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In The Village, no one can hear you scream

Publication Date: 2010-07-09

from The Perimeter Primate, July 6, 2010.

Interesting article: You'll learn something. But are Obama and Duncan really deaf? Seems like they hear the Business Roundtable, Eli Broad, and Bill Gates just fine.

People like me â€" regular parents with regular kids in regular schools, along with many other non-headline names -- are having trouble fathoming how the Obama administration could so eagerly embrace the Bush administration's education policies and push them forward. Obama's policies even add more emphasis on high-stakes testing, on blaming teachers, and on exalting privatization.

The forces that created and promote those policies pointedly fail to consult with or listen to educators, parents, or anyone else who spends time in actual classrooms with real live kids.

Obama's wrongheaded tack was already dismaying. But it was even more astonishing when Arne Duncan, Obama's education secretary, told the
"Hey Arne! Over here!"
responded blogger Mike Klonsky.

Here on Planet Earth, dissenting voices have been raising an outcry in every way we can think of. We have a new spokesperson in Diane Ravitch, former Bush administration education official and onetime supporter of the Bush/Obama policies who took a hard look, saw those policies not just failing but doing harm, and now speaks out publicly to oppose them. Ravitch (an NYU education historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System) has personally met with Duncan to discuss all this.

How is he not hearing? How is he unaware of the critics? How is none of this getting through to Obama?

"It's The Village," my 19-year-old son, a poli-sci wonk, explains patiently. The Village, he tells me, is a concept widely referred to by bloggers and other commentators to define the members and the mindset of the Washington establishment -- the insiders who listen only to themselves. As one blogger puts it, "[T]he term 'Villagers' denotes a kind of small-minded refusal to think outside an 'acceptable' center-right consensus. [T]he 'Villagers' include, in part, Democratic elected officials and consultants who insist that their party can't succeed unless they ally their party with that center-right consensus; think-tankers who churn out position papers designed to prop up this elite consensus view; and elite pundits." That quote comes from Greg Sargent's blog The Plum Line, which, ironically for a commentary critical of The Village, is carried on washingtonpost.com.
Since my son -- who reads a wide variety of political thought -- introduced me to the term, I asked him to write a further explanation for me. Here's his elaboration: "The foundation of The Village is ethos rather than logos, trust in who's saying something rather than what they're actually saying. To gain The Village's trust, one must submit to The Village consensus on an array of issues. Ideas that take their place in The Village consensus don't come from some sort of rational thought process; like head coverings and prayer shawls in Anatevka, where they come from is unclear. But once the consensus is formed, the primary means a Villager uses to judge any idea is how closely the person or people articulating the idea adheres to the overall Village mindset."

Washington Post fixture Sally Quinn is credited with defining the concept in a long, earnest 1998 essay explaining why the Monica Lewinsky scandal left the Washington insider community scandalized, outraged, aghast and betrayed -- even though the rest of the country, while fleetingly grossed out, otherwise just didn't much care. A quote from Quinn's piece: "'We have our own set of village rules,' says David Gergen, editor at large at U.S. News & World Report, who worked for both the Reagan and Clinton White House." Quinn, portraying The Village as a nurturing extended circle with deeply shared values, defined it as both "Washington insiders" and "the Washington Establishment."

When I went looking for more discussion of The Village, I found lots of material, mostly not related to education issues. The blog Down with Tyranny referred aptly to the "seemingly instinctive collusion between the Village's permanently right-of-center political establishment and its faithful media collaborators." Down with Tyranny was writing about The Village's horror when Cheney aide Scooter Libby was indicted in connection with the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

But blogger Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler blames The Village mentality for the parroting of anti-public-education and anti-teacher scripts by media insiders such Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a serial public-school basher. Somerby groused: "[C]ould we offer a thought about Cohen and public education? Cohen knows nothing about vouchers, and nothing about charters. He has no idea what goes on in low-income schools, or why low-income kids fail to prosper. He doesn̢۪t have the slightest idea how we could improve our schools. But so what? He has memorized one famous scripted line, the line his colleagues all know to recite. (Democrats won̢۪t stand up to the [teachers̢۪] unions!) Within his Village, this counts as erudition."

And The Village mindset explains Newsweek's now-notorious cover story mindlessly blaming teachers for the challenges of public education; the oblivion of liberals like the late, iconic Teddy Kennedy and California Rep. George Miller (co-sponsors of the bill known as No Child Left Behind) to the real-life issues facing schools and teachers -- and Arne Duncan and Barack Obama̢۪s intractable deafness.

As blogger Skippy the Bush Kangaroo observed: "In the Village, you can be wrong about everything, but once you're in, you're in for life."

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