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Friday, June 18, 2010

Michelle, You've Got Me Thinking

While out scouting for Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus last night, I also picked up a children's book on Michelle Obama by Deborah Hopkinson. I've always believed America's first lady is a class act and reading through the strong and simple prose I was reminded of what an intelligent and accomplished woman she is. This book will be a short but inspiring read for elementary and middle school girls and boys alike.

But it also got me thinking about how her husband is getting public education so wrong, and how a Democratic president's endorsement of charter schools, merit pay and mass teacher firings is dangerous. It not only does a disservice to America's public schools, but will soon be used as ammunition by Canadian right-wing groups, chief among them the Fraser Institute and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

American ideas tend to drift northward pretty quickly. And Canadians don't always see the context for their genesis. So these ideas will again be concepts public schools and the people who care about them will have to fight.

What I really don't understand is how a president who is so progressive in other areas, can be so regressive when it comes to education.

How are these concepts justified pedagogically? And if it's a matter of wooing the vote of a certain right-leaning subset of the American electorate, he can rest assured they will vote for a dyed-in-the-wool Republican any day.

Many of these so-called reforms tap into a need to blame someone for the perceived failures of America's public schools. The game, of course, is to weaken public confidence in them and to further open the system to market forces. There is a pile of money to made here and Obama's posture on this front cannot be justified.

One Washington Post article nailed the recent spate of teacher blaming with a twist on James Carville's brilliant refrain by suggesting "it's not the teachers, it's the poverty."

This is one Canuck who has tremendous admiration for both Michelle and her husband. I still remember the thrill of tuning into that magic night in Grant Park with good friends. What a breath of fresh air.

But someone please tell me, how do you make sense of Obama on education?

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