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Education Opinion

The Temptation of McCarthyism - On the Left

May 31, 2008 3 min read

Most bloggers are not only columnists but editors. Most allow comments and must decide whether and what to edit. Many bring in guest bloggers and must decide on parameters.

I want edbizbuzz to be a forum as much as a soapbox. Its also intended to be a place where people besides the usual edwonk suspects can get into the debate. I do not edit comments on my posts except for profanity. I have a Friday Guest Column where outsiders can have their say - whether I agree with it or not.

Last Friday I offered the Guest Column to a group of locally notable political activists writing a letter to DC City Council Chair Vincent Gray protesting the two researchers DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed the Council approve as independent evaluators of her reform efforts.
Edbizbuzz readers know I argue that American Enterprise Institutes’ Frederick Hess and Brown University’s Kenneth Wong have conflicts of interest and/or appearances of such conflicts that preclude them from serving as independent advisors. Chancellor Rhee’s error of judgment in management, professional ethics and politics was not trivial. Her personal and professional ties to Hess should have kept her from even considering that nomination. The fact that Wong is on the record favoring mayoral takeovers will undermine anything he might report out. The two are competent, respected scholars, but this is the wrong place and the wrong time for them to serve. A disinterested observer presented with the facts could only wonder what Rhee was trying to accomplish. The City Council should insist on evaluators with no question of conflicts, and such people and firms are not hard to find.

In my view the argument should begin and end with the conflicts of interest. I was truly disappointed to read the Guest Column’s additional argument against Hess.

AEI is the think tank that funded projects such as The Bell Curve, by AEI scholar Charles Murray, which caused outrage around the nation because of its racist conclusions that blacks are of inferior intelligence to whites and Asians, and The End of Racism, by Dinesh D’Souza, which declared that racism in the U.S. has ended and that the days of affirmative action are over. We should not be hiring such an institution’s directors to judge the success of our school reform efforts.

I’ve been trying to finish up a series on the dangerous move in the direction of McCarthyism that Fordham Foundation’s Vice President Mike Petrilli took asking the American Educational Research Association’s board of directors to boot former Weather Underground member William Ayers as an “unrepentant terrorist.” To any outsider, the implication must be that, if they don’t, they sympathize with terrorism - or support it. There’s not much difference between that and what’s going in on this letter. The implication is that Hess is at best insensitive to issues of race, at worst a racist. That’s McCarthyism from the left.

It is incredibly ironic for Hess to be placed in this position after he defended the right of association rather than agree with his friend Petrilli on the Ayers Affair. If he reads edbizbuzz, I suspect he would find no great joy agreeing with me.

I often disagree with Dr. Hess on matters of policy, but there is absolutely no reason to believe he is a racist, or insensitive to matters of race, or for that matter that AEI is a bunch of racists. Indeed, in my own observation, racial equality is precisely the basis of the strong alliances local organizations led by people of color have forged with conservative education policy wonks in cities across this country.

As Hess pointed out about efforts to trash AERA through Ayers, if your objective is to score political points with your own allies, it’s fun to smear people. But McCarthyism is not only unethical, it is a very poor strategy for winning the middle to your side. Indeed, if Dr. Hess is appointed to monitor DC school reform, one reason will be that the backlash to this ridiculous charge will swamp the substantive issue of conflicts.

Whatever number of edbizbuzz readers sign the letter online, I hope they will record their agreement with the conflicts issue and distance themselves from the implication of racism.

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz 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.