Skepticism or Cynicism for Obama Education Agenda?

One response to my Relaxing zero tolerance in schools could be Obama’s boldest civil rights reform is worth highlighting: Readers adamant that the Obama education agenda is beyond such hope.

Let me note here that I have long since slipped past healthy skepticism and resigned myself to unhealthy cynicism with respect to either major political party and their leaders, including Obama.

I have tried before to confront the possibilities and the failures associated with Obama and Secretary Duncan, a set of policies and a series of rhetorical flurries that leave me even more depressed than those dark years under George W. Bush and his Secretaries, Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings:

Paul R. Carr and Brad Porfilio are now preparing a revised edition of The Phenomenon of Obama and the Agenda for Education: Can Hope Audaciously Trump Neoliberalism?—in which I have had and will have chapters.

I must note that my revised chapter is none too rosy; in fact, it is a solid statement of cynicism that has left skepticism in the dust. The revised chapter ends:

This call for change is not being heard, blocked by the din of the crisis discourse and utopian expectations that deform our children, our schools, and our society. The great failure being masked is that bureaucratic calls for school reform are perpetuating the labeling and marginalizing of teachers and students whose conditions in mechanistic schools parallel the inequities that the political elite are willingly ignoring both in their discourse and in their policies.

So when I confront the late but important recognition by the Obama administration that current education policies and practices are indeed racist, classist, and sexist, I believe it is on us to redouble our efforts, remind everyone we have been saying that for many years.

We actually don’t need Obama’s administration to tell us these things. But unless we make an effort to shift the gaze and the discourse in the right direction, on those extremely rare moments when they do, we are losing a moment.

I am not calling for our collective patting of the backs among the Obama administration. I would say the best tactic is to say, “Shame on you all for just noticing, but let’s get to work and stop all that other nonsense that is also doing harm!”

The Obama administration has hidden behind “education reform is the civil rights issue of our time” while promoting the worst possible education policies and maintaining an inexcusable allegiance to Secretary Duncan.

Let’s not forget that, and let’s not forget the “hope and change” rhetoric that lured many of us to have hope for change.

The recent shift driven by the Office of Civil Rights reports, however, is our opportunity to turn the “no excuses” and “zero tolerance” mantras on their heads, raising our voices and our eyes toward those in charge who are failing us and the children in our schools.

If there is hope for that change, it is in our grasp to make it happen.

7 comments

  1. Pingback: Skepticism or Cynicism for Obama Education Agenda? – @ THE CHALK FACE
  2. Pingback: Skepticism or Cynicism for Obama Education Agenda? | Educational Policy Information
  3. Jeff Nguyen

    I agree with everything you’ve said here, Paul. Like you, it’s just discouraging to see the rhetoric vs. the reality. In my school, a whole new culture is being entrenched where test scores overshadow every instructional decision, annual evaluations are in the back of every teacher’s mind, especially the ones who no longer are eligible for tenure, and teachers are expected to single-handedly manage disruptive students with little administrative or school-wide support. I would love to see the DOE put it’s money where it’s mouth is and fund more social workers, guidance counselors, behavior specialists and aides to provide direct support so teachers can implement interventions that will best support their students. The increasing standardization of the curriculums and testing are only serving to marginalize and alienate at-risk students even further.

    The dominant/power culture has long controlled the discourse by determining whose stories are told and which voices are heard from. You’re right on that we need to steer the conversation in more positive, uplifting directions. My previous comment was more of a concern that readers who didn’t understand the entirety of your messages might interpret your headline regarding the Obama’s administration calling for relaxing zero tolerance as merited optimism, when that’s clearly not the case. It gets tiring that teachers are asked to be superheroes while our elected officials who set the policies and control the purse strings get a pass.

    Thank you for lending your voice to the voiceless.

  4. susano98

    Senator Obama gave us a preview of his ed policy when, in 2005 he had the Center for American Progress write his first education policy speech. The title, “Teaching Our Kids in a 21st Century Economy,” should have been a warning. Anytime someone in your house starts talking about 21st century skills, lock up your kids, and count the silverware. Obama’s speech called for instituting tougher standards and testing, creating mammoth data surveillance systems, paying teachers based on student test scores, and so on.

    Sound familiar? I mean the guy told us what he wanted to do. And then Presidential candidate,Obama repeated this message via satellite hookup at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention in 2008 in Chicago. In the presence of the Obama aura–even via a video hookup–union delegates were unwilling to say, “Hell, no!” to his program for de-professionalizing teaching. Instead, they gave the video image a standing ovation. I was there, bearing witness–and remaining seated

    And, based on his promised education agenda, I didn’t vote for him. Either time. That doesn’t mean I voted for the other guy. I have voted Third (or 13th) Party since I woke up in the 1980ies. I never skip an election–always wanting my disgust with the two corrupt major parties to be registered.

  5. Pingback: Paul Thomas: Cynicism or Skepticism about the Obama Education Agenda? | Diane Ravitch's blog
  6. Pingback: Paul Thomas: Cynicism or Skepticism about the Obama Education Agenda? | Educational Policy Information

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