Friday, February 06, 2009

Which Side Are You... Wait, Do We Have a Side?

Dan gets at the meta issue behind my post on the lack of reaction to Obama's visit to a local progressive school:

Tom Hoffman calls out the entire edublogosphere in the sort of post that has nudged me incrementally toward a different (or at least more nuanced) definition of "reform" than the one I've claimed on this blog for, like, ever. For whatever it's worth.

It is hopelessly exasperating to those of us who have been working on school reform for more than a couple years, a category which includes pretty much all the people I "called out" yesterday, that the "reformer" label is now routinely applied to a different set of folks, with quite different goals. Even worse, the two sides of the overall education debate are now defined as "reformer" vs. "teacher's union." Or "school reform" vs "broader, bolder reform," but the idea that there is a larger, long-running debate about what kind of schools we want, of progressive education vs. more traditional schooling, is lost in the public discourse.

My contention is that if Obama's first school visit was to a KIPP school, for example, there would quickly be dozens of blog posts, press releases, and probably op-eds saying, essentially "Ka-ching! Score one for our side, for the school reformers!" In contrast "our side" seems to not even exist. Of course, we do exist. Expeditionary Learning Schools is almost three times bigger than KIPP. The Coalition of Essential Schools is around ten times bigger than KIPP. The other side has certain structural advantages, more money, a clutch of agressive think tanks, sympathetic newspapers which also happen to be test preparation vendors, etc.

But it isn't really clear that there is a "we" that has a side at this point. Who are we? Do we assert that we exist? Is there a big tent we can all crowd into?


Stephen Downes said...

I think there are very distinct groups in the edublogosphere that would find themselves quite up in arms if members of these groups ever actually listened to members of other groups.

Tom Hoffman said...


Well, certainly there are distinct groups which have genuinely conflicting visions and are quite aware that they're opposed when they happen to run into each other.

On the other hand, as is the case in general, we also tend to fight most vehemently with people we mostly agree with.

I think if we sent, say, you, Gary Stager, David Warlick and Will Richardson to 25 high schools, there would be a high degree of agreement in general about which were the good ones. At least much more agreement than if you had a panel discussion about educational philosophy. There would be more agreement in practice than in theory, if that makes any sense.

OTOH, Ken DeRosa would disagree in both regards.