Sunday, August 19, 2012

Questions for Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni dips his little toe into the debate of education reform today, spurred to write after previewing the new film, Won't Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a parent struggling to reform her child's poorly performing public school.  Bruni compares her to Erin Brokovich, with the role of evil, polluting corporation being played assumedly by evil, child-oppressing unions.  To my knowledge, the screenplay was not written by the late Ayn Rand.  Actually, according to Tim Walker at the NEA,
“Won’t Back Down” is funded in large part by Walden Media, the same company that bankrolled  “Waiting for Superman.” Walden Media is owned by Philip Anschutz, a right-wing billionaire who has a long history of supporting right-wing politicians and causes."
Bruni's meandering, naive attempt at objectivity references AFT leader Randi Weingarten and anti-Reform crusader Diane Ravitch.  However it is clear that he is in over his head, and ends by embracing his intuitions about Reform:
"....superior teaching, the need to foster more of it and the importance of school accountability. Who could quibble with any of that?"
Who indeed?  Except that this feeble straw man avoids all the difficult issues involved, and panders to meaningless hubris.

It’s always hard to know where to begin when responding to people who clearly don't grasp the fundamental issues in a debate.  The layers of flawed assumptions just seem to pile up, one on top of another. Much of Bruni's thinking is tautological, finding facts to fit his preconceptions.  So maybe the best place to start is simply to ask a series of questions designed to challenge his assumptions.

I've spent plenty of time on this blog going into great detail on all of this.  So I won't bother repeating myself (although that rarely seems to stop me).  But here are a few:

  • Why are poor parents at poor schools?
  • What makes a school poor?
  • Is it fair for poor parents to go to a school that is poor?
  • Is it fair for poor parents to live in poor neighborhoods?
  • Is it fair for poor parents to be poor?
  • Is it fair for us to consume goods and services that pay poverty wages?
  • Are accountability and better teaching going to solve these issues?
Everyone interested in the debate over education reform should think long and hard about each of these.  Hopefully, then they might have something worthwhile to say.

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