The immediate takeaway of "Michelle Rhee's Reign of Error" is that PBS's John Merrow found “the smoking gun,” or the confidential memo warning Michelle Rhee of the extent of cheating that may have occurred in Washington D.C. schools in response to her draconian “reforms.” He concludes with the question that merits a real federal investigation, “What did Michelle know, and when did she know it?” In the long run, that is Merrow's third most important revelation.
Merrow has been reporting on D.C. schools since 2007 and, even now, his prime expose is the ongoing story about the nonstop test prep that was made inevitable by Rhee. In his latest, Merrow reports what an associate superintendent knew about principals who, as a result of Rhee's obsession with accountability, had “no focus” on instruction, and when he knew that the total focus was on test scores.
The second most important story in Merrow’s ongoing reports is Rhee's situational ethics. He recalls her outrageous statement, “If there are rules standing in the way of that, I will question those rules. I will bend those rules.”
I don't want to sound like an old stick-in-the-mud, but Rhee reminds me of a lot of college buddies. It used to be that many of my generation once had a Trotskyist roommate with a simple answer for every complex problem. If the system couldn't recognize the wisdom of our zealous friends then, it used to be proclaimed heroically, "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."
Being a liberal in Oklahoma changed me, however. The only way that progressives had a chance to work within the system was being true to our word. If we sought to wedge out some space for peace and justice, our handshake had to be good. We did not have to agree with the person who we were compromising with, but we had to honor our agreement.
So, I learned that we had to respect the system - even the rules we didn't like - if we wanted to build a better future. Rhee, however, clearly takes the position that she is above the rule of law.
And, there is another reason why Rhee's refusal to respect the ways of our constitutional democracy is disturbing. This disrespect for the rules law is bad enough when it occurs in the corporate world. The prime purpose of public schooling, however, is teaching children how to live in an Open Society. The first rule of teaching is that the students are watching. Do we want them learning by watching school leaders who proclaim that the ends justify the means?