Shuford Pushback

Jake, in response to my Spitting Venom post, wrote:

Regarding criticism in general, I’m sure you will agree that understanding the faults of a system is important to improving it. I would hope that you would welcome such criticism and respond to it with reasoned analysis of why it is wrong or how legitimate problems can be addressed.

In a way, your post could be seen as an example of the very practice you are criticizing. You denigrate what Shuford has to say, but you offer no advice for him to improve his advocacy aside from implying that he should change his mind to believe what you do.

Point well taken, Jake….I was definitely spitting my own venom the other day.

I’ve actually written on school choice–Shuford’s main target–a few times in the last several months. In fact, last night I was shooting the breeze with a friend of mine—Dr. Parry Graham—-who I generally think is brilliant. He’d read my Boortz on Choice post and sparked my thinking by comparing school choice to America’s struggles with health care. 

"Health care and education are both essential services that people have to have," he said. "And yet we’re comfortable allowing 50 million Americans to live without the basic medical attention that they need.  Are we comfortable with seeing the same trends in schooling? Because that’s what we’ll end up with if we switched to a school choice model and abandoned public schools completely."

I actually like Graham’s comparison between health care and education because it demonstrates America’s apparent comfort level with drastic differences between the lives of the rich and the poor in our country. That comfort allows school choice advocates to argue that little harm will be done in a system where "neighborhoods" have control. Is there really any doubt that the schools serving wealthy children will be better staffed or supplied than those serving the poor? 

I’ve also written about teacher quality—another one of Shuford’s concerns—wondering if we have the kind of profession that can successfully attract and retain accomplished teachers and whether or not teachers are assertive enough to own their own profession. I’ve looked at the challenges that NBCTs face in trying to serve as school leaders and the logical ways to hold teachers accountable for their performance

The intent of my Spitting Venom post, however, wasn’t to debate the merits of school choice. Instead, it was to call attention to how the "battle" over education is increasingly being fought. Critics pull out propaganda tricks in order to try to bury the public in half-truths. Demonizing schools and teachers is often their only move. Consider these quotes from Shuford:

  1. Today’s college-of-education apple has not fallen far from that training-service-for-cooks-and-house-maids tree. 
  2. Limited academic talent of too many educators.
  3. Politicians secure the political support of teacher-training institutions, educators of limited ability and their unions by making sure that parents/families — unless they have means or are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices — have no options.
  4. This is the perfect structure for “inadequately educating” children, enfeebling families and weakening neighborhoods and communities.

The name calling, character assassinations over generalizations and doomsday thinking found in this one short piece (and, admittedly, in my response) are part of a repeating pattern playing out on hundreds of radio dials and in hundreds of newspapers every day. It is that open animosity—often packaged as "understanding the faults of a system"—that I’ve grown tired of.

4 thoughts on “Shuford Pushback

  1. Michael

    John asked:
    This little piece of illogic stirred memories of my college Public Opinion and Propaganda course. Perhaps someone who took that course more recently can tell us which logical fallacy this represents.
    Here’s what I’ve found…hopefully it’s helpful in defining your debate:
    “Irresponsible sweeping generalizations:
    “Extremists tend to make sweeping claims or judgments on little or no evidence, and they have a tendency to confuse similarity with sameness. That is, they assume that because two (or more) things, events, or persons are alike in some respects, they must be alike in most respects.”

  2. Tom Shuford

    John: “Is this fellow familiar with the report highly criticizing the lack of academic rigor in teacher education programs written by Arthur Levine, immediate past president of TC, WHILE he was president?”
    Levine supports my point about the anti-academic bias of colleges of education, which is not to concede that his is the last word on such matters.
    My notes on —
    Study Finds Poor Performance by Nation’s Education Schools
    By GREG WINTER
    March 15, 2004
    NY Times
    ARTHUR E. LEVINE, THE STUDY’S LEAD AUTHOR, FOUND NO EXEMPLARY SCHOOL OF EDUCATION: SUCCESSFUL SCHOOL OF EDUCATION: “…he [Levine] and other experts who worked on the study had focused their efforts on finding education schools capable of producing excellent principals, superintendents and other administrators. They found none in the entire country.”
    TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS ARE LOOKING FOR “EASY CREDITS” TO BOOST SALARIES; SCHOOLS OF EDUCATION — EAGER TO MILK A ‘CASH COW” – CAPITALIZE ON THE DEMAND BY SETTING LOW ADMISSION STANDARDS AND OFFERING “QUICKIE DEGREES”: Much of the problem, the report said, stems from what Dr. Levine called ‘the consumer mentality’ dominating the nation’s education schools. All states, and nearly all public school districts within them, award higher salaries to teachers who take additional courses and earn advanced degrees. One result of this has been an ‘army of unmotivated’ educators looking for extra credits “in the easiest ways possible” during their off hours, the report said. The universities, in turn, capitalize on this demand by viewing their education schools as ‘cash cows,’ setting low admissions standards and offering ‘quickie degrees’ instead of investing in a quality curriculum, the report said.”
    ADMINISTRATORS SCORE LOWER ON THE GRADUATE RECORD EXAMINATION THAN TEACHERS: “…while criticism has often focused on the questionable academic qualifications of many teachers, the report found that school administrators typically had substantially lower scores on the Graduate Record Examination than the teachers they supervise.”

  3. John Norton

    Referring back to your original excerpts from Shuford’s polemic, this particular item really got my attention (quoting):
    “1) Anti-academic bias in colleges of education: Teachers College at Columbia University, the nation’s premier pedagogical institution, traces its origins to the Kitchen Garden Association, which was incorporated in 1880 to train girls for domestic service. In 1887 the institution began to train teachers. It was renamed Teachers College in 1889. Today’s college-of-education apple has not fallen far from that training-service-for-cooks-and-house-maids tree.”
    This little piece of illogic stirred memories of my college Public Opinion and Propaganda course. Perhaps someone who took that course more recently can tell us which logical fallacy this represents.
    Because Columbia Teachers College can trace its origins back to a training school established 127 years ago, it has an anti-academic bias? Is this fellow familiar with the report highly criticizing the lack of academic rigor in teacher education programs written by Arthur Levine, immediate past president of TC, WHILE he was president?
    Does anyone else hear echoes of Joe McCarthy here?

  4. Jake Savage

    Bill,
    I fully agree with your take on the state of discussion in education policy. It is sad to see people using strawman arguments, name-calling, and citing doomsday scenarios on both sides of many issues.
    Particularly disdainful to me is the practice of assuming knowledge of an opponent’s motivation and criticizing him on that basis, rather than on the expected outcomes of the policies he supports.
    I think we would have much more productive discussions if we could all agree that everyone wants a better educational system and that our disagreements are about how to define success and the method we should use to achieve it.
    Jake

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