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Education Reform Tragedy, and Catharsis

November 22, 2010

From Cooperation Catalyst:

“November 22, 2010 has been declared the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform, promoted by AASA and ASCD. ASCD has gathered 10 articles, in advance of Monday’s Day of National Blogging, in The New Faces of Ed Reform that discuss reforming education with teachers as leaders and partners in meaningful, lasting change.”

With some luck, and more self-editing than usual, I just might post this entry before midnight (PST) and make my contribution to the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform.  And while I’d like to offer my positive vision for education reform, at the moment, I’m too pessimistic about our short term prospects.

Greek chorus

Lately I’ve been feeling like a member of the Chorus in a Greek tragedy, watching the tragedy unfold and calling out warning, after warning, after warning, in a fruitless effort to advise the tragic hero that it’s not too late to change course.

Nominees for the tragic hero can be found up and down the political landscape.  These education reformers display the characteristic hubris of the tragic hero.  Their high positions and their power assure that they rarely have to face the consequences of their arrogance or ignorance.  With limited understanding of the enterprise they manage, they nonetheless walk into the highest offices in education, appointed for their political sympathies and connections rather than their expertise.  They insulate themselves from critical viewpoints in their day-to-day work, and carefully manage their publicity and limited public outings.  Their supporters stand ready to publish sympathetic editorials, produce slick TV shows and movies, and line the pockets of corporate sponsors seen and unseen.

Members of the Greek Chorus may represent the wise elders or the common people – in this case, the growing numbers of parents and teachers who look at what’s happening in the classroom, and shout out, “No!  You’re wrong!”  But we work all day long, with no business-oriented think tanks occupying their days to advance our agenda.  We lack the media machinery and the high-powered friends whose billions of dollars buy them a voice and an air of authority in topics they know only from a limited outsider perspective.  We exclaim, “That’s not the right way!” and they smugly insult us for supporting the status quo though we’ve done nothing of the sort.  We live the consequences of each mistake they make, and they blame us for their failures.

The Greek tragedy always ends with the downfall of the tragic hero.  Too late, he realizes the error of ways.  The Chorus was right, he admits.  And then we lament what has been lost, and look for ways to restore order, balance, and peace.

If today’s brand of education reform were a play, or a movie, who among us could fail to recognize the rich and powerful standing above the masses proclaiming “I am right,” listen to the Chorus respond in unison, “You are wrong,” and not conclude that leadership without willing followers is nothing more than a delusion of grandeur, hubris of the highest order, sometimes hidden and sometimes propped up by the two-dimensional façade of media approval and political manipulation?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. David B. Cohen permalink*
    November 23, 2010 12:23 am

    Other ACT members who wrote blogs for this national effort:

    Sarah Puglisi – “Yeah, Maybe It’s ALL about Finland”

    Alice Mercer –

    Larry Ferlazzo offers one of his famous and useful lists:

    And a spot-on brilliant post by my friend Bill Ferriter, who would join ACT if he weren’t in North Carolina:
    “Testing is Destroying Schools”

    Our TLN colleague Renee Moore, who may live in Mississippi, but she visits California, so I’m including her too:

  2. Jim Davis permalink
    November 23, 2010 8:34 am

    At one time I encouraged a national Council of teachers of English sub-group to institute a Sisyphus Award for the pseudo-leader/reformer most responsible in a given year for putting the rock back at the teachers’ door each morning. The actual award could be inexpensive – just a boulder and certificate, engraving optional. Might still be an idea – with so many candidates, selection would be a challenge! Of course, I grew up in the Ozarks where there are plenty of rocks. JSD

  3. November 23, 2010 11:43 am

    I enjoyed reading your perspective. Indeed.

    Years and years go by.
    Greeks falls, others invade, possess, repossess, take, borrow , steal and we are left with roots of democracy and a song.

    I wonder if two thousand years from now, or longer if we will be left with something as terrific as a melody, harmony, or as here-a chorus.
    Something that we advanced in spite of ourselves.

  4. November 24, 2010 8:06 am

    Poor choice of metaphor here, as in Greek tragedies, it is the tragic hero who pays the price. Since when do politicians and education reformers pay the price for their mistakes?

    What we have is pathos, not tragedy—kids are suffering through no fault of their own.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      November 24, 2010 8:45 am

      Point taken. I was mainly referring to my own sense of the experience – standing among the crowd and warning the misguided “leader” that he’s erred, lost touch with the people – but the analogy only goes so far.


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