"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Corporate Oligarchy's Mis-Education Nation 2010: Review #2 of Microsoft-NBC's Coverage

Conservative pundit, John Merrow weighs in on the all-out corporate blitzkrieg against public education on Microsoft-NBC.  From a post at HuffPo:
. . . Which brings me to Education Nation, the extravaganza hosted by NBC and broadcast on NBC and MSNBC. It had it all: good, bad and ugly.

You probably know the basics: a huge commitment by NBC to cover 'the crisis in public education.' Everyone got into the act: Matt Lauer and the President on the Today Show, David Gregory on Meet the Press on Sunday, and Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan seemingly dropped everything to be on hand. On Monday he participated in a long one-on-one live broadcast about teaching as a career with Tom Brokaw with cutaways to correspondents on four university campuses. He announced a new federal loan forgiveness program (eerily similar to one that existed in the 1970's). On Tuesday he took part in the final wrap up session with governors, US Representatives, Mayors, school principals and teachers and even one student.

All good so far, right? Who can be against public discussion of education's importance?
Usually the devil is in the details, but in this case the devil was right there in the basic skeleton and structure of the event. This wasn't even remotely a search for truth or an exercise in journalism. It was pretty much Johnny One Note, with no room for depth or dissent.

The message was pretty simple: We have an education crisis because we have bad teachers who are protected by evil teacher unions, and the solutions are good charter schools and great teachers. That sounds suspiciously like "Waiting for 'Superman,' " and so you won't be surprised to learn that one of the opening events of Education Nation was a screening of the movie. (I missed that because I was flying home from Texas.)

I kept hoping that someone would be even a tiny bit skeptical about our test-score driven schools. Wouldn't just one person wonder whether we should stop asking 'How intelligent are you?' and ask instead 'How are you intelligent?' (Never happened, not in any session I attended.)

With the awful truth that 6,000 kids drop out every school day staring them in the face, wouldn't someone question the wisdom of extending both the school day and the school year? I mean, what are these dropouts leaving behind? (Never happened, far as I heard.)

People on the stage moaned about the antiquated (agrarian) calendar and the fact that schools still look and act as they did 50 or 75 years ago -- and then suggested that what our kids need are more hours and days of this!

When the details of the event were first announced, the blogosphere lit up with protests about the lack of teachers. NBC responded immediately and recruited perhaps 50 teachers, bringing them to New York all expenses paid (the Waldorf!). Some were asked to present 'mini-lessons' at the beginning of sessions, and the ones I caught were lively and challenging.

When some thoughtless soul at NBC named the session on New Orleans "Does Education Need Another Katrina?" the blogosphere erupted again, and that session was promptly renamed.

Unfortunately, NBC never did respond to calls for diversity of thought, and respected folks like Diane Ravitch were excluded (despite her willingness to participate, from what I heard).

Education Nation was basically a series of panel discussions. I paid particular attention to the moderators because I do a fair amount of that sort of work. Brian Williams gets an A in my grading book. He was beyond good. He was well informed, funny, provocative and fair.

And now to ugly. The one panel that had some real diversity of opinion was ruined by inept moderating by Steven Brill, who brought to the table his own strong views about unions and didn't even attempt to be fair. It's fine for a moderator to be skeptical -- I believe that's part of the job description -- but it's essential to spread that skepticism around evenly. Mr. Brill kissed up to the side he favors (Geoff Canada and Michelle Rhee) and jumped all over Randi Weingarten of the AFT and Dennis Van Roekel of the NEA. What could have been a powerful conversation about contracts, seniority and tenure turned into an embarrassing food fight. Mr. Brill gets an F, but so does whoever at NBC chose him in the first place.

So why wasn't Education Nation set up to be real journalism? Was it the sponsors, The University of Phoenix and the Broad and Gates Foundations? I have had grants from those two foundations and have not found them to be interfering in our journalism, even though both have agendas. Did it on this occasion? I don't know. Why on earth would NBC accept the sponsorship of an education event from a for-profit education organization that is under investigation for some of its practices?

Some critics of Education Nation are finding the silver lining, saying things like, "A national dialogue is a good thing."

Well, I'm looking hard for signs of a dialogue, but what I am finding instead are lines hardening between two camps. Scarily, it reminds me of the abortion/choice battle. Right now it's in the naming stage. Those who were excluded from Education Nation are calling their opponents 'anti-teacher' and 'anti public education,' while the Education Nation crowd is labeling its antagonists 'defenders of bad education' and 'protectors of inept teachers'.. . .

. . . .

NBC says it's going to do this again next year. Let's hope so. There's certainly room for improvement.

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