Sunday, November 9, 2014

I'm on the wrong side of a Dylan song.

"Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, Don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command; Your old road is rapidly agin'. 
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand, 
For the times they are a changin'." 

At this writing I'm sitting at my dining room table in Mt.Pleasant, SC. I will retire from teaching in New Jersey at the end of this school year and move here permanently. SC is a right to work (for less) state, and probably wouldn't appreciate a lot of the postings I've put out there. That strikes me as funny, because most of the stuff I've posted and shared,while critical of the "ed reform movement," is actually pretty benign. People who know me know I rail against the stupid, but I believe in the idea of continuous improvement, both on an individual and systemic level. I am incredibly impressed by folks like the Jersey Jazzman, Mother Crusader, Peter Greene, EduShyster and others who have serious research chops and bring those to bear in pointed analysis that is just ignored. 

'Cause here's the thing - the reformers are the cool kids. They're the ones with the marketing money and political resources to elect the candidates, buy the advertising campaigns, and develop the sound bites. Americans have become too accustomed to sound bites; we don't like to think too hard. 

On the other side of the room are the career educators, all of the sudden the target of wrath and ire of the reformers. When we came into the profession we were lauded as heroes; now we're freeloaders because our schools are closed in the summer. We're greedy because we're concerned about the pensions we've been contributing to our entire careers. We put our own interests ahead of those of the families we serve because we're selfish, not because we have to feed our own families. And, horror of horrors, many of us are unionized. My union protects child molestors and encourages mediocrity. That's what those with the money say. 

On my side of the room are the education geeks and nerds who have to DO this stuff every day. We've seen the pendular nature of education and continually wonder when we'll come to rest in the middle. We don't have the money to yell for common sense. Now, when the reformers have seen that their methods haven't worked much better than those in traditional public education, they're asking for dialog. I've tried that; it doesn't work. 

I should qualify my assessment of reformers’ ideas vs. those practiced in “traditional schools.” There are, and always will be, outlier anecdotes, but just about everyone who actually knows anything correlates school achievement with economic status and early childhood experience. Schools in poor districts have different challenges, and need different resources than schools in rich districts. There are gifted, committed teachers and students in high-poverty schools, and lazy teachers and students in schools in affluent communities. Should we get rid of bad teachers? Yes please. Different story, different time. 

All things being equal, charter schools do not get better results than their traditional school counterparts, and their existence siphons resources away from the schools that need them most. There are too many on the cool kids' side who are paid mouthpieces; they will not concede a point, at least not publicly, because they will lose their jobs. Are they not guilty of putting their own interests ahead of the children they purport to serve?

The midterm elections have come and gone. Republicans scored big, but they've had their fingers in the wind and have been backing off of the Clinton/Bush/Obama reforms. However, I've seen the reform rhetoric ratcheted up these past several days and I'm just weary. They just keep coming, like zombies. For a second, I wonder if they're right - am I on the wrong side of the Dylan song? 

Then I remember Pete. Pete Seeger never gave up. He never refused to play for anyone, even those who disagreed with him. He advocated for real dialog. We don't do that now; we take positions and use them for our personal advantage. 

And then I remember, Dylan sold out. 

Not just by doing a Chrysler commercial in the last super bowl, but really throughout his career. If you read Van Ronk and hear Joan Baez, his counter culture image was carefully crafted. Like most of the members of the 60's folk scare, he really just wanted a record contract, and that's fine. Let's just be honest. Pete, on the other hand, was about music and community. 

Could it be that "The Times They Are A-changin'" was glorifying a market based approach to solving the problems of society? Could it be that "Maggie's Farm" was an ode to corporate mega farming? Could it be that "Positively 4th St." was directed at those who saw a significant role for government? Could it be that, from Dylan's perspective, the answer that was "Blowin' in the Wind" was letting the market do its thing without regard to morality or consequence? 

All of a sudden, I'm proud to be on the wrong side of a Dylan song. His name's Zimmerman anyway.

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