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When the Best and Brightest Are Stealing Your Profession and Ruining Your Life

Publication Date: 2012-03-18

Two articles cited: When the Best and Brightest Fail, The Atlantic, June 2, 2010.

In the Thrall of the Billionaire Boys Club, Economic Principals, May 30, 2010.

And lest you think I dump too heavily on Ivy Leaguers, my husband has a Princeton degree, but since he is the furthest thing from an Ivy Leaguer, I don't hold it against him.

I actually learned something very valuable about teaching at Princeton, one summer when I won a National Defense Education grant to study there. Another story for another day. All I'll say now is that it was a grant to show urban teachers how to teach poor kids, and since the course was at Princeton, they had to bus the kids in every day from Trenton.


An online essay in The Atlantic, provides insight into Obama's reliance on experts--in matters of drilling for oil as well as standards and testing--and evaluating teachers.

The oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is not just a political problem for President Obama. It's a philosophical problem that challenges a central tenet of his approach to governing, his abiding faith in the judgment of experts. He's practically in thrall to them.

Two months ago, Obama's conviction about the safety of offshore oil rigs was strong enough that he proposed opening up 167 million acres of ocean to exploration. The preponderance of expert opinion about the safety of such an endeavor plainly influenced his decision. "It turns out,'' he lectured critics worried about the potential environmental impact, "that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced."

But this faith in the safety of offshore drilling proved spectacularly misplaced (and ill-timed). Last week, he reversed himself and imposed a moratorium. The catastrophe provides a neat illustration of how Obama thinks and what drives his decisions.

He values smarts, admires educational attainment, and sees decisions as intensely rational processes. With this goes a technocrat's faith that government can enact them. The characteristic outlook of Obama specifically, and his administration generally, is a rigorous fealty to data and best practices. . . .
A whole lot depends, then, on where one choose expertise. Obama has shown a predilection for experts wearing an Ivy League brand on their sleeves.

Neither Obama nor his education chief pay much attention to "on the ground" smarts. Remember that old adage "there are no atheists in the foxholes?" No Ivy League experts either. In the foxholes, in the trenches, and in classrooms across America you have grunt expertise. People knowing how to do the work that needs to be done--and doing it!

Or moral intelligence. What do you think the chances are that the Ivy League crowd in Washington D. C. will heed the plea of The National Council of Churches? On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd put it at a -5.(That's a minus five.)

Look how Anthony Cody and other expert teachers were dissed. Yes, Arne called back. Too little and too late.

In his must-read In the Thrall of the Billionaire Boys Club, David Walsh talks of "a bunch of ambitious Ivy League kids who don't speak the local language. Vietnam war foreign policy crafted by the academics and intellectuals." And now we have those same sorts of "best and brightest" crafting education policy.

Or rather, shoving it down our throats.

Now I'm going to stop defending public school teachers and say something difficult, something for put-upon, aggrieved, hassled teachers to think about: Maybe those bumperstickers are right.

You deserve what you accept.

When teachers steadfastly and stoically keep their silence while corporate politicos shovel shit on them, can they really expect that tomorrow they'll get roses? Or even less shit?


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