I love Twitter for many reasons. I have met many friends on Twitter, some of whom I will never encounter in person. I learn from Twitter. People from across the country and even from other countries send me news stories, opinion pieces, blogs, ideas.
I received one this morning that I thought was, well, awesome.
On many occasions, I have had discussions with friends and allies and friendly adversaries about whether there is a middle ground between corporate reformers–the people who want to rearrange education so that it is based on incentives and sanctions, who believe that test scores are the best ways to measure the quality of students and teachers and schools, who see virtue in closing down neighborhood public schools, and who applaud the transfer of public schools to private management–and those who disagree with them, myself included.
Can’t we negotiate our differences? Can’t we all just get along, as the late Rodney King once memorably asked. We all know important it is to collaborate.
Why not collaborate with the people whose ideas you disagree with? Why not find a middle ground with those who want vouchers and those who think that teachers can be judged by the changes in their students’ test scores? Why be unreasonable?
The post I read this morning reinforced my sense that there are some things, some principles, some bedrock values that are nonnegotiable. When the other side wants you to do things that you think will cheapen and degrade education, how can you compromise? When they want you to do things that will humiliate teachers and lower the status of the teaching profession, how can you compromise? When they want to end collective bargaining rights, is there room for compromise? When they want you to turn education into a consumer product rather than a public good, is that negotiable?
But in every dispute, there must be a middle ground, right? There must be a way for reasonable people to agree, right?
The blog I read earlier today, written by someone I do not know, spoke to this issue of when it is wrong to negotiate.
The first thing that got my eye was that he wrote about the choice facing a young person who wants to find a career in the world of education policy. Face it, there are two sides, and one side has all the money and projects political power and has lots of organizations that need to be staffed. He writes:
“Most of the money in education policy is on the side of organizations like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform. If he ever wants to work in education policy, the good jobs are all going to be on the side of the pro-privatization reformers. Pro-privatizers have done a good job of conflating being against their version of reform (e.g., being with parents and teachers) as being pro-status quo. It’s the surest way to keep yourself out of the education policy job market to be on the side of the straw man status quo.”
Who are these powerful groups? He answers: “Notoriously funded by tiny groups of immensely wealthy people, with no control by or buy-in from communities, no democratic structures that allow for parent participation, and in fact nothing other than the whims of their millionaire funders, these groups have unilaterally decided they deserve a spot at the negotiating table. They bought their button, in other words.”
And why should they not be in a position to call the shots? They are the reformers, and those who don’t agree with them represent, in their words, “the status quo.” Yet teachers, school board members, parents, principals, administrators, etc. are in awe of the reformers. And this is who they are and this is why they have a seat at the table and determine what happens to your school, your job, your children:
“…although we don’t live in your community, don’t send our children to school there, don’t vote there, don’t have any meaningful membership there and, to what degree we do have some supporters there, they have no meaningful say in how we as organizations make decisions, we are rich. In other words, we are not rooted in your communities at all; we have no stake in the outcome of our programs and policies insofar as they don’t materially affect us; nobody in your community has any say in how our organization is run; but we, for no reason other than our wealth empowering our speech, deserve a seat at the table and you must negotiate with us, or you–not we–are “politicizing children.”
And you must negotiate with them because they have so much money and they bought a seat at the table! Or did they buy the table?
What are their goals? “liquidate teachers’ ability to collectively bargain and privatize enough the school systems to reduce the public schools to last-resort catchalls, not unlike public County Hospitals. Use unreliable but easily consumed standardized test scores and fluidly defined “graduation” rates to allow parents to choose a school from a menu, encouraging competition.”
But can you negotiate with them?
“Parents and teachers see, in the middle distance, the death of public education as the incubator of civil society with the goal of equality, in the form of neoliberal privatization reform. Who says you have to negotiate with death to be reasonable? You don’t negotiate with death. You fight death to your dying breath.”