Making Sense of the Left-Right School Reform Divide
Last week, Robert Pondiscio wrote a column on the progressive-conservative divide in school reform that triggered a lot of heated back-and-forth. Regular readers know that I've written about this a lot over the years (particularly in terms of the Obama administration), so I'd kind of assumed that my progressive friends had also been thinking about all this. But they seemed surprised and taken aback by Pondiscio's argument that conservative "school reformers" feel marginalized and under assault from their putative allies. The kerfluffle left me thinking that today's "school reform" community bears an eerie resemblance to the education schools that I fled long ago, including a stifling orthodoxy so ingrained that it's invisible to its adherents. Now, as I've noted before, that orthodoxy is not solely (or even primarily) a left-right phenomenon—but there is a big left-right component.
Yet I was struck that the conservative contributions to the back-and-forth were repeatedly framed in tactical terms. They tried to explain why progressives need conservatives if they're to be successful. The conservatives pleaded that they want only to be accepted, in the spirit of diversity and inclusion. That's all fine, but it fails to articulate why—aside from ignorance or prejudice—conservatives might disagree with things that seem so blindingly obvious to the 90% of "school reform" land that's progressive. (If you've any doubt about that 90% figure, survey the next fifty TFA alums, foundation staff, education bloggers, and assorted ed reformers you meet. If more than ten percent voted for McCain and Romney or are Second Amendment absolutists, please give me a holler.)
It's worth taking a moment to understand what conservatives and progressives actually disagree about. We agree on a lot, after all, like the fact that we all want all children to have schools that fire their imaginations, teach critical skills, equip them to be responsible citizens, fill them with joy, and prepare them for life success. We do, however, disagree on how to get there. Moreover, we don't just disagree on tactics; we also disagree on big questions like what kind of society it will take to create those schools and how to make them a reality.
While the tactical disagreements cut along many lines, the big disagreements frequently fall along the left-right ideological divide. Given the tenor of the exchanges to date, it seems like it may be worth taking a moment to review some of the fault lines where folks on the left and right, in good faith, can deeply and fundamentally disagree. We can look at almost any social policy through two broad filters. Progressives tend to see things in terms of structural inequities—particularly race, class, and gender. Conservatives tend to see things in terms of moral agency and personal responsibility. Now, most people instinctively grasp that it's always about both, in various combinations and weightings. Crime, poverty, and unemployment are products of both structural forces and individual actions. This is equally true for school discipline and college-going. I've yet to meet a conservative working in social policy who denies the role of structural inequities or racial dynamics. And I've always been willing to take on faith (even when they fail to say so) that my friends on the left aren't rejecting the import of personal responsibility. The disagreements are always over what to focus on, what deserves more weight, and what to do. When conservatives Making Sense of the Left-Right School Reform Divide - Rick Hess Straight Up - Education Week:Big Education Ape: CURMUDGUCATION: Is There a Civil War in Education - http://go.shr.lc/1P6hhyS