I was on the Charlie Rose show last night. I was very excited to be there. Here is the interview.
Over the past two years, as the debate about education has gotten more and more heated, I have had many opportunities to express my views on the radio, especially on NPR, but not so many opportunities on television.
I represent “the other side” in a very one-sided debate. I support public education; I respect the education profession; I oppose privatization and high-stakes testing. On the other side are the forces of corporate reform, the folks who are pushing privatization and high-stakes testing and spreading negative messages about those who do the hard daily work of education; there are many of them and they have been interviewed by Oprah and all the major talk shows. Their views are often amplified in Time and Newsweek and other media outlets.
Up until now, as the debate wore on, I have had only two appearances on major TV shows: the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which was fantastic (he is just a great guy to talk to and his mother is a teacher, so he “gets it”); and a 30-minute debate with Geoffrey Canada on NBC’s “Education Nation,” a program that has been consistently tilted in favor of the privatization sector.
A couple of months ago, I received an invitation to the Charlie Rose show. I was interviewed on April 12. As I sat in the green room, I tweeted that the show would be on that night, not realizing that the show does not necessarily run interviews on the same day they are taped. I arrived at the studio an hour early; the make-up artist did a great job, making me look at least 10 years younger than my 73 years.
I have to admit that I was nervous. I usually am not nervous in interviews but television itself makes me uncomfortable. There is an old saying that when you are on radio, no one knows what you wore, and when you are on television, no one remembers what you said. When watching television, people get distracted by things like clothing, a hair out of place, facial expressions, hand gestures, whatever. So, unlike radio, I keep saying to myself over and over: Relax, smile, sit up straight. That sort of thing is distracting.
But I was nervous for another reason. I felt very keenly that I was speaking for millions of educators who don’t have a voice. I wanted to do right by them. I didn’t want to let them down. And I was speaking for millions of parents who want so much more than the high-stakes testing that is being inflicted on their children. And I didn’t want to let them down. I was speaking for my grandson, who is in kindergarten in public school, about to step onto the testing treadmill. And I wanted to bring some broader perspective to the current situation, to show how the daily attacks on public education make no sense.
So with all this in my head, the moment arrived. I enjoyed talking to Charlie. He is a very sympathetic interviewer. I felt good about the interview until I left the Bloomberg headquarters at 58th St. and Lexington Avenue and went around the corner to sit in a restaurant and reflect over a drink. Then I felt terrible. I felt that I hadn’t done as well as I should. One question stuck in my head. When Charlie asked about my disagreements with the triumvirate of Duncan, Rhee and Klein, I talked about why I opposed closing schools and how that hurt communities. Not good enough. I should have had a checklist of disagreements, starting with high-stakes testing and privatization. Why didn’t I delineate the stark contrast better?
When I saw the interview last night (and I hate seeing myself on television and almost never watch), it didn’t seem as bad as it felt at the time. I made my disagreements clear throughout the interview: I spoke against high-stakes testing; I said that charters don’t get better results than regular public schools; I spoke about the importance of having a strong public education system; and I ended by listing the things that we must do to improve education: a full curriculum; early childhood education; an end to high-stakes testing; a strong and respected education profession; taking steps to reduce poverty.
As I look back, this is what I hoped to accomplish: One, to be positive, not talk about the negative; two, to get across a clear message about how we get back on track as a nation.
I don’t know if that’s what came across, but that’s what I was trying to do.