Who wants a rational conversation about education anyway?
By contributing blogger—The Cranky Welshman
To carry on rationally about a matter of substance, one must sometimes contest the meaning of a term or two. If I were to say that providence has decreed the right of every person to liberty, then you would be wise to ask whether I think “person” extends to individuals of both sexes, all races, classes, sexual orientations and religions. Given the reference to providence, you would be especially wise to ask whether I felt that non-religious individuals, fetuses, and those residing outside the great state of Rhode Island were persons. If in response I gave a clearer account of “person”—one that would satisfy your curiosity even if it fails to compel agreement—then it would still be left to sort through the meaning of “liberty.” After that would come the truly difficult work of lining up (coherently) my definition of person to my definition of liberty.
All of this is preface to an observation. The media chatter about education is strikingly unlike a rational conversation. When politicians and pundits alike sound off on the many supposed disasters of public education, they do so by making the same claim: schools are not “achieving success.” They all (I exaggerate—say rather 99.9 percent of them) mean that students are not getting high enough scores on criterion-referenced exams. Never mind that the process by which test makers determine criteria is painfully and stupidly arbitrary, that those criterion-referenced exam scores are used normatively, or that standardized testing renders public education the venal, banal, despicable thing that causes people to cringe when they think about their school days. Never mind all of that, because to even mention such things is to call into question what those politicians and pundits mean by words like “achievement” and “success.” To call into question the meanings of words is, undeniably, to enter into a rational discussion.
Who wants that?