To the Editor:
Maybe it’s because I am a midlife career-changer moving into teaching that my perspective has been colored. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in a low-performing school district and understand the frustration and powerlessness that many parents feel. Maybe it’s because I spend most of my time either with students or my own children, so I’m constantly in referee mode, trying to encourage everyone to get along. Regardless of the reason, I reject the divisiveness of the public education vs. education reformer camps. I think the dichotomy itself is more harmful than any single position on any specific education issue, because it’s dismissive and divisive.
The false dichotomy says there is a right side and a wrong side, and if you’re not on my side, you’re wrong. It says one side has morality on its side, and the other side is only motivated by self-interest. One side is benevolent, the other side is malevolent. Good vs. evil.
Obviously, it goes without saying that immorality doesn’t need to be given a voice at the table. So if we subscribe to the false dichotomy, our aim isn’t compromise; it’s domination. We want our way and not their way. We aren’t forcing our views on others; we are nobly fighting injustice. We can’t back down one tiny bit. We must fight the bad guys every step of the way. Period. Anything else would be immoral. Evil.
We talk a good game about bridging differences or finding common ground, but we don’t actually attempt to do that, do we? When we talk about dialogue or discussion what we really mean is that we are doing the talking and the other guys are recognizing our intellectual and ethical superiority and giving us our way.
But what if we broke down the false dichotomy into individual issues for debate and discussion? What if we worked together under the assumption that every one of us sincerely cares about the future of public education? What if we approached each issue as though there were dozens of possible solutions rather than two, the right way and the wrong way?
The writer is a substitute teacher in Bloomington, Ind., and an undergraduate education student at Western Governors University, an online university based in Salt Lake City.
A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2012 edition of Education Week as True Compromise Leaves ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ Behind