Unlike the whole George Zimmerman vs. DMX debacle bandied about by idiot promoter Damon Feldman, there are some fights truly worth seeing for us Americans. Especially in the realm of public education, because it involves all of our futures, not to mention the future of our democracy. I’d pay top dollar to see Diane Ravitch pummel Michelle Rhee. Literally pummel, that is. Not just with words, sarcasm, passion and a highly sharpened argument. But with boxing gloves and an uppercut to the right side of Rhee’s jaw.
Okay, I’m being tongue-in-cheek. Yet there’s a part of me — the same part that wrote Celebrity Deathmatch Meets Brave New Media back in ’10 about watching politicians and journalists beat on each other — that could imagine some of these fights play out in a boxing ring. To have Bill Gates get his head knocked in by Anthony Cody. Or Leonie Haimson lay out former New York City DOE Chancellor Joel I. Klein. Or, for that matter, the White soccer moms US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made fun of giving him a full-on beatdown. Then, after the ten-second countdown, they stitch and bandage him up, and begin again.
I imagine this because this fight to save our public schools from the corporate education reform agenda has been an ugly one. Folks like Gates, Duncan, Klein, Rhee, Wendy Kopp, Richard Barth, Dr. Steve Perry and several big-name others have taken full advantage of the financial needs of public schools and the greed of politicians. Not to mention the concerns and worries of parents and the perpetual fear-mongering of the media. They took possession of the conversation about the future of public education long before actual educators and parents had a chance to pick up our weapons and respond.
For those like me who saw the potential dangers of this shift to high-stakes testing-as-teaching, to punitive measures as teacher evaluations, to data for data’s sake, we politely lodged our concerns. We wrote our occasional letters to the editor and comments on blogs, and asked our questions at conferences. And all while applying for grants from the Walton Family Foundation, for jobs at Gates and consultancies with Teach for America.
Of course we were wrong. We may have even been hypocritical. But if folks like American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Hess are to be believed, we’ve also been mean-spirited and disrespectful to this group of “good-intentioned” do-gooders. Speaking at the American Federation of Teachers Albert Shanker Institute on “Philanthropy & Democratic Education: Friends or Foes” this week, Hess called for educators, parents and children to be “patient” with people like Gates and foundations like the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Why? Because, according to Hess, because “there are a lot of easier ways for them to spend their money than on education.” We need to be “reasonable,” and to “disagree without engaging in personal attacks” or jumping to conclusions about their personal “motivations.” Translation: rich people have thin skins after they’ve spent their lives in hubris and racial paternalism in playing with our lives.
Hess’ was the typical bullshit argument of a neoconservative who, instead of focusing on the fact that we’ve put our kids, teachers and schools in jeopardy, he focused on optics, and a false sense of optics at that. Hess would have poor kids kissing Gates’ ring for spending his money on reforming our schools in his image, and have impoverished parents crying tears of joy for supposedly saving them from bleak futures. Heck, Hess would have us groveling in thanks for dollars from any of these folks, because all that matters are their alleged good intentions, not the road to perdition leading from their good intentions.
So, no, I’m not going to be patient. Nor should the millions of kids doomed to see school as a testing factory. Nor should parents who want a brighter future that they play a role in determining, not some family worth $140 billion in Arkansas. Nor should the millions of teachers who’ve been turned into scared lab technicians, worried about their jobs every minute of every day.
We shouldn’t be reasonable, because being reasonable with deep-pocketed plutocrats amounts to bowing and scraping. And for goodness’ sake, let’s not excuse foundations like Gates or Broad because of “good intentions.” Screw good intentions! We’re not personally attacking any individual program officer or an administrative assistant. We’re criticizing their leaders and their use of their foundations for attempting to remake public education into a free-market monstrosity. Period.