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.


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” video that has been viewed nearly 15 million times on YouTube, sets in motion a national petition drive, available at, 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 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.



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

  1. > If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education

    That’s rich, coming from such a transparently partisan source.

  2. Stephen,

    As usual, you’ve offered nothing of value in the comments of this blog.

    You’re right about one thing, though I’m not sure you don’t realize it. When I take a partisan approach to a particular problem, I’m transparent about it. I don’t hide political/social agendas behind education rhetoric.

    Hope to see you this weekend at the National Association of Scholars conference!

  3. Amen, brother.

    I don’t see an objection to empty rhetoric as partisan, though I also have no trouble with a blogger choosing to be partisan. If anything, the petition insults Barack Obama by implying he needs to be told to do something (or other) to improve education. He understands the goal, but there are policy trade-offs to consider, limited funds, etc.

  4. Joanne,

    I saw two main problems with the forum:

    1. Empty rhetoric and general hot air expulsion;

    2. A partisan mission that doesn’t suggest in any way that solutions that deviate philosophically from the conveners’ ideologies will be discussed or entertained.

    I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.

    I found the title a bit insulting, too. When we elect a new leader or move in a different directions, we probably ought to wait a few weeks before insinuating that we were subject to empty promises and the usual inaction.

    It’s pompous, self-important bloviating.

    That they left out the financial realities and opportunity costs is telling – and a major reason why I don’t take this initiative seriously.

  5. Matthew,

    I genrally don’t have patience to respond to such tripe, so I commend you for exhibiting the type of patience I often lack.

    My problem with public policy “conferences” is that they are little more than networking opportunities for likeminded individuals but couched in a way that can get employers and foundation contributors to pay for such boondoogles. Having been to a fair number of public policy conferences on a variety of subjects, I have been to a very small minority of “conferences” that weren’t
    a) partisan in some form or another (and both sides of the aisle are guilty of this)
    b) a conference were solutions or probably solutions are not considered
    c) a waste of time
    d) a combination of the above.

  6. Daniel Rezac says:

    I have to say, I’ve been trolling the ed blogs for someone who speaks more philosophically about education and technology, and talks about the grander picture. I also like and can see that you are frustrated with some of the people that write about ed tech and are using this fairly new process to control the conversation about education. It’s sort of a race, and there’s not a lot of people speaking against it for fear of losing their loyal twitter followers.

    I particularly liked what you said about the literacy issue on Jen Wagner’s blog, though it’s too bad she didn’t take the bait.

    Are you really satisfied with the level of conversation happening in the ed tech blogosphere? Are people really ready to write about the big issues and take a stand about certain issues or are we all just trying to be heard? Curious about your thoughts.


  7. allen says:

    It’s early in a new administration and that’s the time to see if you can influence policy. FfE&D is just a repackaging of the status quo, making the usual demands.

    1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education. Considering the venue, and the vagueness of the entitlement, this looks like a cloaked demand for more money. After all, the 21st Century is going to have all sorts of cool computers and techno-geegaws. Better have all that stuff in schools as well.

    2. Every community deserves an equal chance. Tearing off the wrappings, this looks like an attempt to push the education equity movement to the federal level. It’s had mixed success at the state level so maybe it’s time to try to mandate equal spending on education from the federal government. No small irony since public education wasn’t ever meant to be a leveling agent, the whole point of the district system being to maintain social/monetary distinctions.

    By the way, I think the education equity movement is a fabulous idea. Texas’ experience with their mis-nicknamed Robin Hood decision, resulted in a flattening of housing prices in wealthier areas, making it clear that if rich people can’t spend their money on their kid’s education they won’t spend it on a premium for their homes. What’s the point of a particular school district if spending’s equal across the state? What’s the point of the existance of school districts if spending’s equalized across the state?

    3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher. It’s the subtext that provides the clue as to the meaning of this entitlement. Well-prepared, well-supported teachers are also well- i.e. better-paid.

    4. Every child deserves high-quality health care. The current cause celebre although I’m reasonably certain there must’ve been some discussion about whether every child deserves an ecologically-responsible, sustainable education with a minimal carbon footprint as well.

  8. I’m glad you pointed out most calls for a 21st century education are useless because they are vague. I agree that more technology is not what our kids need for the 21st century.

    I believe poor leadership is the greatest danger facing America, so an eduction for the 21st century should focus on history, economics, and finance.


  9. Robert,

    We’re starting to see the ’21st century education’ rhetoric pick up speed quickly – looking through videos and posts about this summer’s NECC conference shows the efforts, mostly misguided, of those in education who are pushing an idea they haven’t developed properly.

    I’d like to see a strong liberal arts education across the board – from kindergarten through a 4-year degree. It’s tilting at windmills, but I think it would serve us best.

  10. Hi,
    i only wanted to share with you interesting ressources around competitive intelligence
    you’ll find there a hundred articles of appropriate distinction written by french professor luc quoniam
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  11. bimifieptasia says:

    This look interesting,so far.
    If there are any real people here looking to network, leave me a post.
    Oh, and yes I’m a real person LOL.



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