Framing the "Reformers" in Our Public Schools

After something of a hagiography of Shavar Jeffries, David Brooks gets to his point in a New York Times column called “How Cities Change”:

Now Jeffries is running for mayor of Newark against City Councilman Ras Baraka. The race has taken on a familiar shape: regular vs. reformer.

Brooks is casting Jeffries as an education reformer and Baraka as advocate of the status quo. This is rather odd, since the reform movement includes Cami Anderson, superintendent of Newark schools and a Chris Christie appointee–the Newark schools have been under state, and not local, control since 1995. In other words, Brooks’ “reformers” are the status quo.

The framing method that Brooks reflects is a deliberate attempt to hijack debate by defining its terms. “Reform” implies making things better, change for the better. “Status quo” means keeping whatever of the current system one happens to detest. Brooks is also implying that someone who works for the state or federal government is not part of the local status quo–but that someone who is a member of the city council, by definition, is.

Brooks writes:

Then there is the split, which we’re seeing in cities across the country, between those who represent the traditional political systems and those who want to change them. In Newark, as elsewhere, charter schools are the main flash point in this divide. Middle-class municipal workers, including members of the teachers’ unions, tend to be suspicious of charters. The poor, who favor school choice, and the affluent, who favor education reform generally, tend to support charters.

This is as simplistic as saying that it is only the Tea Party that opposes Common Core State Standards. For one thing, Brooks is conflating charters and choice, a favorite device of the “reformers.” For another, he avoids defining “the affluent”: Those who “tend to support charters” are not simply affluent but are more often than not members of the 1%.

What Brooks is doing is what the predatory reformers have been about for a generation now: Get people to believe there is a problem (A Nation At Risk) and then offer a “white hat” solution through change that plays right into the privatization schemes that divert public funds into corporate pockets. They take a truism (“schools could be better”) and turn it into a crisis, one that they can make money off of.

Jeffries versus Baraka doesn’t interest them–except as a means of furthering a very profitable agenda turning “choice” into new avenues for making money. Brooks, in this column, is nothing more than a shill for faux reform.

2 thoughts on “Framing the "Reformers" in Our Public Schools

  1. Ras Baraka is an educator who is on leave from his position as principal of Central High School. he has taught. While an educator he has served as deputy mayor and as a member of the City Council. He is knowledgeable about education. He has a very well thought out approach to education, which includes the notion of local control of schools. The state of New Jersey has had control of Newark schools – and those of other large, minority-populated cities – for years, so that if there are problems to be identified they more properly should be laid at the feet of those in the state who have had the authority and responsibility and done little to help the students in those schools. Baraka’s opponent knows little about education and understands even less.

    It is not just unions supporting Baraka. It is also parents and a surprising portion of the business community.

    Yes his opponent’s poll numbers have gone up, in part because several candidates dropped out, and PART of their support went to him. But most of it, and the endorsements, went to Baraka.

    To get a sense of what Baraka is like you might want to read this post

    written after I had an opportunity to see him at an event and have a conversation with him.

  2. The co-opting of the language of progressivism is the core strategy of the Far Right. It is the mechanism for convincing people that the Far Right shares the same fundamental goals as progressives but simply has a different, more effective way of getting to those goals. In reality, of course, their goals could not be more different.

    Progressives complain that they cannot come up with alternatives to the Far Right’s co-opts of their own rhetoric. I have sat through meetings at which progressives have exhausted themselves trying to come up with counters to “right to work” and “workplace freedom” that have the same easy resonance.

    We can’t do it simply because the rhetoric was essentially ours to begin with.

    What is required is a relentless exposure of the simple, blatant hypocrisy in much of what the Far Right is advocating and doing. The one thing that sticks with voters more than slogans is the stink of hypocrisy. They can countenance a thief in office as long as he is “our thief,” but you never hear anyone say, “but he’s our hypocrite.”

    If you keep saying the same thing over and over, people do start to believe it. Case in point: the Far Right’s demonization of unions and, in particular, teachers unions.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.