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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Seriously, People?

By Rick Hess — March 08, 2011 2 min read
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In a free nation, people are going to disagree about ideas, values, policies, and the rest. We honor the legacy of freedom by embracing that diversity of views.

For what it’s worth, when engaging in public debate, I do my best to steer clear of ad hominem invective, guilt by association, or the assignation of villainous motives. Why? Because it’s more often a way to dodge the important questions than to either persuade or inform. Such tactics are nothing more than lazy efforts to delegitimize one’s opponents and avoid having to weigh their views. In short, they’re just more cheap variations of the “it’s for the kids” gambit.

One of the disheartening things about blogging is the number of notes and responses that favor invective rather than substantive critiques. This is truer than ever with regards to the Wisconsin kerfuffle. Indeed, I gave up reading the various communications because they were mostly a tedious laundry list of ad hominem insults that deem me ignorant, an edu-nihilist, an anti-union zealot, a depraved reactionary, a shill for Republican politicians, and so on. I’ve also been repeatedly told that I need to “try teaching” (which I have, of course, though I’m unsure how that much matters, one way or the other, to the appropriate scope of collective bargaining by public employee unions). Heck, when you’re impressed by the gentility of being called a “right-wing ideologue,” the bar for learned debate is rather low.

I mean, seriously, people? If this is how you respond to me, how are you going to respond to people who actually issue personal attacks? After all, awkwardly enough, I’ve garnered occasional praise from the NEA and its allies for my take on Waiting for Superman, Race to the top, and the L.A. Times value-added imbroglio. In the past year or two, I’ve played host to folks including Dennis van Roekel, Randi Weingarten, and Benjamin Jealous. I’m not trying to placate anybody; I’m just saying.

When you respond to even measured disagreement by descending into hate-filled vitriol, you make it harder to find common ground and dissuade opponents from even making an effort to do so. Sputtering rage is a poor way to convince anyone they’re on the wrong side of a debate or to sway the undecided. What it does is coarsen our debate and discourage those interested in hearing more coherent critiques. Given that we’re tasked with educating our youth to be responsible democratic citizens, we might want to try doing better on that score.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.