Wednesday, August 25, 2010

If You Can't Be With the Superman You Love....

Love the magic man you're with.

At first blush, Friedman seems to be moving away from his historic hero worship and fantasy life... "If only the Palestinians were led by a Nelson Mandela they could turn an overpopulated, impoverished, battle-scarred, resource-poor wasteland into Singapore." But no, in addressing education reform he's sticking with his "magic man" approach to society's problems:
Because we know what works, and it’s not a miracle cure. It is the whatever-it-takes-tenacity of the Geoffrey Canadas; it is the no-excuses-seriousness of the KIPP school (Knowledge is Power Program) founders; it is the lead-follow-or-get-out-of-the-way ferocity of the Washington and New York City school chancellors, Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein.
In telling people to stop looking for Superman, Friedman instead lectures them that they should enthusiastically march behind his magic men:
And it is the quiet heroism of millions of public and charter school teachers and parents who do put kids first by implementing the best ideas, and in so doing make their schools just a little bit better and more accountable every day — so no Americans ever again have to play life bingo with their kids, or pray to be rescued by Superman.
Although he describes some of its community ventures, Friedman misses a very important distinction between Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children’s Zone and the initiatives led by Michelle Rhee. Canada, who appears to have a deep love for the Harlem community, has taken the position that you can't simply fix schools and expect the community to get better. His goal is to heal the community. Michelle Rhee rejects that idea, instead insisting that schools and students can succeed (at least as measured by standardized tests) even if they come from the worst homes in the worst neighborhoods in the nation, and have no parental or community support for academic success.

You could regard Rhee's blind eye toward the problems of D.C.'s impoverished communities as a necessity of her job - she has neither the opportunity or resources to address society's larger problems, so if she doesn't argue that schools can "do it alone" she would effectively admit that her programs cannot work. Unfortunately, her over-the-top rhetoric divorces school performance from the very type of community involvement that Friedman argues is necessary - the "quiet heroism" of parents pushing for better schools. There's an element of cowardice on the part of pundits and politicians who point to Rhee's rhetoric (because her experiments have not yet borne fruit) and chatter that it's all about schools and teachers - if Friedman were to pay a bit more attention to Canada, he should recognize that they have no excuse to turn a blind eye to the conditions of the community.

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