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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 Funding Opinion

Self-Pitying Tantrums Are Poor Way for Educators to Win Friends, Influence People

By Rick Hess — June 08, 2012 3 min read
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Fact 1: Teachers feel like they’re getting a bad rap in the public discourse.

Fact 2: I’ve long since stopped reading the comments proffered on RHSU.

What in the world do these two statements have to do with each other? I think it’s simple. Self-proclaimed advocates of educators and public education have become so vitriolic, mean-spirited, arrogant, and unreasoning that it’s becoming inane to anyone who’s not a fellow true believer. This means that they’re poorly positioned to convince Americans, and painfully uninteresting to anyone who doesn’t agree with them already.

I was reminded by this yesterday. Seeing that a raft of comments had been offered in response to Wednesday’s column on Scott Walker’s comfortable recall victory in Wisconsin, I went ahead and perused them. I’m a guy who’s friendly with a wealth of people with whom I frequently disagree, interested in how others see issues, and happy to concede that my view of an issue isn’t necessarily “correct.”

Yet, as I read the various critical comments, I didn’t find anything that made me wish I could sit down and talk to the author. Instead, I found a slew of scornful, ad hominem attacks. (Personally, I can’t think of many public debates in American history that were won that way, or many advocates who won public affection that way.)

For starters, please skim the column I penned on Wednesday and let me know which words or phrases showed a profound hatred for educators or public education. Because, honestly, when I went back and re-read it, I didn’t see ‘em. Now, I recognize that I’m an unreliable judge of my own civility, so I’m curious about this.

Of more immediate interest was the venomous commentary on Wednesday’s piece--and the utter disinterest in acknowledging that there might be even a hint of legitimacy to the agenda that claimed a majority of Wisconsin voters (and even 38 percent of voters from self-identified union households). What do I have in mind?

One commenter declared, “Sadly, WI voters have decided they want a governor who can be bought by outside interests...It is more important to them to put the blame of the economy on unions than it is to really look behind the scenes and to care for their futures and that of their children and other citizens.” Another explained, “Walker [sic] plan to portray teachers as greedy overpaid public employees was very timely and worked.” One cheery commenter observed, “It’s understandable that you want to get on the anti-teacher bandwagon. In my less informed days--before I started teaching in my 30’s--I would share many of your misconceived notions about public schools.”

Another contributor asked, “What kind of education reform does anyone expect to get out of slave labor with no voice in day to day working conditions?” Yet another opined, “Dr. Hess continues with his complete turn to the dark side. The only thing good I ssee [sic] from the huge mistake WI voters have made is that this outcome deomnstrates [sic] just how important education is for a functioning democratic republic. The uneducated have carried the day in Wisconsin for now. Walker will undoubtedly do all he can with his the fiscal tools at his disposal to further dismantle, downsize, and destroy public education.”

I was enamored by the self-identified teacher who wrote, “I honestly wonder what you’re doing, writing about a profession that you so clearly despise. I also wonder about the integrity of Education Week, since it keeps publishing more and more hit-pieces by people like you, who openly brandish his anti-union, anti-public education, and anti-public school teachers attitudes, just to satisfy the whims and expectations of sponsors such as the Gates foundation and others...Unlike hacks like you, we can not charge over time, or demand to be payed [sic] by the column, or the word. You sir, are the worst kind of demagogue, attacking a noble profession, while disguising your broadsides as concerns over our benefits.” Another wrote, “Well, Rick anyone can blog on and on about the virtues of deceit. Pity the folks in Wisconsin who couldn’t quite get it together to alter the lopsided equation.” Truthfully, I’m not even sure what this means.

Bottom line: These are complex questions with lots of room for civil disagreement. Yet, it seems that the self-proclaimed teacher advocates have shed any hints of civility and any attempt to persuade while rushing to indulge in the kind of self-pitying tantrums most often associated with irate teens. It’s a free country, and they’re entitled to rant if they wish, but they shouldn’t be surprised that they’re getting tuned out--or making little headway in the public square.

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.