Here’s why I think “civility” is a poor frame for discussions about public policy:
Michael Petrilli, of the conservative Hoover Institution, has a point that TFA discussions are now very polar. But he remains naive/turns a blind eye to how a flood of venture capital and hedge fund money, newly allied with religious right funders, has made it lucrative for former TFA alums (like Rhee) to push the agendas — deliberately far removed from classroom practice and realities — that they do. Clueless/careless about classes and students? That’s a feature, not a bug.
From the NYT piece:
Michael Petrilli, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a pro-charter education analyst with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, worries about this lack of exchange. He recently conducted an analysis of Twitter and the tens of thousands of followers of Ms. Rhee, who is pro-charter, and Ms. Ravitch, who is anti-charter, and discovered that only 10 percent overlapped. Just as conservatives gravitate to Fox News and liberals to MSNBC to hear their preconceived notions and biases confirmed, Mr. Petrilli speculates that those in education are now preaching solely to the converted, a phenomenon known in the media world as ‘narrowcasting.’
Worse, in Mr. Petrilli’s view, those who follow Ms. Rhee tend to describe themselves in their Twitter profiles as policy makers or otherwise removed from the immediate realities of the classroom, while Ms. Ravitch’s devotees are typically self-identified practitioners: principals and teachers on education’s front lines. Surely these folks should be talking to one another, but in Mr. Petrilli’s experience, they often aren’t.
This gets cast as “civility” when it’s really disingenuousness about how power, money, & influence warps education policy to profitable ends…at the expense of kids.
“Civility” is still wedded to the idea that “each side gets its say,” quaintly familiar in the way that reporters are “objective” if “both sides” are represented in a story. (There are only *two* sides? How conveniently Manichean.) I think you get polarization when people try to shout above the din money creates in pushing corporate school reform, corporate amplification actively aided and abetted by corporate news outlets (NBC’s “Education Nation,” etc). You have to be more insistent when you’re pushing against the money gradient, to puncture norms cocooned in Oprah appearances and other kinds of glossy marketing. Money makes for a handy mute button on things moneyed people don’t want to hear.