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"For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image" claimed Jere Longman for The New York Times. In part, Longman focused a scathing gaze at Jones herself as a prominent face (and body) put on the entire Olympics for Americans:

"Women have struggled for decades to be appreciated as athletes. For the first time at these Games, every competing nation has sent a female participant. But Jones is not assured enough with her hurdling or her compelling story of perseverance. So she has played into the persistent, demeaning notion that women are worthy as athletes only if they have sex appeal. And, too often, the news media have played right along with her."
This commentary has created a good deal of controversy about Jones, including some considerations about celebrity and athletic accomplishment for women (a debate that has now been reduced simply to uttering one name—Anna Kournikova).

While I believe some debate may be in order regarding how women are portrayed—notably some genuinely disturbing visual messages sent about body type and the rarely discussed concerns I feel every four years about women's gymnastics—I feel that the Lolo Jones controversy is a typical case of the American media and public blaming the mirror because we simply don't want to admit what is being shown to us.

Lolo Jones, I think, is not the problem, but the embodiment of just what the real problem is.

Lolo Jones and U.S. Public Education

A few genuinely fair claims can be made about Jones. She is an elite athlete; she competes in a timed event, and despite what some may want the public to believe, Jones is the personification of U.S. claims about a meritocracy because she earned her way onto the Olympic team and the start line of her events.

Jones also fulfills the expectations for a certain kind of "celebrity beauty"—and here, we must also note that Jones in no way has created that expectation. Let's also note that other female Olympic athletes are being marketed, such as a female swimmer doing slow-motion hair tosses for a shampoo company. If the media and public in the U.S. want to address how Jones and Natalie Coughlin are the personification of truly damaging body type messages sent to the American public and that these two women are turning hard-earned athletic accomplishments into celebrity and wealth (and isn't that supposed to be a good thing in the good ol' U.S. of A.?), then I think we may find some value in the so-called controversy.

But little, if any, of that is going on in the media or public discourse surrounding Jones.

The truth is that the Jones controversy is yet more distraction; it is, in fact, a case of blaming the mirror because we don't like what we see.

The media has successfully turned the critical gaze on Jones just as it has with U.S. public education. And what do Jones and public schools have in common?

Jones and public schools are powerful and distinct reflections of who America is, and despite what fame Jones has received for her looks, that reflection isn't very pretty.

Just as Jones has not created the dynamic that now both celebrates and demonizes her, U.S. public education has not created the enormous inequity that characterizes us (as in the U.S.).

Education celebrities, who embody the charges leveled at Jones, have been elevated to that celebrity status without having earned it—notably Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and self-promoter Michelle Rhee. Yet, these edu-celebrities participate with the media in the same sort of distractions we see around Jones—pointing an accusatory finger at U.S. public schools in order to keep everyone's gaze off social inequity.

Duncan and Rhee sell the media and public convenient and pacifying pablum—"Poverty is not destiny!"—while living lives of privilege and political appointments themselves (and here we might ask, How many people living in poverty are getting those political appointments and salaries to buy power suits?). Educators and scholars who do have expertise and experience are left in the celebrity wake, offering messages refuting the pablum (see Ravitch on Rhee and Jersey Jazzman on Duncan).

While I may be compelled to find some problems with Jones's conflicting messages between how she promotes herself and her religious claims, on balance, I cannot see Jones as the problem, but as a powerful embodiment of the forces that are the problem.

In the same way, our public schools are mirrors of our social inequity: Regardless of how many times edu-celebrities say otherwise, poverty is destiny in the U.S.

And let's be clear about some things here: Women are objectified in our culture, and they shouldn't be, and poverty is destiny in U.S. society and its public schools, but it shouldn't be.

The edu-celebrities jump to demonize as fatalistic those scholars and teachers willing to turn away from the mirror and face the real problems; the edu-celebrities demonize teachers and scholars as self-interested, as avoiding accountability, as perpetuators of the status quo, as throwing in the towel on children from poverty being able to learn.

But these are all lies, and more distraction.

Jones and public schools have some problems that very much need addressing, but to maintain our gaze on them as if they have nothing to show us about the inequity of our culture that has produced them is an utter failure on the part of the media and the public it feeds.

To claim that for Jones, everything is image is to claim that for Americans, everything is image.

To claim that public schools are failing our children is to claim that U.S. society is failing our children.

But to blame Jones and public schools as if they created the inequity is to blame the mirror because you don't like what you see.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 06:28 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You will notice that a person like Alison Felix, (0+ / 0-)

    who is also very pretty, with a DAZZLING smile, is not celebrated as looks.

    And it's only because Missy Franklin is underage that she's not being touted as an epitome of beauty.

    And did you see her melt down on Today the other day?

    I do not know if Jones is a self marketer, but this year she gets a pass in the "Kournikova" department because she's come back from multiple injuries including spinal surgery to actually finish well in the Olympics.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 06:33:41 AM PDT

  •  I know that Dara Torres, for example, is marketed (0+ / 0-)

    as an example of physical perfection.  After all, you gots to be in shape to win a medal at 41 in the pool.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 06:35:34 AM PDT

  •  What about the women who won? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You know, the American bronze and silver medalists who turned Jones into an also-ran? Dawn Harper (silver) and Kellie Wells (bronze)? How about them? Aren't they pretty enough, or what?

    They have compelling backstories about rising over adversity to make it to the Olympics as well, including surgery and having to work multiple low-wage jobs while training -- not posing for fashion layouts. Unlike Jones, they actually won medals in their race.

    I do not feel sorry for Lolo Jones. She put herself out there for the media to consume, and when she didn't win, she should have lost GRACEFULLY and shut up. Apparently that's something nobody ever taught her -- in school or on the track. How dare she show up on TODAY whining about her loss and blaming the media!

    How about some stories about the winners instead?

    Don't feel sorry for Lolo Jones. She still has endorsement deals. She can still pose nude again (you realize she's already been naked on the cover of two magazines, even without Olympic medals, Miss 30-year-old-virgin), capitalizing on the very sexuality she seems to despise. And she says she'll be back in the 2016 Olympics. I guess we'll see.

    And not to be too tacky, but in a diary comparing anything to education, you might want to fix all those typos -- starting with "Jone" in your title.

    "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." -- Mark Twain

    by Brooke In Seattle on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 06:56:47 AM PDT

    •  Didn't say I felt sorry for her (0+ / 0-)

      I think you should re-read my diary.

      A debate about who deserves attention is certainly warranted, but I never said I felt sorry for Jones. In fact, I have some real problems with her.

      But, as I state above, the "controversy" being presented is missing the point if it focuses on Jones as if she CREATED all this. Let's start with the real problems in the big picture.

  •  If Jones isn't a "good example"... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brooke In Seattle

    ...maybe she can serve as a "horrible warning."

    Hopefully, Michelle Jenneke will take the lesson to heart; the problem of sexualizing everything isn't unique to the U.S.

    I agree with Brooke In Seattle (above) - I don't feel sorry for Jones in the least.  While she certainly didn't "create all this," she sure did try to capitalize upon it.  So...she created her own problem(s) in/with the media and, with a seeming wink and nod, approved the media treatment of her as more object than athlete.

    Now that she hasn't won, it seems even more ridiculous to whine...because now what she has to market is the concept of healthy/athletic = sexy...because that marketing concept is the only way to get around being, as said above, an "also-ran."

    "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." ~ Steven Biko

    by Marjmar on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 07:37:38 AM PDT

  •  Women can't win no matter what they do (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Leave her alone.

    •  yeah, she does hold two indoor titles (0+ / 0-)

      so she is not a fluke. You don't always peak at the right time; some do, that's why a Brazilian won the gold in rings against the heavy favorite; things went well for him at the right moment. Some great athletes never won the gold; who remembers Oscar Schmidt? One of the great hurdlers, but of course he was on the scene when Edwin Moses was dominating the field. Didn't mean schmidt was no good; he just could only to manage to beat Moses once, and it was not in the Olympics. But it could have been. Olympic athletes only have ashort window to make any money; I say leave her alone. Is Hope Solo any better? She has failed to win anything yet, either. And she has also posed nude. But no one calls her all style....

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