John Proctor, in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, nearly bends to signing a false confession, but then has a moment of clarity and proclaims: “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
For me, my guiding label as an educator, scholar, and writer is “radical,” drawn from the work of Howard Zinn:
“When I became a teacher I could not possibly keep out of the classroom my own experiences. . . .Does not the very fact of that concealment teach something terrible—that you can separate the study of literature, history, philosophy, politics, the arts, from your own life, your deepest convictions about right and wrong?. . .In my teaching I never concealed my political views. . . .I made clear my abhorrence of any kind of bullying, whether by powerful nations over weaker ones, governments over their citizens, employers over employees, or by anyone, on the Right or the Left, who thinks they have a monopoly on the truth. . . .From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country—not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.” (You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Howard Zinn, 1994, pp. 7, 173)
And so it is there that I start these blog posts with the great lies of education reform, lies built on manipulating language to hide intent.
The education reform movement driven by Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and the TFA/KIPP advocates seeks to demonize their critics as the “status quo.” However, the corporate reform initiatives are themselves the status quo on steroids—national, not state, standards; national and more high-stakes testing; more segregation and inequity for high-poverty students.
But possibly the worst affront to language and education reform is Michelle Rhee and her newest book (read: self-promotion), Radical: Fighting to Put Students First.
Rhee is not a radical, and she is fighting to put herself first (note the cover of this book).
There is nothing radical coming from Gates, Duncan, and Rhee.
Let’s, then, do a brief vocabulary exploration. Since there is nothing radical about CCSS, more high-stakes tests, KIPP and charter chains, and TFA, what are the facts about the education reform movement and the labels they deserve?
“No excuses” ideology, rhetoric, and policies = inexcusable
Isolating children by race and socioeconomic status in charter schools = segregation
Placing privileged college graduates with no experience and little training in classrooms with high-needs students = usury
Labeling and ranking teachers through VAM-based evaluations = unethical
Perpetuating photographs of yourself in various poses of threat = megalomania
Making claims based on data that are misunderstood and misinterpreted = clueless
Holding a position of authority over a field in which you have no experience or expertise = unqualified
Pointing an accusatory finger and aiming the gaze of blame at teachers, unions, and schools = dissembling
Advocating for schools for “other people’s children” unlike your schooling or your child’s schools = hypocrisy
Throughout my nearly two decades of teaching high school English in rural Upstate South Carolina, I taught a unit that began with R.E.M.’s “Exhuming McCarthy” and then moved into Miller’s The Crucible before culminating with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). My students and I explored the insidious nature of the witch hunt, how norms can become forces of demonizing and marginalizing in the name of preserving the status quo, the imbalance of a few in power with all the rest (the 99%) trapped in perpetual fear and living the frantic life.
The current education reform movement is not science fiction; it is a very real and powerful witch hunt, a lever controlled by the ruling elite in order to keep the public’s gaze on a convenient collection of scapegoats (teachers, unions, schools) while those in power mask their intent behind labels that mislead, “status quo,” “radical.”
Busy, busy, busy is distracted, distracted, distracted.
The real radical pose comes from John Proctor: “Is the accuser always holy now?” Or consider the central motif of Alan Moore’s Watchmen: “Who watches the watchmen?”
The answers are “No,” and “It must be us.”