John Spencer got an earful from the twitterverse yesterday. His blog post on the Louis CK twitter rant got picked up by Alec Couros and folks (led by ed tech writers Anya Kamenetz and Audrey Watters) started piling on. I feel for John Spencer, who likes look a pretty good science teacher. But the discussion quickly spiraled out of the narrow claim he thought he was making into much larger issues he left open in what was supposed to be a quickie blog post. Always, looking for a good fight, I piled on last night and I want to clarify my thinking here because Spencer's post deserves more than just a fisk.
Spencer's post argued that Louis CK getting up in arms over four inter-related issues obscured rather than clarified the various problems he and his child were facing. Those issues are factory schooling, Common Core, homework, and testing. Now, Spencer is of course, right about that. Twitter is not a tool suited to reasoned debates over education policy. The problem is that this isn't the time for reasoned debates over education policy. You can point out until you are blue in the face(book) that Common Core and testing culture have nothing to do with each other. There simply isn't a constituency for that at this moment and it's pointless to try to make one. We are past the point of no return in terms of rhetoric and social policy, and media. Common Core and testing are linked in people's minds. If you are against testing culture, it makes political sense to align with people who are against Common Core. After you beat back testing culture, you can take another stab at creating newer and better standards and do a better job selling them politically.
What Spencer doesn't realize is that policy isn't made by experts. It's made by politicians and bureaucrats, and teachers, and parents and local school boards, and state elected officials and a dozen other constituencies. It's a political process. Attempts to depoliticize it aren't gong to work for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that a reliance on "experts" to make policy leads to both administrative capture on the one hand, and calls for centralization and bureaucratization that dismiss the local and particular. It's the type of high modernist approach that James C. Scott described in Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Fail.
Quite frankly, we shouldn't have expected Common Core to have been so widely adopted as it first was. And it's rollback should be expected. It took at least four tries to pass an interstate highway bill that contained a funding mechanism (finally passed in 1956) and people, for the most part, like roads and highways and they especially liked them and needed them in the immediate post-War era.
The task now is to stop the privatization of public education, restore funding, clamp down on charter schools and the shifting of public moneys to private interests, and take another stab at raising standards without the baggage attached to Common Core. You are not going to accomplish any of that by whining that Louis CK and Matt Damon make a big splash. You do it by inviting them into the movement and then educating the hell out of them as to what the issues are and how the can help.
You don't go to war with the allies you wish you had, you go with the allies you do have. And if along the way, you can turn them into the allies you want, so much the better.