School & District Management Opinion

Education Nation Frustration: Why WERE (some) Teachers and Parents Blocked?

By Anthony Cody — September 22, 2010 9 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

NBC’s Education Nation has been promoted with a great deal of fanfare, with the event promising to inspire a rich dialogue about one of the most important issues our nation faces. But my voice has been shut out from the project’s Facebook site, with the moderators implying that I have made personal attacks. This is untrue, and the incident seems to fit into a bigger pattern.

Update: I have now been unblocked. I do not know if that is true for others who have had this problem. Several questions remain. Why were we blocked for several days in the first place? Why did it take going public in this manner to bring about a correction? And why do the panels and Summit continue to be almost entirely lacking the voices of anyone willing to step out of line with the Department of Education’s agenda? For more, read on:

The mission statement for the project states:

Education Nation seeks to engage the public, through thoughtful dialogue, in pursuit of the shared goal of providing every American with an opportunity to pursue the best education in the world.

When I discovered the Education Nation Facebook page a few days ago, I went there, clicked “like,” and posted a link to the Teachers’ Letters to Obama Facebook group, inviting the people there to come visit us and discover the rich discussions we have been having regarding the future of education in our country. We have had teach-ins this summer with guests like Dr. Yong Zhao, former Nebraska Commissioner of Education Doug Christensen, Diane Ravitch and many more. Over the summer, we developed a set of seven principles to guide Congress in reauthorizing NCLB, and collected numerous letters from teachers and parents expressing our views. These letters are now available for download and distribution here.

The moderator at Education Nation thanked me for the link. But that post has now disappeared, and what is more, I seem to be blocked from posting on the site. This image shows how their page appears to me. Notice anything missing? Most Facebook pages we visit have a little white box under each post that says “write a comment.” No such box for me when I visit the Education Nation page.

In response to a visitor who asked why I had been blocked, the moderator wrote:

Hey Connie, We had some issues with personal attacks a couple of days ago so we did have to moderate discussion. Also some users have flagged others. We are working it out. As you can see, your comments appear on this page. This is a place for conversation and appreciate your stopping by. Please help us keep it civil. For the record, I made no personal attacks.

This morning, the moderator re-posted the link to Teachers’ Letters to Obama that had been removed, but I remain unable to post there. (update: as of 8:30 am Pacific time this morning, I am now able to post once again.)

Readers of this blog know that while I have strong opinions, I am able to express them in a civil fashion. I certainly posted nothing hostile on the Education Nation page. So why have I been blocked? Is it because they do not actually wish to enter into a genuine dialogue about education reform? And this post by Gary Stager indicates I am one of many who have been blocked.

Unfortunately this fits into a larger pattern. A leading parent activist, Rita Solnet, reached out to me this week to share her experience trying to offer some balance to NBC as they prepared for their programming. She writes:

Is it Education Nation? Or, is it Education Castration? Well, for me, it’s Education Frustration.

In June, I learned of the plans for this televised spotlight on education while in D.C. I wrote to the NBC News President, Mr. Capus, suggesting he consider Dr. Diane Ravitch as a featured guest. I relayed a paragraph or two on her extensive background and impressive credentials along with a link to her website. Several weeks later, I received a call that Diane was invited to participate; however, she had a scheduling conflict prohibiting her from being in NYC on September 28th. After speaking with Diane and realizing she would be fairly close to Burbank, I suggested the Today Show arrange a satellite hookup to accommodate her real-time participation. Yippee, we thought, it’s arranged. In fact, two panelists were to be connected via satellite from NBC’s Burbank studio.

One week ago when the Ed Nation press release appeared, Diane Ravitch’s name did not appear. Another series of calls were placed by me to Capital Entertainment Group, NBC Universal, and NBC’s Today Show to investigate this omission and correct it, if possible. I believe I could have reached the Queen of England herself and enjoyed a productive conversation with the time it took me to crawl through the many layers of seemingly unempowered, misinformed, and indecisive “event coordinators.” Thus begins my story--the story of “Education Frustration.”

Education Nation coordinators working with the Dept of Ed have just redefined Webster’s definition of ‘participation. ' Their dictionary apparently defines it as “listening in.”

Teachers are invited to “listen in” which is what any of us can do online at msnbc.com Sunday at noon.

‘Weighing in’ won’t truly be an option, as the production assistant whispers into the phone. You see, the teachers pre-selected by the Dept. of Ed to participate in Rockefeller Center, have evidentally passed the pro-privatization, pro-Dept of Ed education reform test already. If you hear a rare voice of dissent, my guess is that the moderator or another pro-supersonic NCLB reforms plant in the audience, will respond with a robotic line out of the Dept of Ed playbook.

In keeping with their own theme of presenting a unilateral perspective, my view is that this could not be more orchestrated if they tried! The setting--the newly built technology-laden Learning Plaza venue--sure to evoke ooh’s and aahs at Rockefeller Center and “can only hold so many people”. Every panelist; every commercial aired; every emotionally charged clip from Waiting for Superman; every walk on heart wrenching story; even the John Legend fade out music is all deliberately chosen to portray one notion--support privatization of public schools, support all the Dept of Ed’s education reforms! High stakes testing is the way to go. Merit pay, firing teachers, closing schools is the way to go. And, privatizing schools is our only logical path now. It is downright unpatriotic if you think any other way!

I wouldn’t be surprised if they cue up subliminal messages throughout the broadcast, “We must have more charters!” This will be their mantra. You will hear it on Oprah, you will hear it, I suspect, on CBS, and you will hear it in grand fashion at this one sided NBC propaganda extravaganza unless by some miracle they come to their senses and air other perspectives.

Of more concern to me is that any voice of dissent, if allowed to be heard, will be depicted as “tied to the status quo,” “unable to change,” “caused by the unions,” or, worse yet, will be dismissed stating that “only ineffective, incompetent, lazy teachers” will dislike these reforms.

I can hear it now, can you? “America, you must realize we have a glut of incompetent, lazy, and ineffective teachers.” “Aha, only bad teachers disagree with our whizbang accountability, value added measurement plan.”

The dire situation public education is in, of course, cannot be blamed on the ever changing NCLB reforms. This cannot be blamed on ratcheting up the stakes for standardized tests every year to where the scores now signify survival of the fittest. This cannot be blamed on the sensationalism of charter schools--even while that’s been debunked statistically.

No, by God, the fault lies with this glut of lazy, incompetent teachers and their overly protective unions. Let’s privatize everything, break up communities, fire teachers, close schools, hire young people and burn them out in 2 yrs, cherry pick the best students, and let the chips fall where they may in poverty stricken areas. That’s how we handle things in corporate America. If its not profitable, cut it loose. Just ask Michelle Rhee who isn’t done firing teachers.

Now Ed Nation has a credibility issue.

1) Pre-selected teachers passed pro-Dept of Ed approval. That word is out there and the robotic, repetitive posts underscore that.

2) Parental involvement has been blocked. They point to their inclusion of one panelist they selected. That’s it folks! That’s the extent of parental perspective included.

3) Panelists--well, take a look at Ken Bernstein’s thorough article on that. Frankly, I don’t think they could possibly find a panel that is more unbalanced if they tried!

4) They have a quota of teachers to fill. Their goal is to register at least 100K teachers, hopefully 300K teachers, before 9/26. Problem is: Teachers say the registration process makes them feel that the DOE is lining up the infidels. Some teachers feel like they are being used to be placed on display as “more whiny teachers.” Other teachers are concerned that this quota is another bragging point for Secretary Duncan to claim that he “dialogued and listened to” 300K teachers! Some teachers are reluctantly signing up out of curiosity. Our facebook pages are lighting up 24/7 with how wrong this all feels to teachers and parents.

After many discussions, emails, and messages, I believe it is the Dept of Ed and those who bankrolled Waiting for Superman, ie., Walden Media, who are calling the shots and running Education Nation, not NBC.

Maybe in the next few days, NBC will have an awakening and take over the reigns of this one-sided propaganda extravaganza. Their credibility is at stake. I pray every night, that their attention is diverted away from scapegoating teachers and back onto improving the quality of education for our children. Not one of these paths the Dept of Ed is on will get us to where we need to be.

As my new friend Dr. Jesse Turner says, we need to shout it from the mountaintops!

There you have it, my one-sided perspective on the planning of this event!

UPDATE: As of this posting, Diane Ravitch filmed an interview with NBC which will be incorporated into their programming. Whether or not it is played in its entirety remains to be seen.

Best regards,

Rita Solnet

Rita Solnet is a parent activist from south Florida. She joined forces with other parents and teachers and regularly began posting on a Facebook page, “Testing is Not Teaching.” The site grew to over 11K fans and spun off more sites focused on education reform. Rita is one of the founding charter members of Parents Across America.

What do you think? As I ask for about the hundredth time on this blog, what will it take for us to have our voices heard? Will you raise yours?

PS:PS: If you would like to stand up and be heard, Teachers Letters to Obama will be holding our own Teachers’ Roundtable, “Stop Griping, Start Organizing,” on Tuesday, Sep. 28. Panelists will include Jesse Turner, who has just completed his walk from Connecticut to Washington to protest federal education policies, NEA vice president Lily Eskelson, Chris Janotta, founder of Million Teacher March, education advocates Angela Engel and Dr. Anthony Dallman Jones, and parent activist Leonie Hamson, of Class Size Mattersand a founding member of Parents Across America. The online event will take place on Tuesday, Sep. 28, from 8:30 to 10:30 Eastern, and 5:30 to 7:30 pm Pacific Time. Register here.

image provided by Rita Solnet, used by permission.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue 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.