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When a Public Intellectual Speaks Out But No One Hears Her, Does She Exist?

Posted: 2015-03-31

This is Chapter 5 in
Reimagining the Public Intellectual in Education: Making Scholarship Matter
, edited by
by Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin and Cynthia Reyes

by Susan Ohanian

I just ordered a nifty T-shirt from the Academy of American Poets that features a line from Wallace Stevens's "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle" on the back--"I wish that I might be a thinking stone." And a scansion of that line across the front: ~/~/~/~/~/. Someone at the Academy of American Poets online store felt compelled to offer instruction, declaiming that there is "in fact room for disagreement about the scansion of this line." Prospective buyers of the T-Shirt are told that although Stevens "probably heard it as five iambic feet. . . an alternative scansion is one iamb followed by a pyrrhic foot (two weak stresses) followed by two strong stresses (a spondee), followed by two iambs. It is also possible that all feet in the line are iambs except the third foot, though the word might most likely would have been italicized if that were the case."

Ohmigod. As Freud would have said, sometimes a T-shirt is just a T-shirt.

Not wishing to be rude here, but I think this T-shirt scansion issue just might get to the core of my problem with the notion of "Public Intellectual in Education": Much educationese is neither intellectual nor anywhere near the public. I worry that such a concept even comes perilously close to being an oxymoron. I'm thinking here of "airline food," "Congressional ethics," "Department of Education intelligence." I nurture a long-held complaint about the insularity of academics--arguing about the content of Common Core standards while Rome burns and all that. But the other end of the spectrum is even more regrettable. I recently greeted with astonishment and then guffaws the existence of a rubric for assessing student Tweets--copyrighted by an academic. Certainly, such a rubric--trying somehow to embrace popular culture--seems to blur the line between satire and stupidity. But it also forces the question: Just what could be a barometer of public intellectualism in education? Of course there has to be more than the weight of the footnotes one produces. I feel I can make somewhat snide remarks here because at the moment I have seven books in print with a leading educational publisher, and my most recent royalty check was $134.84. Total for seven books. Admittedly, the books have been around awhile, but is public intellectualism such a fickle entity that as my royalties shrink, indicating fewer readers, my claim to public intellectualism also diminishes? Is intellectualism tied to the dollar? You may shout "No!" but we are talking about public intellectualism, aren't we?

It's rather like the question of the tree falling in the forest. How can one claim to be public if there's no one listening?

You Say Potato. . .

For years I have been distressed by the silence of university scholars on the devastating impact of federal education policy. Or when they do talk they talk past each other. For example, scholars who write books about NCLB and Race to the Top rarely mention capitalism or the corporate domination of education policy. And scholars who write books about capitalism rarely mention NCLB and Race to the Top or the insidious influence of the U. S. Department of Education. Since scholars in neither camp offer any practical advice to teachers, by and large, their books sell only to the college classes required to buy them. Table 1 provides a rundown on the topics that interest these camps.

Table 1: Topics in Education Texts

Selected Marxism Topics

Civil Society
Critical Pedagogy
Dialectical Contradictions
Global Economy
Human Beings
Selected NCLB Topics

Academic Performance Index
Adequate Yearly Progress
Charter Schools
Civil Rights
English Language Learners
Graduation Rates
History/Social Studies
Mandatory Interventions
Proficiency Standards
Supplemental Education Services
Title 1
U.S. Department of Education

"Oh, words, words, words, I'm so sick of words. . . . Is that all you blighters can do?"--Eliza Doolittle, "My Fair Lady"

Neither text mentions Dewey, Vygotsky, Dale's Cone of Experience, Campbell's Law, or Mary Budd Rowe's "wait-time." Nor does either text mention teacher professional organizations, or the House or Senate committees on education, or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One text barely mentions unions, but doing so in such a fleeting reference as to be insignificant.

If I named the scholars listed in the indexes of these books, you could figure out who wrote the books because they mention their own work fulsomely, while excluding the work of Gerald Bracey, Richard Rothstein, David Berliner, and other scholars who have made a concerted effort to bring current education issues to public notice. Of course my own book, written with Kathy Emery, which lays out the corporate-politico foundations of NCLB in considerable detail, is rarely referenced in scholarly work because, not being on university faculty, we aren't members of the guild (Emery & Ohanian, 2004). Saul Bellow once referred to The New York Review of Each Other's Books. That principle applies here. In The Philosopher's Demise: Learning French, Richard Watson (2003) observes that, "If scholars talk to one another, all they have to talk about is their own work." Taleb (2010) calls this "The costs of specialization: architects build to impress other architects; models are thin to impress other models; academics write to impress other academics." (Random House, 2010, p. 48).

I would suggest that intellectualism is very dry toast if it isnât rooted in a concern for the public condition. A couch intellectual can publish on the post-modern semiotics of Freirerean decision-making metrics, never leaving the couch except to appear before students a couple of times a week and read papers at AERA. I'll never forget the professor's response in a doctoral program when I challenged his characterization of Direct Instruction. "We have a lot of material to get through in time for the comps. . . lots of definitions. We don't have time for discussion." I wasnât a doctoral student; I was a teacher desperate to get three credits in reading theory before September, but I also wanted to learn something. The professor was prominent in the field, but ever since that episode, I couldn't read his papers without the bitter memory that in class he insisted on delivering a conveyor belt of definitions.
Surely, a public intellectual needs to have some sort of relationship with public life. I'm not insisting that this means marching on the steps of state capitols or even railing about the corporate oligarchy in letters to the editor, though I would ask Why not? Why are there so few voices from academia speaking out about Race to the Top? Why are so few talking about the Common Core Standards and how they lead directly to the national test that will destroy students and eat teacher professionalism alive?

Silence implies accommodation and feeds capitulation

I hear those soulful stories from young academics: Concern about rocking the boat before they have tenure; being swamped by student papers and committee obligations; worry about disrupting the money flow from the U.S. Department of Education and, increasingly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for research grants. I don't quite see how university folk hoping to travel with public intellectual passports can continue to avoid the big problems of our time, but I worry that, increasingly, big money defines the problems. Take a look at a few grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that may be small potatoes when one considers the Gates gift of $25,041,228 to the National Governors or the $90 million "Intensive Partnership Grant" to the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners. But think about the effect of the grants like the ones below on individual educators as possible public intellectuals.

American Educational Research Association
Date: May 2013
Purpose: to fund the selection and support of nine doctoral scholars who will conduct research in the area of teaching effectiveness using the Measures of Effective Teaching longitudinal database
Amount: $250,000

University of Southern California
Date: November 2012
Purpose: to understand how measures of effective teaching can accelerate skills development for teaching candidates enrolled in USC Rossier School of Educationâs Masters of Arts in Teaching program
Amount: $110,000

Stanford University
Date: June 2012
Purpose: to support development of a chapter about Quality Science Teaching instrument for the edited volume of the Measures of Effective Teaching project
Amount: $30,000

Harvard University
Date: June 2012
Purpose: to support development of a chapter about the relationship of student to teacher survey responses for the edited volume of the Measures of Effective Teaching project
Amount: $30,000

Harvard University
Date: June 2012
Purpose: to support development of a chapter about the relationship of classroom observations to student survey responses for the edited volume of the Measures of Effective Teaching project
Amount: $30,000

The Rand Corporation also received $30,000 for a chapter in that book; Educational Testing Service received $45,000 "to support development"; the University of Texas $50,000; the University of Virginia $49,864. And so on and so on. Those of us contributing essays to the volume you hold in your hands will consider ourselves lucky to receive a free copy of the book from the publisher.

Teaching and Thinking at the Same Time

I know first-hand why there are so few public intellectuals among school teachers. For my first five 5 years of teaching I buried myself in my own classroom. After that, my main effort at looking beyond my own classroom was to produce a monthly union newsletter. My claim to fame there is that my public deconstruction of administrative memos cut the number of said memos appearing in teacher mailboxes by 77%. Over a decade, I bullied New York Teacher into publishing book reviews and published some small pieces in a few national publications. When the editor of Learning magazine phoned and asked me for a cover story on classroom discipline, he was both astounded and dismayed when I said such a big topic would take me about six months. I explained, "I can't teach and write at the same time. Teaching fills my days and getting ready to teach fills my nights." When he phoned back, offering me the job as the magazine's first staff writer, I accepted. In those days, people working in classrooms didn't get published, and I saw this as a great opportunity to go public in a big way and speak for The Teacher.

I'd never had made any pretenses of of being an intellectual, but I saw the writing job as an opportunity to let teachers know they weren't alone. Certainly, nobody who's not in the classroom day after day, year after year, has a clue how lonely that space is. Surrounded by upwards of 25 students (or 150 and upwards at the secondary level) with individual and often critical needs, the teacher is all by herself.
From those days as staff writer to my current position of for more than 11 years as self-appointed Queen of Website Resistance, I've always felt I'm carrying the banner for my many unmet colleagues out there, doing their jobs as best they can (which I know from traveling the country and visiting classrooms in 28 states is pretty darn good). Some teachers are breathtakingly intellectual; others worry about what to do on Monday. Most are tough, resilient, caring, dedicated--and smart. None gets more than a modicum of help from anybody. These days the corporate-politicos scream about the public's right to know what an excellent teacher looks like. I'd say that after chasing hamsters, interrogating boys about the toilet paper wads on the lavatory ceiling, and listening to "I'm telling" all day, as well as leading children toward countless encounters with words that enrich their lives, the excellent teacher probably looks tired.

I'd rate an excellent teacher pretty much the same way I'd rate an excellent parent. Let me count the ways. One teacher cries when her students walk out the door on the last day of school without looking back. Another puts an 8-year-old's desk in the dumpster when he lollygags in the lavatory. We must ignore Bill Gates's money and rid ourselves of the notion that the model of an ideal teacher exists. Excellence is varied: sometimes subtle, other times noisy. Excellence is often opinionated, stubborn, and intractable. Excellence is rarely docile and often breaks the rules. In writing about parenthood, Michael Chabon (2009) describes the "monumental open-endedness of the job, with its infinite number of infinitely small pieces. . . . ."

But Bill Gates, in love with his Grand Plan, doesn't understand small, complex pieces. Bill thinks that by videotaping classrooms, his "experts" can collect all the relevant data about teacher job performance. I say, "A whole lot depends on who's watching the video." My experience is that it takes a very knowledgeable eye to see what's really happening in the "infinite number of infinitely small pieces."
I remember when my department chair, hired because she was a manager, not because she knew a thing about teaching, decided to do an official observation of my 7thâ-8th- grade classroom. Students were engaged in half a dozen separate activities. A few were working in pairs or small groups. Most worked individually. One slept. I could have provided pedagogical context for every one--even the sleeper. I was inordinately pleased to have a witness to such a good day. But after 20 minutes, my boss couldn't take it anymore. She left, saying she'd come back when I was teaching a lesson. These days, we have hordes of video analyzers armed with checklists sent in from distant empires, not to bear witness but to record data--pursuing not an intellectual, or, even a thoughtful, endeavor.

One of my jobs as staff writer was to develop what came to be called "Difficult Person" article, a short, snappy account of how a teacher uses her ability, her wisdom, her doggedness to solve people problems. Most often, the difficult persons were students, but they could also be another teacher, a parent, or a principal. I like telling stories, and I had plenty of classroom incidents on which to draw, but one day, I complained to the editor-in-chief that in the real world lots of classroom dilemmas aren't resolved; no neat-and-tidy solutions appear. The editor-in-chief wouldn't hear of it. She stated that we were a magazine that offered solutions, not stalemates. What people putting out the magazine couldn't grasp is that a teacher is a person who fails every day. Every day. She can hope to succeed every day, too, but the failures gnaw and grind away. I knew it then and I know it now: The "best and the brightest" are not the people we need in our schools. We need the savvy, rock steady, dependable, loving, forgiving people who have an enormous capacity for wait time and the psychological equilibrium to be able to enter the classroom every day not holding a grudge for about what happened the day before--people who have the capacity to live with mistakes.

But the corporate claim is insistent: Every problem has a solution. After all, those folks at Nabisco offer a website where you can "learn everything you want about America's Favorite Cookie!" And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are is bent on something similar. Paying off everybody from the National Governors Association, the PTA, and AERA, and the National Council of Teachers of English to ASCD, Stanford, Harvard, and NBC's Education Nation (and multitudes of others), they proclaim, "Let us tell you everything you need to know about America's teachers!"

Going Public, Who Gets Quoted

My research for Extra! was an opportunity to prove--or disprove--the commonly held academic complaint that despite all the conversation about Race to the Top (RTTT), there is little serious questioning of this radical federal deformation and displacement of what should be local school policy. So I started counting press citations. The results are shocking, confirming our worst fears--and then some. I read some 700 newspaper articles on the subject of RTTT and the Common Core standards published between mid-May 2009 and mid-July 2010. With one exception, I eliminated citations from state education officials, union officials, and politicos. This left me with 152 outside experts cited in 414 articles. Just 23 "experts" were quoted five or more times. Of these, 15 have connections with institutions receiving funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and 13 with institutions making strong advocacy for charter schools. The way the press identifies experts conceals their allegiances from the reader, something that is very concerning. For example, Chester Finn, Mike Petrilli, and Andy Smarick at the pro-standards Thomas B. Fordham Institute were cited 49 times. Education Week wants you to know that Smarick is a "prolific writer on Race to the Top," not seeing the need to provide a more telling identifier here than "prolific." When citing Finn (president of the Fordham Institute), Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin at the The New York Times identify him simply as "president of an education research group in Washington." In another article, Dillon identifies him as "writer of an influential education blog." Nobody mentions that Finn is also a fellow at the hyper-conservative Hoover Institution, or that he received the Rotten Apple award from noted scholar, the late Gerald Bracey, more than once. These days, when talking of education reform, what we really need are reporters who follow the money.

Sometimes, Education Week quoted Fordham Institute people in three articles in the same issue. No matter what one's opinion is of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, clearly, something's clearly amiss when an outfit receiving big money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is quoted 49 times (with only one reference to this Gates money) and David Berliner and Richard Rothstein not once. I would note that Rothstein, a research associate for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of several books, including Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, has called the Obama administration's approach to education, which, among other things, would convert some Title I funding to competitive grants, nothing short of "tragic." Wouldn't you think an alert press would ask him about this? In April 2010, the Economic Policy Institute published Rothstein and William Peterson's "Let's Do the Numbers: Department of Education's 'Race to the Top' Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Line" (2010), a source never mentioned in the 700+ press articles on Race to the Top in this very time period. For years, Rothstein has been reminding people that no matter how many fourth graders pass the test, their scores won't raise the minimum wage. The education press seems incapable of hearing this message--and certainly does not share it with the public. They'd rather call on the Fordham Institute.

And why would the press shut out David Berliner, co-author of the acclaimed Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Schools (Berliner & Biddle, 19961995) and Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools (Nichols & Berliner, 2007) while citing Joe Williams and his cohort Charles Barone at the Democrats for Education Reform 40 times? We can ask why the press is more comfortable talking with leaders of a political action committee (PAC) tied to hedge funds than with an acclaimed scholar very familiar with the nitty gritty of how schools work.

Here are two press citations, among the 700+ that are uniquely noteworthy for informing the public. "The Gates program and the Arne Duncan program are pretty much the same program," Nancy C. Detert, chair of the Education Committee in the Florida Senate, told the The New York Times (10/28/October 28, 2009). Mike Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, agrees, telling the Puget Sound Business Journal (5/15/09May 15, 2009), "It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation's agenda has become the country's agenda in education." The Business Journal noted that as of that date, the Fordham Institute itself had received nearly $3 million in Gates Foundation grants.

The press goes often to Gene Wilhoit for an expert opinion. Wilhoit is executive director of the nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers. As of December 2013, his group and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, its partner in spearheading the drive for the Common Core standards, have received $108,572,740 from the Gates Foundation. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Daniel Golden revealed the man behind the curtain, pointing out that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "bankrolled the development of the common curriculum standards." Golden writes:, "Today, the Gates Foundation and Education Secretary Duncan move in apparent lockstep" on an agenda Golden calls "an intellectual cousin of the Bush administration's 2002 No Child Left Behind law" (Golden, 2010). Golden also pointed to the tidy sum that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave to provide analysis of the Common Core.

Of the 152 experts cited in the articles under review, 24 are associated with universities, but you won't find anybody elucidating pedagogy or practice here--because the press calls on university economists and statisticians. With other press favorites, it's up to the reader to figure out what the agenda might be when the press quotes people associated with groups such as the New America Foundation, New Schools Venture Fund, New Leaders for New Schools, Mass Insight, and on and on--without a hint about what their pro-market agenda might mean for public education.

Can one be a public intellectual if one's voice never reaches the public? Case in point: the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) set up an office in Washington, D. C., in an attempt to make its voice heard, to get a seat at the corporate political table. NCTE was not cited in a single one of the 700+ articles. Nor was the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The International Reading Association was briefly cited twice.

Here is a list of the experts quoted in the press who received five or more citations and the minimalist identification provided by the press. A public that wanted to be informed would have to do considerable research. For example, the Center for Education Reform is a strident advocate for charter schools and school choice, and Democrats for Education Reform is a Political Action Committee (PAC) supported largely by hedge fund managers favoring charter schools, merit -pay tied to test scores, high-stakes testing, school choice (including vouchers and tuition tax credits, in some cases), mayoral control, and alternative teacher preparation programs. An identifier such as "high-stakes testing advocate" provides quite different information from the usual press descriptor "director of federal policy." The more you know about the affiliations and agendas of these "experts," the more incensed you will be by the press "identifiers" provided below.

⢠Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform
⢠Charles Barone, director of federal policy, Democrats for Education Reform
⢠Michael Cohen, president of Achieve Inc.
⢠Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project
⢠Chester Finn, president of Thomas B. Fordham Institute
⢠Eric Hanushek, of Hoover Institution
⢠Fred M. Hess, of American Enterprise Institute
⢠E. D. Hirsch, founder of Core Knowledge
⢠Caroline Hoxby, Stanford University economist
⢠Jack Jennings. President of Center on Education Policy
⢠Dane Linn, education division director, National Governors Association
⢠McKinsey and Company
⢠Mike Petrilli, with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
⢠Diane Ravitch, education historian
⢠Andrew Rotherham, co-founder Education Sector; co-founder Bellwether Education
⢠Jon Schnur, co-founder New Leaders for New Schools
⢠Andy Smarick, with Thomas B. Fordham Institute and American Enterprise Institute
⢠Kate Walsh, president of National Council on Teacher Quality
⢠Joanne Weiss, Race to the Top director
⢠Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution
⢠Gene Wilhoit, executive director of Council of Chief State School Officers
⢠Amy Wilkins, vice president of government affairs and communications at Education Trust
⢠Joe Williams, executive director, Democrats for Education Reform

I'd like evidence that more than two of these experts on public education policy have ever set foot in a public school--or talked to a public school teacher. Diane Ravitch, cited six times, is probably the one person on this list who qualifies as an education intellectual, and with her 2010 barnstorming of the country in opposition to Race to the Top, "Waiting for Superman," and allied concerns, she also qualifies as public. I was cited three times in these articles, identified each time as "blogger." Curious that there was no mention of the fact I taught for 20 years and have written 25 books, I now watch press citations more carefully, wondering why straight news articles so rarely mention that experts cited have written any books.

During the period under scrutiny, there were a number of feature stories on Diane Ravitch's (2010) famous change of mind, resulting in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). But no Ravitch cites in the 700+ articles under discussion mention that she's written numerous books. This is an odd exhibit of anti-intellectualism on the part of our national press. After all, as Louis Menand notes in The New Yorker (November. 22, 2010), "A blog is a means of sharing your pet peeves and off-the-cuff theories of everything with the entire planet. To this point in the history of civilization, that is not what a book is. In a book, normally, oneâs eye is on a somewhat farther horizon." The press, from The New York Times to the Anchorage Daily News, shuns that farther horizon when identifying people whom they call on to explain what's happening in public education.

Of course, one can't take it for granted these days that people at what used to be known as institutions of higher learning have much interest in intellectualism, public or otherwise. Here's college executive Michael Crow's view: "We use the word 'academic entrepreneurs.' We are expanding what it means to be a knowledge enterprise. We use knowledge as a form of venture capital." They might as well say knowledge as predatory cannibalism. Executive vice provost at Columbia University at the time, Crow became president of Arizona State University 5 months later (Blumenstyk, 2001, p. A29). Knowledge as a form of venture capital seems very much in line with the policy of the Obama/Duncan team--and with who gets quoted in the press as education expert. Nine years later, the Chronicle cited Crow as "the kind of college leader that defines institutional success: having a balance of vision, and sometimes aggressive self-confidence." An irate reader described this as college branding that "reeks of the same type of cultural necrosis that permeates reality shows" (Carlson, 2010).

How to Go from Expert to Ignominy in 24 hours

12/9, 6:45 p.m. From The New York Times to Susan Ohanian: We are putting together a discussion on our online opinion forum, Room for Debate (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate), about stress among high school students. These discussions are meant to be mini op-eds (about 300 words by a variety of experts addressing a specific question. Here's the question: A new documentary, "Race to Nowhere," is hitting a nerve among parents across the country who are worried about the levels of stress that their school-age children are experiencing [(Gabriel, 2010]). What can schools -- and parents -- do to turn down the heat?

I sent them 307 words. After a back- and- forth for much of the day, we resolved all issues except for one sentence in what the The New York Times refers to as the penultimate paragraph. I call it "The Thomas Friedman Problem."

2/10, /7:53 a.m. From Susan to The New York Times:
Original Text Excerpt:
Parents and teachers must fight for childhood. Say "No!" to Barack Obama, to Thomas Friedman, to Ben Bernanke, to Oprah, and to everybody else who mouths nonsense about educating workers for the global economy, trying to put the blame for our economic woes on the backs of schoolchildren.

1:35 p.m., New York Times Edit: Parents and teachers must fight for childhood. Say "No!" to everybody who mouths this nonsense about educating workers for the global economy, trying to put the blame for our economic woes on the backs of schoolchildren.

2:33 p.m., Susan to The New York Times: Why has this paragraph been stripped of content? Saying "everybody" doesn't hold anyone responsible. Is one not allowed to criticize the influential people who mouth the global economy nonsense? I want the original paragraph back.

3:49 p.m., The New York Times to Susan: Regarding your penultimate paragraph, our feeling is that it seems odd to blame such a large audience --celebrities, etc. -- when the fault lies with the policymakers and education experts, so hopefully you're okay with that tweak, which goes back to most of your original wording.

New York Times Edit: Parents and teachers must fight for childhood. Say "No!" to political leaders and education policy experts who mouth this nonsense about educating workers for the global economy, trying to put the blame for our economic woes on the backs of schoolchildren.

7:17 p.m.: Susan to The New York Times: I wrote a book called Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?, detailing why the fault most definitely does NOT lie with education experts. The current education policy [NCLB] was planned by the Business Roundtable; with help from politicos like Gov. Bill Clinton and IBM chief Lou Gerstner. Obama has come late to the party, but he's there. Thomas Friedman, for one, frequently orates about our economy depending on school children taking college prep curriculum. His words are quoted by CEOs and politicos. I'm willing to take out Oprah, though every teacher would know why her name is there.

That was the end of the exchange. I did not hear from anyone at the The New York Times again. Writing on language in the New York Times Magazine, Ben Zimmer says it is unlikely that Mark Twain ever made this remark often attributed to him: "Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we' (2010)." Regardless, I do note the editorial "we" ("our feeling") tossed in my direction.

Over the course of the edits, The New York Times removed my suggestion that the state of Vermont should apologize to the high school student, and I okayed it. When they substituted "truck drivers" for "yurt builders," I pointed out that in that sentence yurt builders represent a particular group of people who don't want to be standardized, but I agreed to the change. When I stood firm on laying blame for student anxiety at the feet of Obama, Friedman, and Bernanke (offering to remove Oprah as a gesture of compromise), suddenly the The New York Times reinstated the state of Vermont apology and the yurt builders. I interpreted this as an attempt to get me on board regarding Obama, Friedman, and Bernanke. "Give her back the yurt builders, so she'll shut up about Friedman!"

Although the The New York Times initially addressed me as an expert, in the end neither my research nor my opinion counted for a hill of beans. Five people contributed to Room for Debate on December. 12, 2010, blaming student stress on a variety of things including AP classes, homework, too many after-school activities. Nobody blames Thomas Friedman. I know that not one reader in 1,000 will understand the Friedman sentence. And of those who do understand it, not one in 10,000 will think I was right to destroy my chances of getting into the The New York Times by insisting on it. After all, doesn't getting our words into the The New York Times validate us as genuinely important? The problem is that I happen to believe that op- eds should increase public understanding, not just preach to the orthodoxy of those who already agree. I think people should puzzle over why Friedman's name is there. I hope that a few would even ask some questions.

Most will think the The New York Times won. Maybe so, but I think their victory would have been bigger had I gone along with the deal to remove that sentence. And since I posted this exchange on my website, I have received an outpouring of support from teachers and parents, people I've never met, people grateful that I stood stubbornly for that sentence.

How to Get Intellectual Fast

Dismayed by my failure to rouse the public beyond readers of my website, perhaps it's understandable that Iâd be attracted by to a little book by Peter Archer: The Quotable Intellectual (2010). This book includes quips by two Allens, Fred and Woody; two Marxes, Groucho and Karl; Maya Angelou, Yassir Arafat, Buddha, Erma Bombeck, Albert Camus, Coco Chanel, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hermann Goering, Søoren Kierkegaard, Dean Koontz, Alfred North Whitehead, Tammy Wynette, Zeno, Frank Zappa, and Dave Barry. It's mindboggling to scan the index and see these people sitting next to each otherâas intellectuals. I guess nobody would quarrel that dead Greeks are intellectuals, but Frank Zappa?

The publisher's blurb explains: "Have you ever wanted to be an intellectual, without all that tedious work of getting an advanced college degree? Here's your shortcut to the world of the well read. Just open this collection of 1,417 quotations from the mouths of the wildly famous to the painfully obscure, and voila!--instant erudition." I'm still not sure how quoting Zsa Zsa Gabor or Dean Koontz convinces anyone you're an intellectual, but scanning the index made me realize how few people "qualify." Dave Barry is a lot of fun, but is he intellectual enough to rate 7 seven citations? And yet, reading Saul Bellow's collected letters may give one pause about dismissing people out of hand. After dinner with Marilyn Monroe, Bellow wrote to his publisher, "Surrounded by thousands, she conducts herself like a philosopher" (Bellow, 2010). He didn't explain what he meant.

Call me old-fashioned, but Gore Vidal was my idea of a public intellectual: general all-around man of letters, sometime political activist, penultimate impaler of pomposity. Vidal's essays are as timely today as they were 30 years ago. Reviewing a collection of Vidal's essays, Jonathan Rabin speaks (2008) speaks of "a first-class mind in action, at once severely rational, rich in personal memories, alarmingly well-read, and almost indecently prone to fits of impious laughter," also noting Vidal's "ever-growing fury with those who. . . meekly connive at the deterioration of the US into a brutal and self-serving corporate oligarchy." If those in academia aspiring to public intellectualism wanted to learn from Vidal, a good place to start would be "fits of impious laughter."
Archer, P. (2010). The Quotable Intellectual. Avon, MA: Adams Media.
Bellow, S. (2010). Saul Bellow Letters (B. Taylor, Ed.). Peabody, MA: Viking Adult.
Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1996). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on Aamerica's public schools. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
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