Daniel Willingham wrote a thoughtful post today titled Your edupolicy adversaries: they’re not evil and you don’t know what they think where he discusses the importance of respectful dialogue in educational policy debates. Robert Pondiscio followed up, as did Anthony Cody with his own point of view.
I personally try my best to keep the tone of my posts and articles respectful, primarily because I think more people will take the time to read them than if they are not polemic. Sometimes, though, even I get driven over the edge by researchers who take no responsibility for how their studies can be destructively used or by the blatant arrogance shown by some in the name of school reform.
However, I think that the tone or words that are said or written in the school reform debate tend to be less important than another critical element. Based on my nineteen years as a community organizer prior to becoming a teacher, often times you have to sharpen one’s tone and personalize one’s opponent as part of a negotiating strategy to arrive at a compromise.
In effective community organizing, that’s the goal — to get both sides to the table to reach a compromise that’s “half a loaf, not half a baby.”
I’m not certain, though, about who in the education reform debate really wants to make a deal. Based on my experience, it seems to me that there are far more educators than so-called “school reformers” who are open to it. As Anthony Cody’s recent admirable attempt at dialogue with the Gates Foundation showed, it appears to me that their perspective is more “it’s my way or the highway.” Granted, though, I would agree that there are a few on the “other side” who might feel the same way.
I just tend to be cautious of calls for civility when they are not part of a negotiating strategy.
To radically adapt a comment from Barry Goldwater, “Extreme rhetoric in the pursuit of power to be used for making a compromise is no vice; extreme rhetoric to make one feel like they are doing something useful when they are not is no virtue.”