I am convinced a powerful line from Carlin to Kurt Vonnegut remains the most important foundation of who I am outside of the people directly in my life. So I am offering here first my indebtedness to comedians, including my much more recent affinity for Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK—all of whom fill in some smaller way the void left by Carlin as comedians who are smart, funny, and offensive in the most brilliant ways.
And now that Louis CK has joined the ranks of Matt Damon and Jon Stewart among “celebrities teachers love,” I feel compelled to make a point that cannot be stressed enough: To celebrities weighing in on the education reform debate, I say, “Thank you, but…”
And before I explore the “but,” let me pose a key context for that: Davis Guggenheim.
With An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Guggenheim was the darling of the Left and scourge of the Right for his treatise on climate change.
With Waiting for “Superman” (2010), Guggenheim was the darling of the Right and scourge of the Left for his treatise on education reform.
The inconvenient truth about that Guggenheim contradiction?
Both versions are essentially celebrity visions about important and complex topics that already have very real detailed bodies of research and commentary from the experts within those fields—detailed bodies of research and commentary that are essentially ignored or misunderstood and misrepresented by the media, political leaders, and the public.
Now there is Louis CK and the Common Core, spurring points and counterpoints about whether or not Louis CK has any valid points himself.
There has always been an odd and easily missed streak of kindness, an awareness of the child’s perspective in Louis CK’s comedy, well beneath his profanity and anger. If his foray into riffing on education reform triggers any consideration in the U.S. about the need to increase our cultural kindness and respect for children, then I am on that Louis CK bandwagon. [See the video snippet here as an excellent example of where Louis CK is right on the money about “education should be welcoming.”]
Now I must turn to the “but.”
But Louis CK—as with Damon and Stewart—ultimately slides into the Guggenheim problem. While I agree that essentially Louis CK is onto many of the key failures of the entire Common Core problem as a key element in the broader education reform agenda—including the central premise that Common Core and the related high-stakes testing are inseparable in the debate—I fear that the clamoring to champion and acknowledge Louis CK’s criticism is more evidence that teachers, education researchers, and public school advocates simply have voices, expertise, and experience that do not matter on their own merit.
How must time and energy now is going to debate and cover whether or not Louis CK is accurate in his Common Core rants? I would argue, those debates are more distractions, just as debating the quality of Common Core is a distraction.
Celebrities, thank you, but your weighing in on education reform—while funny—is more entertainment that crowds out time better spent on the real world of teaching and learning in a country that really doesn’t care—not about children (if they are “other people’s children”), not about workers, not about people trapped in poverty, not about the mass incarceration of people of color, and certainly not about education.
I suppose it is better we spend our time laughing to avoid crying, but again, I am certain that education as a profession needs to be acknowledged and taken seriously on its own merit and not because a celebrity makes the same case educators have been making as professionals and not entertainers.