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John Wooden, Barack Obama & Why Smart People Are Stoopid

This week’s Frank Rich column may not be about education policy, but it might as well be.

Writing about the president’s handling of the BP oil spill, Rich believes Obama’s “most conspicuous flaw is his unshakeable confidence in the collective management brilliance of the best and the brightest he selected for his White House team — “his abiding faith in the judgment of experts,” as Joshua Green of The Atlantic has put it.

This is the primary issue I have with the leading voices of education reform today. I’ve heard Joel Klein suggest “we know how to do this” — referring to comprehensive education reform — when the truth is all we know how to do is move the needle on student test scores, not transform an apartheid education system that relies on one method of instruction for the poor, and another for the privileged. I’ve heard Michelle Rhee assert that “collaboration and consensus building are quite frankly overrated in my mind.” And I’ve grown weary of the myraid other voices who confidently participate in a groupthinkian rush to the illusory Altar of Certainty, long before we have in place the necessary metrics for a much more finely calibrated understanding of whether our schools are giving children what they really need — a balanced comprehensive education that teaches them to use their minds well over the long haul.

It seems fitting, then, that Rich’s piece would appear in a day the Times’ Sports page offered its paean to the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, our country’s greatest-ever coach, an exceedingly humble man who always considered himself a teacher first — and a molder of men first, and basketball players second.

Coach Wooden was known for many memorable maxims, many of which — like “Be quick, but don’t hurry” — could helpfully guide our current reform efforts if heeded. But it’s another Woodenism I thought of as I finished Rich’s piece about Obama’s Best and Brightest: “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

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What the NFL Draft Can Teach School Reformers

This Thursday marks the prime-time return of the NFL Draft — an annual smorgasbord of possibility when each team fills out its roster with the best talent the college ranks have to offer.

I’m a huge football fan, so I’ll be tuning in to see which players my beloved San Diego Chargers select to fill our current holes at running back and defensive tackle. I’m also a huge public education fan, so I confess that I wish the leading voices in my field — from Arne Duncan to Michelle Rhee to Joel Klein — would also tune in, and heed some of the most relevant lessons to be learned from the NFL.

In particular, I wish they’d pay attention to three truisms:

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