Recently on twitter I appreciated Deborah Meier, a powerful voice for progressive education, for her insistence on nuance and complexity. It was interesting to note that in the comments suggestions to the above link, a response purporting to be from a supporter of Meier’s, rebutted her nuance as if she had just been being polite to the “other side.”
Educators, we are going to have to start insisting on nuance, complexity, and mess. I always tell my students that learning is messy, I think the educational community needs to acknowledge the same.
What amazed me about the now famous/notorious “Superintendent’s Manifesto” that stirred a great deal of attention recently, was the reduction of the conversation to simplicities. They seem to argue that changing, for example, the teacher seniority and discipline processes would suddenly change the what Richard Elmore calls the enduring “grammar of schooling” (relevant quote posted here). More than 100 years of schooling history belie this belief.
The public school systems are inertia bound and enduring. They adapt ably to the whim of public policy and politics. The four year political cycle ensures that the ever growing demands on schools change, at least in emphasis, from one extreme to another with the changing of the political tides. Michelle Rhee, who seemed to operate the belief that effective hierarchical management could, effectively impact change in the school system, was swept aside by heterarchical forces far stronger than her. Her resignation was inevitable, as noted by educational historian David Tyack. Tyack is nothing, if not nuanced.
In another example of nuance, and in contrast to the original manifesto, I think Arlene Ackerman, superintendent here in Phlly, offered a much more complex rendition of the challenges facing schools and school systems. Regardless of whether you agree with her reform agenda, it is hard to disagree with Ackerman’s assertion, “A collaborative approach to reform may not be easy, glamorous or movie-worthy, but it is a stronger and sustainable solution that is likely to outlast the tenure of individuals or politicized agendas.”
Unlike Tyack (and somewhat like, for example, Tom Vander Ark), I do see the spread of independent public public schools, charter or otherwise, as a potential important systems change. Beware, however, of any and all absolutes. At REAL we hope to deal, instead, in the truly complicated needs of each student, family, and community we serve.