Reframing the conversation about “Reform”

“Reform” seems to have become a four-letter word recently, seemingly splitting folks into two disparate camps utterly unable to find common ground. The problem is, as usual, that the conversation is being constructed by leaders of both poles without an understanding that most folks fall somewhere in the middle, supporting many of the “reform” proposals in some respects, but not necessarily in the way some leaders of the “corporate reform movement” have proposed, and not necessarily in ways that those opposed to reform describe either.

The problem, of course, is that real benefit that might come from reasonable implementation of many of the proposed reforms is lost. Also, sadly, many educators and non-educators alike seem to fall in line with these pre-packaged arguments, rank and file behind those leaders with little consideration of the legitimacy of those arguments.

Take, for example, the discussion the impact of poverty in education. It’s often said that some folks, particularly in the charter school movement, believe that poverty is no excuse for low achievement – that, with the right strategies, poverty can be overcome 100% of the time. On the other side of the fence, it’s often said that others believe that poverty is so insurmountable that no amount of school-based intervention could mitigate any of the effects.

In reality, who really believes in either of these polar opposites? How many folks believe that poverty can never be overcome, or that it can always be overcome? Most folks, educators and non-educators, most likely have a healthier perspective that poverty is challenging, but that there are strategies that may work to help reduce the effects of poverty in the classroom. Not all of the time, but some of the time.

Why we fall victim to all-or-nothing, polarized, extremist thinking is probably beyond the scope of this post, but the point is we need to stop it. We need to stand up for ourselves and insist that the extreme vocal minorities dictating definitions and contexts of debates be more reasonable and representative of truth, rather than advancing their own extreme agenda for whatever purposes they might have in doing so.

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