Saturday Solutions: Beware of “either-or” thinking
The more time I spend in the education reform community, and the more time I spend debating those who disagree with me, the more I understand how dangerous it can be to oversimplify things.
For instance, I’ve encountered way too many people who feel you must be either pro-teacher OR pro-student. You must be either pro-neighborhood school OR pro-charter school. You must be either pro-corporate reform OR pro-status quo. You must either be willing to sacrifice everything for your needy students OR be a bad teacher.
Thoughtful people understand that such distinctions are crude and unnecessary. Those of us who work to preserve teachers’ rights and create healthy working conditions do so because we believe children are better served when their teachers are free to think and focus on instruction instead of school politics. Charter schools were originally meant to capitalize on teacher expertise and help improve the quality of all schools, and they can still do that. Resisting the imposition of unproven reforms does not preclude someone from working to improve schools in other ways. And effective teachers know the importance of setting boundaries on one’s time and energy, to preserve the energy and emotional stability good teaching requires.
Yet there are many people out there (particularly this fall…) who are using these kinds of false distinctions to try to rhetorically disarm their opponents. They’re probably aware that their arguments, or the evidence behind them, don’t stand up to careful scrutiny. Or, they’re confused when confronted with surprisingly credible arguments that nevertheless make them uncomfortable. So, they deflect to emotional appeals (“Do you really care about the children?”) or faulty logic (“It’s either this bad method or nothing at all“) to hide the fact that they may be uninformed, struggling with cognitive dissonance, or being deliberately manipulative.
So, as you navigate the school reform discussion– or any political discussion for that matter– be on the look-out for people who attempt to force you into a corner. If you’re put in a position to choose between either this or that, stop for a moment and question whether those really are your only options. In this kind of discussion, things are rarely if ever that simple, and if someone is trying to make it so, then there is probably something wrong with what they’re saying.