In his book, “A Conflict of Visions,” Thomas Sowell describes the common disagreements we see in politics today as being rooted in the “different visions of how the world works” and how our “gut feelings” are based on “reasoning from fundamentally different premises.”
In today’s politics, hyperpartisanship is the norm. Bipartisanship gets you censured by your political party or attacked by your president on Twitter. It doesn’t take much background for one to understand the indisputable fact that Republicans and Democrats have had different visions influencing their disagreements on everything from guns to climate change since their births.
But when it comes to education, we have failed to acknowledge our conflicting visions and the biases that strengthen the dichotomies ripping our education system apart, distancing ourselves from each other and blinding us from the truth.
In his recent book, “How The Other Half Learns,” Robert Pondiscio tells the story of a parent-teacher meeting at the prominent, yet controversial Success Academy, where two White teachers speak to their students’ parents—most of whom are people of color and low-income. After describing this meeting, where the teachers exhort the families to do more to support their kindergartners, many of whom are already falling behind expected progress in reading, Pondiscio brilliantly compares the scene to a Rorschach Test of a reader’s political views on education.
Warring Visions of Education Can Cloud Our Judgment
He acknowledges the conflicting visions an outsider might have witnessing the meeting: “You can see a pair of privileged White teachers spending 30 minutes dressing down parents” with a warning of the “things to come if parents don’t wake the hell up, step up and get with the program.” Or, on the contrary, “You can see Carolyn Syskowsi, with her giant heart and Pez-dispenser grin, who calls every student ‘love bug’ and spends hours each day on the floor with other people’s children, wipes their noses, pulls on their coats, sends them home and then worries into the night about their reading and math scores.”
These conflicting visions spew from the journalists and politicians who drive our education conversations and shape legislation. This September in Pennsylvania, when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Harrisburg Catholic, some viewed the K-8 elementary school as a shining example of low-income students of color being provided the opportunity to get a quality education. Meanwhile, others viewed the school as discriminatory for their ban on transgender students. Months prior, Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf vetoed the bill to increase scholarship funding for such private schools after it had passed both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature.
During these times in education, when confirmation biases are so vividly evident, it can be confusing to determine what and who to believe in, thanks to the digital echo chambers led by those who have a false grip on reality and the truth. Add on the amount of rampant cherry-picking of data to defend one’s vision, the brazen hypocrisy of political talking points, or the neglect and vilifying of one’s “opponent” and we should be fully skeptical of how the education-industrial complex tells us we should school our children. So whose vision do we follow?
When in Doubt, Trust Parents
Unlike other political issues of our times, education is unique in that we have a vision we should follow and trust. For myself, this vision is and always will be common sense: parents. Parents’ only bias is sending their child to a good school. Parents’ only vision is seeing their child succeed in school and in life. Parents, whose sacrifice and commitment to their children’s education, should be the only “evidence-based research” that matters. Their vision is the one I trust in telling me what works and doesn’t work in education. They are the ones who hold the most at stake in the education conversation and they are the ones who should wield the power.