What’s the ‘most pernicious cliché of our time’?

Aug 19, 2013 by

valerie-strauss-130x130According to a new piece in The New Republic by the magazine’s science editor, Judith Shulevitz, the term “disruption” is, as the headline says, “the most pernicious cliché of our time.” That’s almost right.

 

Shulevitz makes important points about the dangerous errors that “disruptor” advocates make with their “almost utopian faith in technology” and insistence that “disruption” (which is always transformational, not to mention innovative) is equally useful for private and public enterprises. That includes America’s public education system. She writes that Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen, the man who coined the phrase “disruptive innovation” in 1997, has advocated that “fundamental school reform” can happen only if political and education leaders force such change on the masses because they won’t agree to it otherwise. (In other words, democracy only goes so far.)


She writes further:

 

Many well-meaning philanthropic disruptors have taken that advice to heart, and the results reveal something George Orwell pointed out, which is that stale phrases mechanically repeated have dangerous political effects. It is too soon to see how disruption will play out in public-health and government agencies, but what it has done to public schools is now becoming clear….

 

As for effectuating change from on high, the Broad Center in Los Angeles, funded by the billionaire Eli Broad, has worked hard to do that. The Broad Center runs an academy that recruits future superintendents from outside education. To quote from its website and a memo published last year in The Washington Post, these “transformational leaders” should share “a willingness to challenge and disrupt the status quo,” that is, “traditional, bureaucratic systems.” They should be “aggressive” “change agents,” modeling themselves on “passionate, civic-minded and disruptive” figures such as reform-oriented, urban schools chancellors Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein.

What’s the ‘most pernicious cliché of our time’?.

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