Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Davids Boo Goliaths Do They Lack Civility?

Civility is the last recourse of the powerful, those who can afford to appear civil because they hold all the power...
The call for civility exposes a foundational problem with the current education reform debate because, for all practical purposes, there is no debate..... Paul Thomas,  A Call for Non-Cooperation.
I call for a moratorium on requests that we be civil to people bordering on criminality. Straddling the fence is not an option. You can't take the position that we should act in a civil manner in a "debate" between people with nukes and people with pea shooters - in essence there is no debate ... public booing is not just born out of frustration but is a political tactic to draw attention from a very biased media that ignores the voice of the opposition....Even bad press is better than no press.  EdNotes (I love to quote myself).
Paul Thomas reacts here (A Call for Non-Cooperation: So that Teachers Are Not Foreigners in Their Own Profession) to Randi Weingarten's call for a one-year moratorium on high-stakes testing associated with the Common Core and to Jennifer Jennings' apology to Secretary Duncan for being booed at AERA. He warns that moderation and civility are not appropriate responses to extreme conditions... Diane Ravitch
Every day there is another outrage that enrages people. Whether teachers being railroaded or charters being illegally allowed to troll for pre-k students to keep them out of public schools or the monthly PEP meetings. Unfortunately, many academics stay removed from these arenas where they would rub elbows with real people -- teachers and parents and students in closing schools while multi-million dollar charters steal their futures. Maybe these academics like to think of themselves as being non-partisan, looking at both sides. There are no 2 sides, only one truth. ..... Me again (I can't shut up.)
As promised, I'm following up on yesterday's post "Jennifer Jennings (formerly Eduwonkette) apologizes to Secretary Duncan over the booing at AERA."

This one is a long slog and I still may have one more post to go, but hang in here if you can. Lots of points to make.

I love Paul Thomas' call for non-cooperation, exactly the position the UFT should have been taking since Day One of BloomKlein. (You won't get no stinkin' seniority rules changed so you can close billions of schools, etc.)

I was glad to hear from Jennifer Jennings this morning after she read my piece last night and we are hoping to get together soon. I promise not to boo when I see her, though maybe after this piece she may boo me.

I will ask if she got to see our $30 film at AERA on that Sunday morning when it was sandwiched between $multi-million ed deform films?

Diane Ravitch has her take on the apology here.

Arnold Dodge parses Duncan's speech at Huffpo: The Solution to a Bad Guy With a Test Is a Good Guy With a Test

Mike Antonucci at EIA comes at this from the right (which in his case is wrong): Boo-Hooey
The problem with Mike's analysis is that he reads Duncan's speech as if Duncan meant a word of what he said instead of looking at is a hooey designed to keep people from booing him too much and getting the people in the middle of the road to say, "You see, he is reasonable and can be talked to" instead of responding, "you lying piece of crap, you say one thing but act do the opposite. You will rot in hell." (Enough vitriol for ya?). Mike says that Duncan is just following his boss' orders. Jawohl.

The speech seemed to take Jennifer in who in "speaking" to Duncan says:
You had the grace, the guts, and the patience not to reciprocate. [What was he going to do, boo back?]
If there is one lesson from this conference, Secretary Duncan, you showed America’s educational researchers that we can have a different debate—one in which we rely on ideas and open disagreement and reason, and not on schoolyard bravado.
Oh, god, I am cringing just reading this. Duncan with grace? And guts? My goodness. I imagine Duncan might just invite Jennifer in for a "different" debate where he will be a reasonable guy and agree with much of what she says or maybe give the impression he does.

There are a whole bunch of issues I want to touch upon but first another bit from Paul Thomas expresses a lot of what I would say.
Standing in the middle of the road offers some statistical advantage to avoiding being run over since you aren’t in the prescribed lanes of traffic, but standing in the middle of the road can never assure the safety that refusing to walk into the road to begin with does.
The Thomas trilogy: Jennings, Weingarten, Di Carlo
Thomas points to Anthony Cody on Randi Weingarten's call for a moratorium on common core (as opposed to a call to use a machine gun),
Matthew Di Carlo at the Shanker blog (often used to justify ANY position the AFT might take) challenging charges that value-added methods (VAM) of teacher evaluation are “junk science” and Jennifer Jennings penning an apology to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

I'm glad Thomas lumped these 3 together.
Weingarten, Di Carlo [2], and Jennings share a call for standing in the middle of the road, a quest for ways to compromise, and these all appear reasonable positions. Ultimately, however, moratoriums, compromise, and civility are all concessions to the current education reform movement and the policies at the center of those reforms, specifically CCSS and VAM....
These messages are factually false and, despite the civility of the language, irrevocably offensive. Standing in the middle of the road of bureaucratic, accountability-based school reform, then, may decrease the likelihood of being run over, but it concedes the road itself to those who have built it, to those who govern the laws of transportation.
The implied and stated messages of calls for CCSS and more high-stakes testing include the following: (1) Teachers do not know what to teach, or how, and (2) teachers are unlikely to perform at the needed levels of effort in their profession unless they are held accountable by external and bureaucratic means.
The implied and stated messages of calls for VAM and merit pay include the following: (1) The most urgent problem at the core of educational outcomes is teacher quality, and (2) teachers are unlikely to perform at the needed levels of effort in their profession unless they are held accountable by external and bureaucratic means.
There is no little irony in Thomas bringing up the teacher quality issue given that Jennifer's Eduwonkette's very first posts in Sept. 2007 were related to this topic. I thought they were excellent points even if I didn't totally agree with all at the time (too much research I think and not enough from the gut and experience of teachers.) Here are some links:
Let me cover some of the same ground and some other points based on these topics:
  • Are we really engaged in a "debate" or in an "assault"?
  • Were the booing academics at AERA reacting to the coming assault on them that will be similar to the one on k-12? I'm betting many of them were still students.
  • Is a lack of so-called "civility" in a public forum an appropriate political tactic?
  • Who is Arne Duncan and why he deserves to be verbally eviscerated.  
  • My definition of what it means to be civil: I don't boo or harass when I run into ed deformers on the street and at times even hug them. But in a public forum at events or on blogs I boo the shit out of them.
Are we really engaged in a "debate" or in an "assault"?
Let's start with this from an article in Slate:

Failing the Test: Why cheating scandals and parent rebellions are erupting in schools in New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

It’s a terrible time for advocates of market-driven reform in public education. [Does Duncan booing count?] For more than a decade, their strategy—which makes teachers’ careers turn on student gains in reading and math tests, and promotes competition through charter schools and vouchers—has been the dominant policy mantra. [Do you remember then holding a debate on these policy decisions? Even our lousy unions which supported so much of this crap didn't hold democratic debates.] But now the cracks are showing [Booooo, Duncan]. That’s a good thing because this isn’t a proven—or even a promising—way to make schools better.
Jennifer wrote
It is one thing to disagree with some of the Obama administration’s policies, to bring countervailing data to the table, and to engage in reasoned—and, one would hope, enlightened—conversation.....
the educational policy debate has become an overwhelming chorus of boos, of shout-downs, and of bitter personal insults, rather than a real debate about ideas and data and first principles.
You see, there was never an enlightened, or any, conversation or debate about these policies. They were forced whole cloth down our throats by both political parties backed by billionaires with people like Duncan and Klein out there to implement these policies and undermine and destroy the voices of opposition.

War was declared on the teachers, parents and children in public schools in this nation. In warfare between the power structure with nukes and guerrillas with pea shooters, there is little room for civility. I'll get back to this later, but public booing is not just born out of frustration but is a political tactic to draw attention from a very biased media that ignores the voice of the opposition. And to firm up the resistance base where only numbers can counter billions.

Are academics at AERA reacting to the coming assault on them that will be similar to the one on k-12?

Duncan/Obama are about to push the same policies onto higher ed -- where  tenure and jobs might depend on 4-year college drop-out rates and outcomes on standardized tests.

Would academics insulted by the lack of civility feel differently if  hard-won tenure track positions could be taken away because of a low 4-year graduation rate, which I can guarantee is lower than many schools that have been closed?

I know some of the people who helped organize the Duncan protest in San Francisco. There are now some discussions going on over the award being given by the supposedly progressive ed bastion, Teachers College, to Merryl Tisch, the doyenne of high stakes testing, at the upcoming graduation. Should people boo and ruin graduation? Or get up and turn their backs? Or hold a demo in front? We'll deal with this issue in a follow-up.

Is a lack of so-called "civility" in a public forum an appropriate political tactic?

YES, YES, YES. Given a complicit ed press that ignores 95% of what is really going on, don't let these ed deform guys talk in public if you can stop them. Don't care about bad publicity or offending people. We know what they are going to say anyway. What they do in these situations is try to make nice, like when they get back to the office they will have a revelation. They are the enemy, not people to engage in debate.

Most of this is covered by Thomas. The apology to Duncan reminded me of Randi's apology to Bill Gates at the 2010 AFT convention when 50 people booed and walked out while Randi's Unity Caucus slugs ridiculed and booed them for doing so. See my videos here (Trojan Horse in the AFT House), here (updated Apple 1984 commercial) and here (Randi chastised for encouraging disparagement of protesters by California teacher).

Actually, before I go on and have your attention, take a peek at my version Apple commercial, which I consider one of my more creative moments (I needed David Bellel to help me do it.)

When you are powerless in an undemocratic system there is no other way. (The sad thing is that in so many extreme cases we see people all over the world who feel this way resort to suicide bombs. Imagine what it takes for someone to be willing to kill themselves while all we have to do is boo to get people upset.)

What I believe is coming, will be a growing civil disobedience movement like we saw in the civil rights movement. The testing opt-out movement is a sign of civil disobedience of sorts.

Who is Arne Duncan and why he does deserve to be verbally eviscerated?
Arne Duncan is a criminal verging on child abuse. (I know this is the kind of invective the middle of the roaders eschew). Let's not forget that Arne Duncan ran the Chicago schools into the ground for 8 years -- whether you use metrics or just plain gut feelings (my preference) -- and is force feeding his failures on the entire nation. His closing schools policies to favor the charter crooks (and as one scandal after another erupts he skates free from being held accountable) led to gangs crossing neighborhood lines. I'm convinced Duncan's policies have something to do with the extreme murder rate amongst teens and if I could I would bring him up on murder charges. (See Ed Notes Online: Is Arne Duncan Guilty of Murder? ...

When he helped celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Teach for America in Feb. 2011 he received an adoring standing ovation. Gary Rubinstein, who in some ways has taken Eduwonkette's place as a blogger supremo, was so offended by the Rhee, Duncans, Kleins, etc in the room he started questionning the very nature of TFA -- and he moved very fast out of the middle of the road, even running with MORE in this year's UFT elections because, well, the UFT tries to stand in the middle of the road.

Diane Ravitch posted this condemnation of Duncan today:
This is an astonishing story.
In 2002, Arne Duncan began his infamous policy of shutting down schools in Chicago with low test scores.
Among the schools he closed was Dodge.
Dodge parents were outraged that their school was handed over to a private turnaround operator, but Duncan assured them it was for the best.
Fast forward to 2008, when President-elect Obama announced that he had picked Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education.
The event was held at Dodge Renaissance Academy, which the President praised as a “perfect example” of a turnaround school, an exemplar of Duncan’s great success.
Sadly, Chicago Public Schools is now closing Dodge Renaissance Academy as a failing school, along with Williams, another of Duncan’s “turnaround” schools.
What do you think this does to the children, the parents, and the community?
When is it okay to say that it is better to help struggling schools than to close them?
Ed Notes has done quite a few Duncan pieces: Arne Duncan, Segregationist?

I'm thinking that booing Duncan is being kind of kind.

My definition of what it means to be civil: I don't boo or harass when I run into ed deformers on the street and at times even hug them. But in a public forum at events or on blogs I boo the shit out of them.

While I believe in not being civil in a public forum given we can gain some political advantage by increasing the underdog sense of power, I do agree that at some level civility works to a political advantage when you are one on one with an ed deformer. I know I can't convince them and have no interest in debating them and there is no political advantage in throwing invective on them. Getting emotional gains nothing. So I just have fun with them. Thus I hugged Joel Klein and was always civil when I ran into him. And when I see Randi I have no problem in chatting, as I also did with Eva and her husband at a party. Now you know no one has been tougher on them than Ed Notes but I work at making it clear nothing is personal. Except for Unity slugs (and not all Unity people are slugs).

At the rally at Tweed 2 weeks ago I saw Marc Sternberg coming out of Tweed as the rally was ending and I began to yell at him, not with invective, but chiding him on missing the rally. He came over to chat and even though people find him as despicable a person as possible in Tweed (I actually vote for Shael) I can engage in chiding, kidding around banter. I told him with the clock ticking down at BloomTweed he better get a job soon.  But when Sternberg tried to speak at a PIP I joined vociferously in the booing so he couldn't be heard. As I always used to tell Randi: Nothing personal. It's political.

I know lots of people don't agree with me. It is one of the areas Julie and I don't agree on. She chides me for allowing Klein to use me for that hug to defuse the audience hostility. And people ran over with hand sanitizer afterwards. I'm not a hater and see no point. And if I gain some political advantage -- in this case a big jump in hits to ednotes -- what does it cost? Funny, but at the next meeting -- Klein's last -- he came over to shake my hand and we had a chat about the lack of civility. I repeated that I see no point in vilifying people personally but am ready to go all out if there is a political basis. I find people on the other side use any sense of personal animosity against you --- Randi has actually got some Unity slugs convinced that my criticisms are about nothing more than she once didn't return an email. My principal used to do the same thing -- that we just didn't get along -- that I had no real issues other than dislike for her. In fact once I was out of the school and working at the district  she used to hug me when she saw me (relief?) and we laughed about our battles. I learned a good lesson. If you are nasty to their face it fuels them.

So I want to close with a few points from Jennifer's post where she calls out the protesters as having
 abdicate(d) our most sacred responsibility as researchers—a commitment to ideas, to data, to truth, to real debate—at the altar of one-upmanship.  It is toxic. It is unnecessary. And it is not befitting of a community of researchers who stand in front of students on most days of the week and call ourselves educators.
As I pointed out, yes it is all necessary. The altar of one-upmanship has a role when you are trying to rally and organize people to take action when they are powerless but you know if they grow in numbers they will have power.

And yes to truth. When we were doing our movie I was worried that maybe we should be telling a bit of the other side so we wouldn't look like a propaganda film. Julie said absolutely not. We were not telling one side as opposed to another. "Waiting for Superman" was the propaganda film. The "Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman" was the truth.

Some more thoughts from the NYCEducation News listserve:

Steve Koss:
 When those in positions of political power are actually willing to listen and contemplate opposing views and provide genuine open forums for discussion, when they are willing to consider that their experience may not be as deep as others and that their policies might not be one hundred percent correct, when they begin to treat those with opposing views as people who have equal concerns rather than ignoring them or continually dismissing them as "special interests" (yes, Mr. Bloomberg, parents ARE "special interests" when it comes to their own children), then perhaps they will have earned the right to dignified treatment from an audience who feels it has been treated the same way.  Until then, I see no problem whatsoever with booing as one of the few ways left for the disregarded to express themselves. 

Dora Taylor, Seattle
Here, here. Duncan’s so called “Listening Tours” were totally bogus. He has listened to no one but those with the largest amounts of cash ever since he was the CEO of Education in Chicago.

One also sometimes feels that these people live within the bell jar of their own self regard and there is an impenetrable wall protecting them from criticism. I wasn't there but it perhaps it would take a few shocks like that for these people to realize they have serious critics and not just "vested interests" opposing them.

Did his "keynote speech" involve an opportunity for questions from the floor, or was it just a propaganda moment?  DId the organization chose him as a keynote speaker or was it political product-placement?

I feel there's a phrase for this tendency of leadership cliques to live in an echo-chamber of their own ideas... but I can't get at it...

Here is video of protest:

Catching up with Eduwonkette


  1. "Civility" is the feces-drenched ball-gag the powerful shove into the discourse of their "inferiors" to deprive them of their only remaining weapon: their rage.
    The attendees who booed Duncan would have no other possible opportunity or means by which so immediately and directly to express their revulsion and disgust with the CorpoRat factotum and all he represented. I'm actually disappointed that nobody made a big production of GETTING UP AND CONSPICUOUSLY LEAVING.

  2. I love the comment by the progressive activist, Jim Hightower: There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. I prefer not to be a dead armadillo myself.

  3. Great job summarizing the issue and responses. I posted it on Facebook, all three pages (mine, ReclaimAERA, and Edu4).
    We were not among the boo-ing---but maybe that's because we felt the strength of our numbers? Maybe solidarity breeds "civility." With you folks, and my other comrades, and strategies for opposition, I/we feel less powerless.

  4. Here's the comment I left re: Jennifer Jennings' apology to Duncan (I particularly wanted to respond when I saw that she is an Asst Prof of Sociology at NYU, where I got my own degree many years ago):

    > 12:01 PM on May 8, 2013
    > Jennifer, I do not know you nor was I at AERA, but I have read a lot about both. While I respect your personal opinion about the booing of Arne Duncan, it's rather presumptuous for you to publicly apologize on behalf of others. I am disappointed to see a fellow sociologist (I got my doctorate from NYU some time ago) say: "It is another thing entirely to abdicate our most sacred responsibility as researchers—a commitment to ideas, to data, to truth, to real debate—at the altar of one-upmanship." Sociology should die as a discipline if in 2013 its researchers still make claims to revealing "truth," implicitly through "value-neutral" research.
    > When researchers boo a high-profile speaker at a conference, surely this suggests something is awry – researchers are not typically rowdy, rude conference attendees! When staid researchers and policy analysts such as myself take to the streets as public school parents, it suggests something extreme is happening. As many of the commenters here have stated, the booing of Arne Duncan was clearly an expression of feelings of frustration and powerlessness. Surely, as a sociologist and critic of current education policy, you understand that. So why the Habermasian plea for "rational critical discourse" when educators (whether researchers and/or practitioners) and public school parents with opposing views have been banned from the table?
    > We are angry as we watch our children's education be ruined by experimental policies promoted by billionaires and enacted by Democratic politicians who should know better. We are tired of being ignored, so we will do things that we don't typically do until our voices are heard! If I'd been there, I would have booed Arne Duncan.

  5. comment from edweek site:

    "As a former eduwonkette reader, I'm disappointed.

    First off, it's worth noting that the author received an IES dissertation fellowship in 2007, and a $1.5 million dollar IES grant (as co-PI) in 2011 for a study titled: "Developing More Effective Test-Based Accountability By Improving Validity Under High-Stakes Conditions" (R305A110420, 2011-15: $1,564,713). Aren't these worth disclosing when one is 'publicly apologizing' to the Secretary of Education, chastising one's dissenting colleagues, and espousing a 'sacred responsibility as researcher'? While the author may have "no senior standing, official office, or public mandate with which to offer this apology," she does have things in hand... and they are not disconnected from circles of power or from specific arguments (including the need to improve standardized tests) Duncan made at AERA that day.

    Even if we place these conflicts to the side, the comment above is still embarrassing... for the author. It's laced with arrogance and sanctimony... It appears wholly unaware of the lengths that those opposed to Duncan-backed policies have HAD to go to in order to speak out against intimidation, systemic silencing, even attempted eradication (closures anyone?). It takes to task colleagues for violating (the author's own and arguable) notion of researchers' "sacred responsibility ... commitment to ideas, to data, to truth, to real debate..." If the 'one lesson' that the author takes from AERA is the one she cites - supposedly so well taught by Duncan, who faced some signage and audible dissent in the hall, plus some picketing outside, in response to his regular refusal to engage in 'meaningful debate' with those holding views (and research findings!) that differ from his own positions (shared with elites and private interests) - then we are in trouble indeed...

    I take at least one (depressing/sobering) 'lesson' from the author - namely, that some of us are so in-deep that we can't seem to see which end is up. I'm not sure what prompted the author - someone who took such pains to deconstruct and correct faulty NYCDOE claims, for example - to offer this apology... or to think that it's her place to do so? What does it do except cull favor with people in high places, while further marginalizing voices of dissent ? There are so many other good questions for someone with the author's position of privilege to ask... including why her own organization identified Duncan as an educational researcher when he is not one, why it moved forward with the particular approach to discussion that it did, who was picked (and how) to ask questions, how and why those asking questions used the space they were given, what Duncan offered in response, etc.

    All this to say, if the road to tenure is paved with the kind of "sacred responsibility... commitment to ideas, to data, to truth, to real debate..." embodied by this apology, a bit of boo-ing is the least of our problems... and a healthy dose of dissent seems much needed."


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