Ponder that title for a moment. It is not mine. It was originally the title of the 12th panel, the last added, for NBC's Education Nation summit, which begins at midday today with a Teacher Town Hall - for those signed up, there is 30 minutes of live chat followed by the actual Town Hall at Noon.
Consider that title.
What images come to your mind?
And lest you think this is simply an awkward and foolish phrasing by one person, consider these words as well:
I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans and this is a tough thing to say but I’m going to be really honest. The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.
Let me repeat that last sentence so you see its parallel with the session title: The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. Those words, evoked from a question by Roland Martin on ABC News, were spoken by U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
I have written about the summit before, first in The problem with NBC's Education Nation - where are the voices of parents and teachers?, and then at least partially in "Waiting for Superman" and Education Nation - more concerns and in Teacher Anger - and more.
I had not planned to write about it again until after today's Town Hall.
Yesterday someone forwarded to me an email which contained those words. Without the email address or phone number of the sender, but with all other identifying information, here is the contents of that email:
From: "David Nurnberg" xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date September 25, 2010 11:05:30 AM EDT
To: "David Nurnberg" xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: NBC News - Special Education Nation Summit Session with Brian Williams
We are excited to share with you the details for a very special Education Nation panel discussion with Brian Williams titled, "The Lessons of New Orleans: Does Education Need a Katrina?" At the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the rebuilt New Orleans school district is an incredible study in the power of resilience and the possibility of starting anew. This panel will examine the advantages to the New Orleans school district of starting over post-Katrina, and whether the lessons learned there can be applied across the country
Participants include Scott Cowen (President, Tulane University); Doris Hicks (Principal and CEO, Dr. King Charter School); Mitch Landrieu (Mayor, New Orleans); Garland Robinette (Host, "The Think Tank," WWL); and Paul Vallas (Superintendent, Recovery School District of Louisiana). This panel will take place Tuesday, September 28 at 10:05AM.
Please log into your registration page at www.goldreg.com/EducationNation if you're interested in joining this inspiring conversation.
See you on Monday!
Civic Entertainment Group, LLC
450 Park Avenue South, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10016
I was asked to distribute this widely, to as many teacher leaders as I could. I did.
If you go to the webpage for the panels those words do not currently appear. I do not know, not having checked yesterday, whether this text:
New Orleans after Katrina
At the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the rebuilt New Orleans school district is an incredible study in the power of resilience and the possibility of starting anew. This panel will examine the advantages to the New Orleans school district of starting over post-Katrina, and whether the lessons learned there can be applied across the country.
is what was originally posted, with what appears to be a different title, or whether the title was changed as a result of what has been at least a mini-firestorm resulting from that email I passed on. The title has appeared in blog posts by Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, both of whom blog at Teacher Magazine which gives their words high visibility.
I tweeted about it, and got some interesting response, which you can see by checking out @teacherken.
And I got some VERY INTERESTING emails. I am going to quote without identifying the author an email I received from a normally quite mild-mannered nationally known writer on education. It read as follows:
Whew! Scary. So we need to rip property away from poor Black folks, kill a bunch of people, and devastate a wonderful city to fix education. Are these people that clueless to the implications of their metaphor? Jesus Christ, what is happening to us?
Let's notice that last sentence, from a gentle soul who does not often curse: Jesus Christ, what is happening to us?
Could it be that those so determined to drive the framing of the discussion about education are so oblivious to the impact not only of the actions they propound but the words they use?
Could it be that the original title of the panel betrays the real mindset of those driving the agenda?
What mindset, you ask. . . that they want to destroy American public schools without regard to the initial cost in order to reshape it in an image upon which they have decided
... even though there is no research base for much of what they propound
... by excluding the voices of those who might disagree
... by a coordinated and well-funded marketing effort designed to hammer home a particular set of approaches to all else.
Consider the players:
Arne Duncan and the President representing the administration
Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation
and so on
Last night I attended a sweet sixteen party of a brilliant young lady of South Asian descent. She is one of the shining light of the local Indian-American community, who will graduate from our school as a star student, who also does western music, Indian music and dance, and plays tennis. She is also one of the stars of our robotics team. Four of her closest friends (of whom I have also taught 3) came wearing Indian dress they had borrowed from her. One pair of grandparents came from India for the occasion.
She is a product of public schools. Like many of immigrant families, it has been the American public school which has been their entryway into fully living and succeeding as Americans.
She attends a school that is not perfect - believe me, as a teacher and as union rep I am aware of our flaws. But it is a school with a record of success with an incredibly diverse student body. We have things we could share about what works in education.
But schools like us are not part of the discussion - of Education Nation, of "Waiting for Superman," of the rest of the corporatist agenda for American public education.
Several other things to add to the discussion:
- The track record in New Orleans is not so fantastic as it will be portrayed. Like the record of success claimed for Chicago, when one honestly examines in detail all the data about New Orleans the claims of success are readily recognized as chimerical. And isn't interesting that the two systems are connected by the presence of Paul Vallas, who has headed them both?
- New Orleans has been the focal point of the attempt to reshape - some might say destroy - American public education. That is why it will be so heavily featured in events like Education Nation. But again ask yourself, why are there no critics of the approach on the panel? Why is not Lance Hill of Tulane, who is executive director of The Southern Institute for Education and Research and is as knowledgeable about the state of education in New Orleans as anyone part of that panel? Could it be because he is a critic of the entire approach, and can present the data which supports his criticism?
- Last night, driving home from that Sweet Sixteen party (the first I have attended since 1961 when I was in high school as a student), a thought suddenly exploded in my mind. I started my writing about Education Nation by looking at the announced speakers - Mayors, Governors, corporate executives, broadcast personnel from NBC. Last night I wondered: how many of them have children in public schools? I would be surprised if any of the corporate types or NBC figures do. Perhaps some of the mayors or governors has in the past - it can be a politically sensitive subject to be laying down rules for schools in which you are unwilling to put your own children, although for some who are hostile to public schools they use that as a cudgel to beat up on them.
The last President to send his kids to public schools is actually George W. Bush. His daughters attended public school in Texas. The only President in my lifetime to have children in a public school while he was president was Jimmy Carter. I know - there are security issues, and some presidents do not have children of school age. Still, one of the things I enjoyed about the final season of The West Wing was seeing President and Mrs. Santos decide on a public school for their offspring. Even in DC there are good public schools, and perhaps if people of importance, gravitas, and power were putting their kids in public schools we would be honestly addressing what needs to be done, which is certainly NOT more high stakes testing and narrowing of the curriculum.
Does Education Need a Katrina?
Those words are offensive, most of all to the people of New Orleans, whom a national administration failed to protect and then to assist.
They are offensive in any context.
They are a smear on the many public schools doing a fine job, often despite a lack of resources.
A lack of resources - because in inner cities and parts of the rural south and southwest they educate the children of "others" - Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans. For all the rhetoric about not leaving children behind, do most of those pushing the "reform" agenda really care about those kids except as creating a large, compliant and captive work force? Do they really want an education that might empower those young people, who are far more numerous than the offspring of those currently controlling the levers of power?
Does Education Need a Katrina?
Those words were neither an accident nor a mistake. They expose the mindset behind much of the so-called "reform" movement in education.
Which is why I have taken the time to write about them.
I could not write this diary yesterday - I was committed to our communal Feeding America Blogathon.
It is better that I write about this today, both because I have been able to share some of the reaction of others, and because it is more timely, with the events of Education Nation about to commence.
Perhaps you think American education needs to be radically rethought. So do I. But not in the direction the "reformers" are pushing it. And not in a fashion that excludes any voice contrary to what they have already decided.
Perhaps I will be surprised. Perhaps the pushback from teachers, in which I have played some small roll, will have convinced NBC at least to give some voice to contrary opinions. We will see.
But remember this. At least for a while, those organizing this event, and those who are cooperating in the coordinated effort about which I have written above, thought nothing wrong with asking this question:
Does Education Need a Katrina?"
You decide if those words could ever be appropriate.