For the past decade or so, the forces of the educational status quo have done battle with those of education reformers. The most common line of attack is that only educators should be involved in education policy. “How dare those who have never taught opine and legislate over what is best in the classroom?”
As a candidate for local school board with two preschool-aged children, I was told I had no business running for the school board. As the leader of a state-based education reform organization, I was told I had no business discussing education policy because I hadn’t been an educator. I may have been dubbed, by some as intelligent, quick on my feet, and unafraid. I definitely went to a public school and sent (and still do send) my kids to public schools. But I was judged as lacking because I had never taught.
So it was with great surprise that I saw Diane Ravitch in support of former “Sex and the City” co-star Cynthia Nixon’s quest for governor of New York. As Nixon launched her quixotic campaign to defeat New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial primary this year, Ravitch seems to retweet and share virtually any social media posting that praises Nixon.
— Cynthia Nixon (@CynthiaNixon) March 22, 2018
As the anti-Cuomo, Nixon is largely being hyped as protector of all that is fair and good in education, while standing in opposition to the evils of charter schools, Common Core and those dreaded reformers who have long supported Cuomo.
Don’t get me wrong. Nixon may one day become an excellent politician. And as a New York voter, an advocate, and an active citizen, Ravitch has every right to advocate for any candidate she chooses, regardless of qualifications. As someone with a strong base of supporters, she almost has an obligation, as folks look to her to see who would be the best voice for the Ravitch agenda. But at some point, don’t we need to just call out hypocrisy where we see it?
Ravitch and the disciples of Ravitch are quick to condemn Teach For America (TFA). TFA is portrayed as a band of dilettantes, individuals of privilege who are seeking to inject themselves in to the schools for a few years without proper preparation or without having paid their dues. To them, the TFA badge is thrown around as a brand of unpreparedness.
Can’t the same be said of Nixon? She has never sought political office before. She hasn’t paid her dues working on the campaigns of others, slogging through multiple state legislative sessions, or holding a thankless office. She’s never had to pass a budget or manage a significant staff. The closest “experience” she has is having played the daughter of a politician in “Tanner ‘88.”
The same can be said of touting the qualification of being both a public school student and the parent of public school students. Since the height of education reform five years ago, those aligned with Ravitch have advocated in key states that state education chiefs must have formerly been K-12 teachers to hold the chief job for a state. Being a passionate advocate for education in general or public schools in particular is insufficient in the political realm.
To many, only those who have held a teaching credential are qualified to manage large state agencies overseeing education dollars and regulations. Apparently, though, credits on an HBO comedy can substitute for such classroom experience.
New York politics can get incredibly messy. In just a week, we have already witnessed attacks against the incumbent governor for his allies’ graft and corruption. The incumbent’s challenger jumped into the race with a new debate on whether she is an “unqualified lesbian” or a “qualified lesbian” when it comes to her candidacy for office. A great deal of vitriol is likely to shoot between both sides from now until the September primary.
But we don’t need the Cuomo/Nixon debate to become some sort of proxy fight for education reform hyperbole. The education reform debates are often rhetoric at its ugliest. There is more than enough hypocrisy, and way too much “do as a I say, not as I do.” Personal passions get in the way of facts, and the push to win too often trumps what is best for the kids and the community. In many ways, education reform fights play to our basest fears and our worst intentions.
New York politics is better than that. There is no need for Democratic politics in the Empire State to roll around in such rhetorical mud.