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Mitchell Robinson: Who’s Who in the Education Wars

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Mitchell Robinson, professor of music education and blogger, ponders whether the education wars are winding down. He thinks not. The contention over policy issues remains profound.

To help explicate the issues, he has compiled a brief guide to the different “sides.” In a recent post by Sam Chaltain, who does think the battles are subsiding and a new convergence is on the horizon, one side is the “practitioners, and the other is the “policymakers.” Robinson says the labels illustrate a clash of views.

Robinson writes:

“Mr. Chaltain’s descriptors for the two sides in the war on education are revealing, in that he sees a clear distinction between those who actually teach (the “practitioners”), and those who establish and enforce the rules and policies that govern that practice (the “policy makers”). Perhaps unintentionally, his labels also highlight a major flaw in our current education enterprise: public education policy is being written and administrated largely by persons who have not themselves attended public schools, have no degrees or certification in education, have never taught, and have spent little time in public schools. Whatever meager educational background that the members of what I term the Deformer “edu-tribe” may have is often accrued through alternative routes to the classroom (i.e., Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, the Michigan Teacher Corps), and their educational credentials are often received via online programs that require little or no actual teaching experience, residencies or interactions with other teachers or professors with actual teaching experience.

“Many of the “foot soldiers” in the Deformer army wind up in high-level positions in state departments of education, policy think-tanks, on school boards and as leaders of high-profile charter school networks. They reach these positions of power and authority with shockingly little experience in classrooms, or working with children, but exert out-sized influence on the shape and nature of public education. These members of the Deformer “advance force” parrot a regressive agenda of union-busting, tenure-smashing, and teacher-demonizing, paired with an obsessive devotion to standardized testing, “data driven decision making”, charter school expansion, and privatization as the “answers” to the “crisis in public education”–while remaining seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was their policies that manufactured the crisis they claim to be addressing, and which are paying off so handsomely for the investors who fund their charter schools and pay their generous salaries.”

On the other side are what Robinson calls “the Guardians of Oublic Education.”

“The members of this army largely consist of teachers, retired teachers, and teacher educators, most of whom have significant experience as classroom teachers, multiple degrees in education, and a career commitment to children, schools and education. Few Guardians entered the profession by alternative routes, instead earning their credentials in traditional colleges and universities, under the tutelage of professors who had themselves been classroom teachers before moving to higher education. Many of these activists earn graduate degrees in their chosen field–even as states now refuse to pay for additional degrees–and seek out weekend and summer professional development opportunities at their own expense in order to remain certified.

“The activism practiced by these Guardians is not their sole focus as professionals–rather, these teachers blog at night after lessons have been planned, and kids put to bed, or on rare quiet weekend mornings and afternoons when a few minutes can be stolen from other tasks and responsibilities. And the conflict in which they are engaged is a non-linear war–they are fighting not just the Deformers, but also their support staff in their underground bunkers, typing away on banks of sleek laptops as they push back against kindergarten teachers furiously hammering out their frustrated rants on the ridiculousness of testing 6 year olds, or 3rd grade teachers pointing out the illogic of retaining 8 year olds who struggle with reading.”

The “Deformers” are well-paid. But the Guardians work not for money but for conviction.

“These writers and activists don’t receive a penny for their efforts, in stark opposition to the Deformers’ forces, who are stunningly well-compensated for their work. Instead, these bloggers often toil away in anonymity, providing a voice for the thousands of teachers that have been silenced for speaking out against the reform agenda.”

He provides a list for each side. My lists would be longer. Make your own lists or additions. I would certainly place ALEC, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder, and a number of academics and philanthropists on the Deformer list.

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