Friday, May 16, 2014

Jack Schneider & That Woman

Jack Schneider is my hero.

Over at EdWeek, he has spent the last month co-authoring, "Beyond the Rhetoric." The other co-author of the blog is She Who Will Not Be Named. In the opening piece, Schneider talks about the considerable tension created by the forces surrounding the fight for public education:

Sometimes this tension has been fruitful—leading to the adoption of policies for which there is diverse and well-founded support.  More often, however, it has provoked animosity and mistrust, accompanied by increasingly alarmist rhetoric.  Arguments have devolved into attacks.  Fact has been blended with fiction.  And ideology has undermined respect for evidence.  In this war of words, reasoned debate is being driven to the margins.  And neither side is blameless.

And so he and That Woman have embarked on an attempt to dialogue, addressing an issue each week with three pieces in the week.

Schneider, for his part, has been impressive. He has managed to continue having a serious conversation with a woman who many of us have long since stopped taking seriously. I think it's even working, a little. The first week in particular showed That Woman apparently thinking she would just state her talking points repeatedly and he would intersperse them with comments of his own, but I swear she's actually starting to converse. Sure, he could have torn into her the way many of us would like to (or have), but her unwillingness to stick around for hard talk is well-known. After a month, she is still in the room with Schneider, keeping the conversation going. That's no small achievement.

Topics so far have included standardized testing, teacher evaluation, and teacher training. Some recurring themes have emerged already.

One is an exchange that the two keep having, which goes something like this:

That Woman: Let me make a sweeping, cool-sounding restatement of one of my talking points.

Schneider: I'm going to respond with actual facts from the actual world.

Another recurring theme is that She Who Will Not Etc doesn't seem to really grasp the connection between rhetoric and reality. The most recent editions in particular find her asserting that since TFA and TNTP are pursuing some internal fixes, that should be good, and there's no accountability or consequences of their continued public bashing of traditional teachers. Words have meaning, and words create consequences. I'm not sure She gets that. I'm quite certain she doesn't get any of the complicated nuances of some of the issues at which she goes swinging her rhetorical hatchet.

So is this blog worthwhile? I responded to the first one by noting I was sad to see She get a platform to air her noises, and I still have mixed feelings about that. But I cannot with an even remotely straight face claim that writers like me accomplish anything by calling She names (we just feel better), so why not let Schneider try it his way for a while. At the very least, the blog is providing an interesting window on what is going on in She's brain, and a masters's class in how to respond patiently, firmly and effectively to some of what comes out of She's mouth. It's not the She vs. Ravitch debate, or any of the potentially Palinesque matchups that She has so carefully avoided, but it's a sort of dialogue, and a little dialogue never hurt anybody.

It would be fun, probably, to wade through the pieces and extract the various silly things She says, or play Daily Show and hold them up against things She has said and done in the past, and I certainly thought about doing that. But it feels mean to rain on Schneider's attempted picnic when he is so diligently standing up for Things That Are Right. And beyond that, what do we want.

At some point, we'll have to decide what winning looks like and whether we want to drive towards a day when public education is put right, or a day when people like She break down in sobs and beg forgiveness for all the nasty, evil, wrongheaded educational malpractice they tried to force down a nation's throat. The first is what we really need, and we probably can't have it AND the second at the same time. In fact, we probably can't have the second at all. So hats off to you, Jack Schneider.

1 comment:

  1. I get your point of this post - and certainly Schneider is to be commended. But, somehow I feel that giving That Woman any public forum helps to legitimize the "illegitimate" that She is. Please feel free to play Daily Show with Her. While I'm sure we all have our favorite She quote, none tops this from 2009: "People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning, I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap."