This post is a response to Clay Burell, blogger for Education on Change.org, one of my new favorite online networks. I’ve followed Clay for a long time both on his personal blog, Beyond School, and in his new home. He’s one of the few educators whose ideas truly make me think, and I admire him for his tenacity and his forthright initiatives, which are all too often very difficult to maintaing in this field. This is not the first time Clay and I have disagreed, but it is perhaps the first time we have disagreed so strongly. You might want to read Clay’s original post first, and the comments that follow — a lengthy debate about Bill Gates’ TED talk and Clay’s response to it. Clay’s last comment to me challenged me to find and quote him on the unjustified assertions I accuse him of. Before I go further, please note that I see this as very healthy banter.
Well, maybe it’s gone past banter now…?
Clay, the links you reference to KIPP schools *are* valid. But I thought you were writing this post about Bill Gates and his TED Talk, not KIPP schools. Therefore, many of the references to KIPP don’t really belong in this argument about whether Gates is attacking teachers. Perhaps instead you’d like to write a(nother) post on why KIPP schools don’t work and why people like Gates shouldn’t support them. But your post title references Gate’s TED Talk, of which KIPP is a part, not the whole.
On making connections and jumping to conclusions
There are many places in your post and your comments where you make links between ideas, words, and concepts which simply are not logical or obvious. What follows are examples of your doing this.
“I think what Gates is getting at is firing teachers and dismantling public schools in favor of privatized charters”
The word dismantling means taking them apart, destroying them. Thus, I think it’s reasonable for myself (and others) to have concluded that you were referring to the end of public schools.
“Mosquitos cause pestilence. Let’s drive that point home with massive projections of them – and then release them into the audience.
Then let’s talk about undesireable people that our society can do without.”
“Let’s close the ‘pestilence’ – ‘teachers’ pattern with the final frame of two more diseases: pneumonia and AIDS.”
Really Random? by Dan Morelle
Here, and in your video, you make a connection between pestilence and teachers, but Gates doesn’t do that. Gates simply says mosquitos cause malaria. Poor structure on his part, yes, but he’s NOT talking about undesirable people that our society can do without – that’s your unfounded and unsupported conclusion. Nowhere does Gates use the word “pestilence” or anything resembling it.
“Then let’s sell two things: technology that will collect test scores we can use to fire teachers (he doesn’t say this, but that’s why “Some people are threatened by this stuff,” as he so dismissively puts it); and a book on the “great teachers” at KIPP schools (two of which are currently accused of intimidating teachers for moving to unionize).
It’s a push for technology and charter schools.”
Gates is not making a plea here to push the technology for standardized testing. He’s pushing a new model, KIPP, yes. But technology? Huh? He’s saying that some people are threatened by new models and new ways of thinking of education. Your jump to it being “a push for technology and charter schools” is an unreasonable one. (I’ll come back to the charter schools issue in a minute.)
Another instance of you making an assumption and judgment is when Gates says: “the teacher improvement data could not be made available and used in the tenure decision for the teachers. And so that’s sort of working in the opposite direction. But I’m optimistic about this, I think there are some clear things we can do.”
But you translate this as:
“He does liken teachers who resist test-based evaluations to ‘the problem.’ “
No, he does not “liken teachers who resist test-based evaluations to ‘the problem’.” He talks about teacher improvement data – which could, actually be a LOT of different kinds of data, not necessarily test-based – and how it could not be used to decide tenure, and how THAT is a problem. (And, it is a problem.)
“Gates doesn’t have time for those studies, apparently. To him it’s ‘simple.’ We need KIPP schools and no more unions.”
Again, Gates doesn’t mention unions, and he uses KIPP only as an example. Which reminds me, I think we are talking at cross-purposes regarding the “privatization of public education.” To me, privatization means tuition or business ownership. Charter schools are, as far as I know, publicly funded — ie., taxpayers dollars. So what do you mean when you say “privatization of public education”?
One more jump-into-the-inaccurate-accusation lake: when you mention Gates’s
“use of statistics and scientific-looking graphs to justify the scapegoating.”
So the next time any teacher or tech integrationist — or anyone for that matter — uses statistics and graphs to prove a point, and that point happens to be about specific group of people, they are propaganda-ists?
On Emotion and Blogging
I observe the similar juxtaposition between the structure, symbolism, and rhetoric of Gates’ talk and a propaganda film that happens to have been a product of an historical era that causes emotional reactions from people.
That’s just it – I think you’ve made this too emotional. It’s not. It’s a big-name CEO sharing his thoughts about what he thinks needs to be changed about teachers. You are taking it personally, for reasons unbeknowst to your blog audience.
Yes, propaganda relies on emotional appeals – like yours, I’d say. But Gates? I didn’t see any emotional appeals in there. None at all.
Blogging about an intial reaction, finally, is not a problem. That’s what bloggers do. The reaction was justified with the similarities I’ve already repeated ad infinitum.
Perhaps this is what bloggers do when they are simply sharing and not aiming to convince. If you want us to believe you (and Change.org exists, well, for regular people like us to create change), you will provide reasoned and logical responses, not knee-jerk first reactions. So tell me please, what was your purpose in writing this post? Was it simply to express an emotion? or was it to persuade? This is, I think, what Jean was getting at with the reference to the selling. It seems as though you were trying to sell an idea, and doing so in an emotionally charged way (as Jean says) just doesn’t hold water with me. In fact it makes your points, even if they are worth listening to, less credible. My point here: if you want to express emotion and outrage in an initial reaction, go ahead. But perhaps the Change.org venue is not the place. Or, you can title your post differently. Purpose and audience: you know they are the two golden keys to effective writing.
It’s a JUMP to CONCLUSIONS mat! Get it!?
by Katkreig Attribution-NonCommercial License
You know, Clay, that I respect you greatly and have keenly followed your work and ideas for some time now. But this post has really rubbed me the wrong way. Even if your points are not valid, the method in which you’ve chosen to present them is inflammatory and rash.
This week, you win the Jump-to-Conclusions Award… which reminds me of a funny scene from one of my favorite movies, Office Space. If you haven’t seen it — a must-see for anyone who has ever worked in a corporate American-style office — watch the clip below. [Warning: this clip has some strong language]