Sunday, May 18, 2014

Serious People

Why is it that I'm so hard on some people I disagree with here and so gentle with others? Because I have a hard time taking people seriously when they aren't serious people.

Certain positions in the current debates indicate clearly how serious a person is. I don't support the idea of national education standards; I think it's a bad idea, doomed to failure, that will not yield any of the benefits its supporters believe in. But I recognize that serious, well-intentioned, intelligent people can support the idea. Pitch national standards to me and I will disagree with you, but I won't automatically think less of you.

On the other hand, no serious person could ever say, "Only Common Core has made it possible for me to teach critical thinking in my classroom." Say that, and you have announced that you are a silly person, and I will treat you like a silly person who insists on saying silly things.

Serious people are not necessarily serious (I think of myself as a serious person), but you can usually spot them by their language:

1) Serious people recognize that words have both meaning and consequences. They don't just say whatever bullshit they feel like making up just because. They do not view communication as a game to win. They consider how words and actions really affect the things they claim to be serious about.

2) Serious people seek congruity between reality, their values, and their goals. Serious people don't focus on one at the cost of the other two. They do not ignore reality and sacrifice their values in order to achieve goals. They do not allow their values to blind them to reality. They do not look at reality and give up everything else. They don't ignore reality because it might be inconvenient.

3) Serious people do not lie. Most particularly, they do not lie about their goals and objectives. They are not bullshit artists. It's the silly people who will pee on your leg, tell you it's raining, and expect you to believe them because they used words and a faux serious expression.

One of the most striking things about the battle for public education is what a large percentage of the people fighting in the resistance are serious people, and what a large percentage of the people battling for the CCSS-anchored, high stakes test-driven, corporate backed status quo are NOT serious people.

Arne Duncan is not a serious person. Earlier in his career he made noises that sounded good, but which were unrelated to the actual policies he pursued. More often lately he sounds like that kid who hasn't done the homework but is hoping he can bullshit his way past you. There are no signs that he has ever made a serious attempt to see what is happening on the ground when it comes to the current test-driven status quo.

She Who Must Not Be Named is not a serious person. She does not appear to grasp the connection between rhetoric and reality, that somehow if you declare, "I must take action to show my deep and abiding love for you," and then punch your partner is the face, that's perfectly okay. Especially if you then announce, "He was totally pulling a gun on me." Even if there's no gun to be found.

David Coleman and his ilk are not serious people. Coleman has no more interest in what actually happens in classrooms than he has in the traffic patterns in ant colonies. When you are so deeply wise, you don't need to understand lesser realities-- you just make them bend to your will.

The Hedgemasters backing the charter movement are not serious people. Charters are investment opportunities and educational rhetoric is just ad copy. They are no more serious about finding real educational solutions than General Mills is serious about researching what the most healthy breakfast would really include.

The Data Overlords are not serious people. Or rather, they're not serious about education. They are serious about data collection, but it really makes no difference to them whether the education delivered is good or not, just as long as it's all tagged and bagged.

The Systems and Government pushers are not serious people. They are sure that if they can get total control of the whole system, it will work the way they imagine it will, and they do not want to be distracted by any evidence to the contrary. The pursuit of excellence should never be derailed by facts, or by the puny lesser humans who get in the way.

The corporate profiteers are not serious people. When Pearson believes their main problem is bad PR, they show such a disconnect from life on this planet that they cannot be taken as serious people.

People who are serious about education recognize that education is hard, teaching is hard, learning is hard, and that it takes a lifetime of looking and listening and paying attention to get a handle on how all the moving pieces of a public education are working. They seek to live out their respect and devotion to education, and they seek to live out their respect for the students that we serve. They align their words and actions and values. They are not worried about making education a lesser priority than profits and power.

If you are serious about education, your focus is on education. Not on finding facts to match your pre-conceived notions. Not on figuring out ways to "message" people so that they will believe you (and not, say, their eyes). Not on how you can use education to further your own ends (and it's someone else's problem if education gets busted up while being used as a tool). And certainly not on arranging for the biggest payout.

I have not yet mentioned the biggest tell of all-- serious people are still, always looking for answers. Do serious people sometimes fall for the reformy rubbish? Yes, they do. But I can tell they're serious because they are still trying to figure out how all this can fit together (and ultimately, like the entirely-serious Diane Ravitch, figuring out that it doesn't). Beware people who believe they have all the answers (personally, I have about 2% of the answers).

The supporters of the high-stakes test-driven corporate-backed status quo are, for the most part, silly people. Dangerous, powerful silly people, but still, while I have to take the danger they pose to public education seriously, I find it impossible to take them seriously at all.


  1. Given a few drinks and enough time to contextualize, I might quibble over one or two folks on your list. Maybe. Mostly, though, I'd just adore and possibly consider marrying this post. What are the laws concerning blog-love in your state?

    1. I believe it involves a waiting period and a background check. Or I could be thinking about the rules for buying firearms.

  2. Peter,
    I am a serious person (mentors: ACamus, WFBuckleyJr., WChambers, RWest, FO'Connor, JBarzun, and Brian G. Fay), but nevertheless believe in one national education standard: reading your blog.
    Bravo, and thank you,
    Jerry Masters

  3. “Three bling for the educrats under the sky,
    Seven for the edubullies who on teachers throw stones,
    Nine for mere teachers doomed to die,
    One for the Snark Lord on his dark throne
    In the Centres of EduExcellence where the shadows lie.
    One BlingRing to rule them all, One BlingRing to find them,
    One BlingRing to bring them and in the darkness bind them
    In the Board Room of Gates where the shadows lie.”

    --Song from “The Lord of the Blingring,” book DCLXVI of the Blingringelungenlied (collected by KrazyTA)

    For more on classic Rheeformish songs and spells, see “Prosody of Financial Statements and Other Rheeformish Poetry” in “Grimoires and Other Rheeformish Literature,” Appendix 10 of the Rheeformish Lexicon.

  4. I think we have to quit kidding ourselves and come to grips with the very serious fact that the enemies of democracy and public education are deadly serious about their objectives.

    Pearson, et al. (a.k.a. the British East India Testing Company) are dragging us back to a British-stye education system of a former age where the children of the lower classes are tracked into a permanent lower class labor force and the ruling classes attend public-supported private schools where the main thing they learn is the art of hob-nobbery that it takes to keep the lower classes in their place. Middle Class? Fugettabout It …