Education Debate Taking a Downward Turn

Jul 8, 2011 by

Richard Whitmire – Less than a year ago, as I was finishing a book on Michelle Rhee, the combative former chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C., the time arrived to set up a website for the book. The website designer asked if I wanted to include reader comments. It was a sensible suggestion. That’s what writers do to spark reader debate and boost book sales.

My answer: No thanks.

While reporting the book, I had monitored the comment sections in other publications as reporters wrote about hot-button education topics, including Rhee. These commentators were nasty — I’m talking abortion-debate-level nastiness.

How did that happen? For years, education politics were noteworthy mostly for their earnestness. In other words, they were boring.

Sure, there were flareups between “reformers” and teachers unions, but generally the tone of the discourse was civil and there was genuine curiosity in understanding opposing views.

Today, that’s mostly gone. What’s left are take-no-prisoners commentaries and name-calling.

As an author writing about Rhee, one of education’s most polarizing figures, one might expect I would experience this vitriol. But I’m hardly alone. Time contributor Amanda Ripley is a relative newcomer to education issues. “I spent my career writing about everything from abortion to terrorism to prisons, but none of these things compared to education,” Ripley told me. “The nastiest emails I’ve ever gotten have been about education.”

Last year Ripley wrote a lengthy Atlantic piece about the research



conducted on which teachers turn out to be the most effective in the classroom. Interesting stuff.

But few readers within the education world cared. What mattered was whether Teach for America, a group disliked by many traditional teachers (they resent the popular image of freshly minted teachers from elite colleges parachuting into classrooms to “save” our education system) was portrayed in a flattering light.

via Richard Whitmire: Education Debate Taking a Downward Turn.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.