Friday, December 23, 2011

The Real Debate

Paul Thomas:

The real debate is not whether or not one side believes poverty matters and the other does not (this is genuinely a false dichotomy that likely does not exist). The real debate is where the source of what matters lies and how to address the impact of poverty on the lives and learning of children.

This line of thinking is overly generous. At best one side in this debate has been peddling bullshit for years. Whether they believed what they were saying is beside the point. Acting like they never said it is just more bullshit.

Meanwhile, the Broader Bolder Approach has been consistently misrepresented as being hostile to all school improvement and focused only on poverty, despite the content of their every written statement, misrepresented not only by their ideological opponents, but by the press, based apparently on a presumption of hypocrisy from the BBA's advocates.

In short, polarizing the debate was fundamental to school reformers strategy.

Further, Thomas frames the "real debate" at too high a level. There is not an agreement on ends with a disagreement on means. You cannot escape the fact that serious educational disputes always boil down the the most essential questions: What kind of world do you want to live in? How does the world work? What is most important in life? Why are we here? That is the real argument. We don't require 100% national consensus to create better schools, but that's what we're fighting about.

I'll end by repeating this Havel quote which is about the most pithy thing I've read all year:

I favor 'antipolitical politics,' politics not as the technology of power and manipulation, of cybernetic rule over humans or as the art of the utilitarian, but politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and serving them.

That's the issue at hand.


Dina said...

Have you read any Foucault? My knowledge of his stuff is spotty at best, but his basic argument is that all social dynamics are about power in the end. Is it disingenuous to represent the "social factors before academic achievement" camp as disinterested in power?

(I'm not disagreeing with your basic point-- only playing devil's advocate. And, I'll get your guest post up within the week. :) )

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Dina,

Well, I dropped out of the Carnegie Mellon English department in part because while I seemed to agree with Foucault and the rest of the cultural studies stuff I was supposed to be reading, I had no real interest in reading it! But yes, it is an influence.

I suppose what I'm doing there later in the post is sliding from "Broader Bolder (and AFT, NEA, etc.) as opposition" to "Occupy as opposition." One thing I was thinking about adding is that this shift in reformer rhetoric is clearly a response to Occupy.

But yes, everything ultimately is a battle for power.