Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dear Michelle

Dear Michelle

Well, we both knew this day would come. I never thought your love affair with education was a forever thing, but it still hurts to see that you've found a new flame. I know you'll still have a hand in education in a small way, but it won't be the same, will it.

I stopped using your full name here months ago for a couple of reasons. For one, it seemed like the worst kind of clickbait, like posting a picture of Lindsay Lohan holding a puppy next to a blazing fire and headlining it, "You'll never believe what happens next!" My other reason, I guess, is that as a classroom teacher, the only thing that I could withhold from you was one more ounce of fame. But now you appear uncertain about what name you want to use yourself.

I wish I could say that you were never interesting to me at all, but in fact I've found your career kind of fascinating. As near as I can tell, you have literally never succeeded at anything in education. Your TFA stint was a bust (as they are, of course, designed to be). Your time as DC Chancellor barely looked like some form of success while it was going on, and time has only wiped away what little patina of achievement there might have been. Your advocacy groups, like StudentsFirst and TNTP, have failed to gain any serious credibility in the education world, and they never raised the kind of big funds that were promised.

You have been a living mockery of meritocracy, a sign of a world where failure in your last job is no impediment to moving up the next rung on the ladder of success.

So how did you do it? You did manage to provoke the right kind of controversy-- every time you pissed off teachers and other friends of public education, the enemies of public education and other reformsters assumed that you must have done something right. You yourself took the stance that feather-ruffling was a better metric of success than actual results. It has been impossible for me to take you seriously, and at times impossible to ignore you as well. The anonymous source in HuffPost's coverage of your departure probably captured another part of your success: "the power of this movement has been that this is a Democratic teacher of color, and so the ability of the traditionalists to write all this off as billionaire white male Republicans was very, very hard to do when Michelle had the profile that she did."

Why are you leaving us? It's hard to know. Maybe your husband needs some extra help with his own problems. Maybe you've actually run out of hills to climb in education. Maybe, like a Teach for America alum on a grander scale, you have merely used education as a launching pad for your real career, and you're ready to begin.

I suppose it's even possible that this isn't your choice. There are a lot of rich and powerful people behind StudentsFirst in particular and the reformster agenda in general. Your own husband runs with the kind of guys who topple governments just to make a buck. So maybe they've decided that it's time to refresh the brand by replacing you with Campbell Brown. Maybe Miracle-Gro is not your next career, but your pension plan.

Maybe education was providing too few rewards and too much tempest. People have called you some awful names and said some terrible personal things about you, and though I have called you the Kim Kardashian of education, I don't condone or support the ugly personal attacks that are following you out the door. But I understand them-- you have done some awful, awful things, and I'm not sure that it's ever seemed, from out here in the cheap seats, that you understand that teachers and students are real, live human beings and not simply props for whatever publicity moment you are staging. I'm not saying that you deserve the invective being hurled at you; I am saying that when you poke a bear in the face repeatedly, it eventually gets up and takes a bite out of you.

I do not hope that a meteorite lands on you or that a sinkhole swallows you up or that you end up as a Wal-mart greeter. But I am glad to see you go, even a little bit. You have championed some of the worst ideas in education and have worked hard to destroy the foundations of public education in this country. You have been wrong about pretty much everything, but like other marquee reformers, you have been wrong on a large, national stage, and public education has been damaged because of you.

I have no idea whether you are a horrible person or not. But you have been the public face of some horrible ideas, and you have collected money and backing for horrible changes in public education. You have deliberately and ambitiously made this country a worse place. You have used top-notch pitch-person skills to sell horrible programs through nothing-- not evidence, not research, not a track record of success-- but the sheer force of your personality, amassing personal fame and fortune in the process.

So I'm glad to read that you and education are breaking up. You were bad for education, and it will be better off without you. Good luck in your new endeavors; may they take you far away from American schools. Have a good life, and don't be a stranger.


  1. "Maybe, like a Teach for America alum on a grander scale, you have merely used education as a launching pad for your real career, and you're ready to begin."

    Don't forget: she *is* a TFA alum.

  2. She was pushed out. The fundraising problem was probably the main issue, coupled with the scandals. The KJ sex scandal that Rhee helped cover-up made it back into the open again after Johnson played his role in the Sacramento Kings fiasco. The cheating scandal, while never quite making it into the mainstream, weighed her star down too. As many people have observed, the deform movement has moved on to another personality to sell their agenda - Campbell Brown. You can see Brown wearing thin already - much faster than Rhee wore her welcome out. The zeitgeist for teacher bashing has changed since Michelle started her gig, that's for sure.

    I do wish some accountability for her. She scapegoated many teachers, she called some she fired in D.C. "sex criminals" when they weren't, she covered up her fiance's (now husband's) own sexual transgressions at his charter school - there needs to be an investigation into the cover-up she pulled at St. Hope that was uncovered by the Inspector General Obama fired.

    In any case, karma's already getting her. That she's gone on to join the board of a company known for poisoning animals and lying about it, known for putting toxins into furniture and lying about it, sounds like karma to me. Yeah, she'll cash in doing it, but she can't shill for toxic shit like Miracle-Gro and not be even more tarnished than she already is.

  3. She Who Will Never Be Named Again has wound up exactly where many of us expected. After raping and pillaging public education she now sits on the smoldering ash heap of burned out education mercenaries. Can Bill Gates be far behind?

  4. Peter, she will still disrupt schools in Sacramento with her NBA-mayor-sex-scandal-federal-funding-scandal husband. That noted, she is definitely floundering.