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Wishing the Forum for Education and Democracy’s “Will We Really?” Campaign a Short Life

A teaser:

“If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have. Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.”

I receive many e-mails a day with press releases, requests for exposure, requests for help/organization/administration/web design – lots of things. I can’t always oblige, but I appreciate them. They keep me informed and alert me to blips on the massive radar of public education that I might otherwise miss.

And some of these notices are garbage. Well, not the notices/press releases themselves, but the events and initiatives they describe. The PR firms almost always do an excellent job.

Consider the following from the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is introducing a campaign called “Will We Really?” My e-mail response is after the jump.

NEW NATIONAL CAMPAIGN URGES OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AND THE PUBLIC TO IMPROVE PUBLIC EDUCATION

January 6, 2009 (Washington, DC) – Just days before President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, a major education group is launching a national web-based campaign that challenges all Americans to transform the optimism of the election season into the promise of collective action to improve public education.

“Our goal is to build on the “Yes We Can” hopefulness of the Obama campaign, address the shared anxiety about our uncertain future, and channel both sets of feelings into actions that will help support our nation’s schools,” said Sam Chaltain, National Director of the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is sponsoring the campaign.

A short web film, an homage to the “Yes We Can” will.i.am-produced video that has been viewed nearly 15 million times on YouTube, sets in motion a national petition drive, available at www.willwereally.com, in which all signers commit to work with President Obama to honor four promises that must be fulfilled if we are serious about supporting young people and public schools:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education.

To honor America’s ongoing commitment to a democratic way of life, we must provide all young people with a high-quality, free education in schools that are designed to help students develop the skills and abilities they need to exercise a powerful voice in shaping their own lives — and our nation’s future.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance.

To honor America’s founding promise of “liberty and justice for all,” we must provide equal access to a high-quality education to all young people, regardless of their family’s money, race or power.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher.

To honor America’s commitment to its public schools, we must ensure that all young people have the same opportunity to learn from well-prepared, well-supported teachers, who are in turn empowered to exercise their professional judgment, and not just follow a script, when it comes to helping students learn.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care.

To honor America’s responsibility to take care of its youngest citizens – and to acknowledge the myriad out-of-school forces that impact a child’s capacity to learn – we must ensure that all young people are free from want, and have access to high-quality health care.

To encourage action on the local level, the Forum provides a list of easy steps people can undertake individually and at the community level in support of each promise.

There’s more, but I’ll spare you. What I pasted above is the tofu and soy-flakes [meat and potatoes didn't seem appropriate]. Here’s my e-mail response:

Thanks for the heads-up here, I appreciate it a great deal. It’s not easy to stay in the loop – even with the internet – without being in one of those policy centers like New York City or Washington.

But I’m going to pass on this one other than posting the press release [and this e-mail] on my website. This initiative is tripe.

Please share that, along with the following opinions, with the folks at the Forum for Education and Democracy.

Here’s a bullet-point review of the initiative’s four core principles:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education. The rhetoric in support of that point is baseless, useless and unclear. FfE&D hasn’t a clue what a “21st Century education” is – and hot air about a “powerful voice” means even less.

Stop that.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance. That’s one we all agree on, and I’ve yet to meet a serious thinker in education, on a large or small scale, who thinks otherwise.

The bit about “power” may work well in a college freshman’s Sociology 101 paper – or perhaps in an introduction to a Teachers College Press book, if we throw in a few typos – but it’s not to be taken seriously outside of either. If you want to talk about failed pedagogy [Whole Language or 'Investigations'-style math], abysmal teacher education programs and the fiscal mismanagement that keeps so many communities from the equality we’d all like to see, I will welcome the discussion [provided that the conversation doesn't include will.i.am videos].

Not “power,” though. Take that one up with Maxine Greene, a third-rate grad student or one of the distinguished conveners.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher. Agreed. Nothing in the description, however, suggests that this Forum will take a hard look at teacher preparation programs – or the realities of teacher practice. I won’t join you folks in railing against ‘scripted’ curricula because some of it is very good, and some teachers desperately need it. These points are tendentious rhetoric, not critical analysis of pedagogy or administration. When the Forum cares more about objective analysis than the storybook dignity it’s invented for practitioners in public education, perhaps we can talk.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care. Again, we agree – though points about keeping children healthy are low-hanging fruits. Unfortunately, this has almost nothing to do with education. The failures that have necessitated the Forum’s examination of points 1-3, albeit a misguided examination, don’t bode well for our ability to solve healthcare problems short of increasing already-bloated per pupil expenditure by an obscene amount.

I’d go into more detail on that point, but the fiscal responsibilities and the financial realities on which points 1-4 depend were not elements of the proposed discussions.

If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have, and I hope the next one will be for a fairer, higher-quality initiative.

Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.

Best,

Matthew
mktabor@gmail.com
www.matthewktabor.com

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