestly grappled with: It must be argued that a man who could not manage a newsletter should be promoted to managing a nuclear arsenal. Failing that, it must be asserted that a man who once claimedthat black people were knowingly injecting white people with HIV, who fund-raised by predicting a race-war, who handsomely profited from it all, should lead the free world. If that line falls too, we are forced to confess that  Ron Paul regularly summoned up the specters of racism for his own politically gain, and thus stands convicted of moral cowardice.

It's a no-brainer and it should be. I, Rachel, might protest Big Data or the Common Core but I protest far more any person or group who thinks people of color as less than white people or who thinks the Civil Rights movement is bogus. I'm willing to talk and listen to them but I'm not willing to prop up people of such political views even temporarily.

I have written a few times about the shortcomings of single-issue advocacy. Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst defend their support of anti-gay, anti-poor people, and otherwise right-wing legislators by saying that their issue is education reform and not GLTB rights or poverty. And our community is always criticizing TFA for taking Walton money. Well, this is not dissimilar. To quote myself:
When reformers see fit to hand over the reigns of a sacred, public, democratic institution to people who hate the government, how is that supposed to work out? How can these education "reformers" imagine that anti-intellectuals can have anything of substance to offer to the intellectual pursuit of education? Is getting your questionable education reforms passed really worth empowering people who don't value knowledge-based education, public or otherwise? At some point, being anti-science and anti-intellectual means you're anti-education. If you have disdain for the creation of knowledge, or for knowledge itself even, you can't really be trusted to oversee the reform of one of our society's principal mechanisms for generating and transferring knowledge. 
The problem with a single-issue approach to education reform is that students don't lead single-issue lives. Democrats and neo-liberals who support decision-makers who would use their power to crush the Democratic party (through a war on unions of all stripes), who hate gay people, who deny climate change science, who support the disastrous Wars on Drugs and Terror, who don't even have the support of the saner members of their own party, who sell their states off to the highest bidders are acting irresponsibly and short-sightedly. 
Do we really want to employ a pyromaniac to fix our fireplaces if it means giving him the opportunity soon thereafter to burn down our homes? When I do the calculus, I don't see children or students, public or knowledge-rich and meaningful education winning. I see homo-phobic, poverty-criminalizing, anti-intellectual, knowledge-agnostic, right-wing ideology winning and I have yet to understand why any self-described liberal or education reformer would support that.

To read some thoughts and questions I posted as a follow-up to this post, go here.

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