It has been a while since I caught up on some TFA ‘Pass The Chalk’ blog entries. I read two interesting ones, one just published, and one published a few months ago that I must have missed.
In “Who are the ‘So-Called Reformers’” staffer Heather Harding writes about how it is too bad that people opposed to the corporate reform strategies sometimes refer to people like Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and others as ‘Reformers’ always with the quotation marks around them, to highlight the irony, or even as ‘So-Called Reformers.’ She thinks this is a somewhat unfair linguistic trick.
In “Am I An Ed Reformer?” staffer Tracy Dunbar writes about how although she doesn’t closely identify with Joel Klein, her life was impacted by a great principal who shook things up. If that principal would be considered an Ed Reformer, then it can’t be such a bad thing.
Both of these posts well well-written and thought provoking. Though the stereotypical ‘reformer’ is generally a rich white man, these two black women, as TFA staffers, are right to ponder whether their views are being stereotyped and trivialized when they get lumped in with the ‘reformers’ (I generally call them ‘reformers’ or corporate reformers, and tend to stay away from the pretty clever ‘deformers’).
And as subtle and logical as their two arguments are, they neglect to mention the main dynamic in the evolution of the word ‘reformer’ and why, for many people, it now has a negative connotation.
The word ‘reformer’ which once belonged to everyone who had ideas of how to improve schools, which was pretty much everyone involved in education was stolen by the group of people who are now the ‘so-called reformers.’ They took the word and then claimed that anyone who didn’t support their exact reform strategies were not ‘reform minded’ — were ‘defenders of the status quo’ or ‘excuse makers.’ They started ‘Democrats For Education Reform’ and ‘Students For Education Reform.’ They took the word, claimed it for themselves, denied other people who rightfully deserved to be called reformers as well.
But then something ironic happened. These people, these ‘reformers’, they didn’t know what they were talking about. They were arrogant and didn’t listen to teachers about what sorts of things make schools better and which don’t. They took over school systems and proved that they had no idea of how to improve schools. This went on for a few years and as people became aware of this, they started referring to ‘reformers’ in a tongue-in-cheek way. The more this happened, the more the word ‘reformer’ became a punchline to a sad joke.
I could envision a spoof on Jeff Foxworthy’s famous ‘You might be a Redneck if …’ routines. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.
You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that teachers are lazy because their union contracts give them jobs for life.
You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that teachers start off great in their first year and get worse as they gain experience.
You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that it doesn’t hurt kids psychologically when they learn that they got their school shut down and teachers fired because they failed the state test.
You might be a ‘reformer’ if you think that computers can now go into a parallel universe to figure out how an ‘average’ teacher would fare with a particular class and then compare the teachers in this universe to what those other teachers in the parallel universe did to determine if the teachers should get bonuses or fired.
Basically, the ‘reformers’ stole the word ‘reform’ and then they ruined its reputation — and now Harding and Dunbar suggest that we all share the word again. To be fair, Harding and Dunbar are not people that I’ve had any issues with. I would not insult them by saying that they are who I’m am criticizing anytime I put ‘reformer’ into quotation marks. But I wonder if some of the ‘reformers’ have similar concerns about the connotation of the word ‘reform.’ I somehow doubt that Joel Klein ever worries about defining himself as a ‘reformer’ even though that word makes most teachers shudder.
It is true that we were all once reformers. But to save the reputation of the word by letting everyone use it again is not something that I’m interested in doing. Let the ‘so-called reformers’ have the word. They ruined it, now let them live with it. I’ll just be an anti-reformer who supports evidence based practices for improving schools.